A Leap Of Faith In Ourselves

September 26, 2015

If you want to see the hollow, corrupted shell that modern conservatism has become, check out its reaction to the leap manifesto.hysterical (The what? I know, I know. So like, 10 days ago.) “Naomi Klein’s Great Leap Backward,” wailed the Financial Post’s Peter Foster, “…issued on Tuesday by an asylum full of celebrity victims of Harper Derangement Syndrome…is certainly a thought-provoking platform. The main thoughts it provokes are: Does achieving celebrity cause a sharp drop in IQ and increase in hypocrisy, or does all-consuming artistic ego and/or power-hungry socialist inclination prevent all logical thought?”

Celebrities and eggheads. What do they know about the real world, am I right? Marxists and Maoists, the lot them, trumpeting long-refuted Keynesian economics, strangled as it was by the Invisible Hand of the free market. The FREE market.

Only moderately less hysterical, the Globe and Mail editorial board similarly dismissed the presence of ‘movie stars and pop musicians’ (and public-service unions — *spit*) signing on to this “…revolutionary (but not in the good sense of the word) critique of capitalism.” angrypartisanWhat might be a good sense of the word ‘revolutionary’? The G&M doesn’t really take the time to explain such details, too busy ripping apart the document’s contents for that.

In doing so, the Globe showed itself as willing as the Financial Post not to engage candidly with the leap manifesto. Misrepresentation was more to their liking. Not coincidentally both publications claimed that the manifesto called for an end to all trade deals with a big ripping noise. Problem is, they both cut and copied the first part of that particular sentence.

“We call for an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects. [Bolding mine.]

That’s a huge gulf of difference between what is written and what these newspapers claimed was on the page.

At least these papers made the pretense of having a serious (but not in the good sense of the word) discussion. Over on social media, all critique and flack began and ended on the word ‘manifesto’. In a nutshell: You know who else wrote a manifesto? Karl Marx. joemccarthyIt was called The Communist Manifesto. Therefore, all manifestos are communist. You support this manifesto? You’re a communist. You know who supports this manifesto? The NDP. They’re communists. Their leader, Tom Mulcair, is a communist. A Tommunist. Get it? Tom-Comm, Tommunist. Tommunist Manifesto. hashtag#tommunistmanifesto

A ‘50s-era line of attack smear intending, I guess, to provide cover for those still in desperate need for a reason to vote Conservative in the upcoming federal election. Well, Harper’s not perfect but at least he’s not a communist. hashtag#tommunistmanifesto.

Mock and ridicule. The current state of our conservative politics, folks.

*  *  *

(The three dots to denote a change of what will hopefully turn out to be a related narrative direction that I couldn’t masterfully do using just words. I’m fessing up to that up front.)

Along with the leap manifesto, I also spent some time reading Joshua Zeitz’s August Atlantic article, Born to Run and the Decline of the American Dream, commemorating (if that’s the right word) the 40th anniversary of the album’s release. “I don’t think the American Dream was that everyone was going to make it or that everyone was going to make a billion dollars,” Springsteen said in a later interview. borntorun“But it was that everyone was going to have an opportunity and the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.”

That, in two sentences, summed up the rationale of the western post-war consensus. A mixed-use economy with the government playing an integral in both smoothing out the regular kinks the market suffered, as well as ensuring a level playing field in providing equal access to opportunity. Not, as Springsteen pointed out, equal access to a billion dollars but at `the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.’

Born To Run became something of an anthem to the breakdown of that consensus occurring in the mid-70s. Conventional economic thought had not seen the economic shocks that rattled the boom time belief in never-ending growth and prosperity coming, and it wasn’t quick enough to offer up possible solutions to the malaise which set in. In its place, up popped a seductively simple alternative. Free up the markets from the death grip of government intervention. borntorun1Unleash the wealth creators and let the good times roll. Money will trickle down to everyone. A rising tide will raise all boats.

Remove the human element from the free market, the FREE market, and let it run perfectly, like Newton’s well-oiled cosmic clock, keeping exact time according to the immutable laws of the universe. Keynes was dead. Long live the Chicago school!

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong,” H.L. Mencken wrote decades earlier, predicting, I’m sure, economic theorists.

The upheaval wasn’t simply economic. The social consensus also fractured. In this everybody for themselves environment promoted by the new economic model we were told would solve our problems, oppositional forces turned on each other. Union leaders were now seen as fat cats and leeches. Racial divisions hardened. And what were the damn girls screeching about now?

As Zeitz points out in his article, the protest politics of the 60s didn’t disappear in the 70s. They changed. Gone were the hippies marching against an unjust war, in favour of peace and love. 1970sIn their place, the taxpayers’ revolt and the moral majority. The counter-revolution, reactionism.

Like many Canadians of my demographic, I was buffered from the tumult, by and large. I had discovered Bruce Springsteen post-Born To Run with Darkness on the Edge of Town. He spoke to the mild youthful rebellion I was experiencing. Springsteen and the punks. But I was far from one of the working class figures he depicted in his songs.

My parents certainly were but they had seized the opportunity offered up by the post-war consensus Springsteen spoke of, to live a life of decency and self-respect, and ensure I never had to toil as hard as they did. The irony is, the only time I spent on the factory floor was in a summer job between 1st and 2nd year of university, in a union shop, making a shitload of money. A shitload of money.

But that was during the early-80s, and things were different back then. Me and my generation (probably grammatically incorrect but sounds appropriately gritty) kicked away the ladder behind us as we climbed into the comfortable positions our parents created for us. Sorry, kids. Didn’t you hear? The rules have all changed.

*  *  *

(Act 3, or the Final Act, a variation on the Hegelian thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Fingers crossed!)

Just as the post-war consensus era ran its course, collapsing after 30, 35 years, its successor, what do we call it, The Great Unravelling, is walking wounded on its last legs. breadlineHidebound ideological adherents refuse to admit it but it all came crashing down in 2008, and now limps toward its demise, unable to staunch the bleeding.

We call it the Great Recession because, apparently, it wasn’t as bad as the Great Depression which, along with World War II, was an important element in the subsequent creation of the post-war consensus. We’ve been through some tough times recently, sure. But not that tough, not Dust Bowl, bread line tough. Everybody’s got a cell phone and hi-def TV. How hard can it be?

2008 was just blip, a bad downturn, a correction, if you will. Nothing that 7 years of sluggish growth wide spread economic insecurity won’t help fix. Pay no attention to any dark clouds that pop up on the horizon, it’ll be blue skies and smooth sailing ahead if we just keep doing what we’ve been doing, adamsmithkeeping taxes low, governments small and our ears to the ground for any sort of threat to our way of doing business life.

Friend of this site, former city councillor and proud Progressive Conservative, John Parker, in reaction to the news that the pay of the average U.S. CEO in 2014 was almost 400 times that of the average employee, “multiples of what it was a few decades ago,” Mr. Parker tweeted, asked how many had read Adam Smith’s book, Wealth of Nations. Smith was an 18th-century philosopher, hero of the neo-conservative/liberal set, who penned the idea of the Invisible Hand, the magic of the free market, the FREE market, summoned by our rational pursuit of self-interest.

“And hands up everyone who knows that Adam Smith also wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Parker continued. “The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith, redux: An economic system must have a moral foundation in order to be sustainable.”

Markets don’t have morals. They just determine winners and losers. jacobmarleyPeople are moral (or should be). Government should reflect people, moral people, not markets.

While it would be simplistic to chalk up the cause of the crash of 2008 to just one thing, I do not think it outrageous to believe that the key to understanding such a massive economic failure (and its ongoing lingering malaise – there’s that word again) is that the system had absolutely no moral foundation. It wasn’t sustainable, a spectacular flameout was inevitable because it lacked morality, fairness or any sense of responsibility beyond me, mine and my own.

I would postulate that it is this lack of morality the leap manifesto seeks to address.

Or sought to address, I guess it’s fair to conclude. Ten days is a long time, especially in a 70+ day campaign. The leap manifesto seems to have become something of a relic, a tic. Big news for a day or two, then vapour. Almost as if it didn’t happen. A new shoe tried on but ill-fitting. It didn’t stick to the NDP like conservatives hoped it would. It didn’t stick to the NDP because the NDP wanted nothing to do with it.

Clearly, an election campaign is no time to talk about root causes, big ideas or actual change from a rotten status quo. Carry on, gentlemen. jmkeynesIt’s business as usual.

Now we’re on to niqabs and the conservative rallying cry of Can Governments Really Do Anything About The Economy? Really?

A couple weeks back, Doug Saunders, certainly no avid proponent of government interventionism and writing for the same Globe and Mail newspaper that had haughtily dismissed the leap manifesto, suggested that maybe, just maybe, the government does have role to play in economic affairs.

Many economists came to realize not only that government intervention bailed many countries out of the post-2008 recession and restored growth and employment, but that the crisis itself may have been caused, in good part, by the disappearance of active government support in the economy – the sort of direct investment and partnership that had existed in earlier decades.

“The crisis itself” — a crisis of 21st-century capitalism – “may have been caused, in good part, by the disappearance of active government support in the economy.” Active government support “that had existed in earlier decades.”

How’s that for your great leap backward? To a time when government didn’t simply get out of the way and let the magic of the mythical invisible hand do its thing. freemarketTo a time when it was expected that a government would do all it could to ensure that, how did Bruce Springsteen put it? “…everyone was going to have an opportunity and the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.”

That doesn’t seem overly ambitious or too unachievably utopian. It just doesn’t square with the self-made man image of the economic right where worth is measured solely by wealth regardless of the manner in which it was amassed. If you haven’t made it, bucko, look no further than the mirror. The blame lies squarely there, nowhere else.

It’s everybody for themselves and everything else will fall into place.

Except it doesn’t. It never has, and the façade of that political and economic belief system shattered in 2008. Having spent the past 7 years trying to piece it back together, to tweak and tinker it as if only minor adjustments were all that was needed, we’re simply denying the reality our current situation. Only a transformation, another great transformation, if you will, is in order.headinthesand

That’s what the leap manifesto is all about.

That it’s already yesterday’s news suggests we’re not ready to make any sort of transformative leap. We agonize over almost rounding error deficits and accept the faulty premise that only balanced budgets will cure the economic ills that ail us. We’ll elect our next federal government based on minor differences, all revolving around a discredited economic model and an abused sense of governance. And then we’ll wonder why nothing much has changed.

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Sage Counsel From A Former Councillor

August 2, 2015

garyowens

We sit down for a chat with our favourite ex-city councillor, John Parker. A reasonable, thoughtful conservative we could use a lot more of around these parts. A reasonable, thoughtful conservative our current mayor campaigned against.

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Day 2 — Gardiner East

June 11, 2015

All signs point to a stumbling, bumbling, blustering, bullshitting, typical-in-Toronto absolutely incomplete victory at city council for Mayor John Tory’s Gardiner east “hybrid” option. pickacardWhich “hybrid”? Who knows? Staff will be directed to report back on ways to make the ‘not perfect’ “hybrid” the mayor’s been pitching a more not perfecter “hybrid” including last year’s original hybrid version that city staff has already determined unworkable.

Or as former councillor John Parker tweeted: “It’s a request for a modified hybrid if necessary but not necessarily a modified hybrid.”

But don’t you dare call the motion Mayor Tory tabled yesterday a referral. A referral would mean months of delay. The mayor’s motion will be reported on back to council probably in September. Just a couple, three months from now. There’s a distinction there if you have just the right eyes to see it with.

I hold tight to my belief no elevated Gardiner east “hybrid” of any sort will ever be built. All this last minute design wrangling, on the fly in the face of a decade or so of far more careful waterfront planning will stray so far from the terms of reference of the provincial environmental assessment that Queen’s Park will have little choice but to rein it back in to reality, miragetugging city council firmly from the 1950s into the 21st-century. Or a mountain of litigation from developers negatively impacted by the “hybrid” awaits to drag the proceedings to a standstill. Not for nothing did council go in camera for couple of hours to deal with that very situation.

But all that is beside the point. It’s always been beside the point. Securing any sort of perceived victory for any sort of “hybrid” version will give Mayor Tory bragging rights to being the true champion in the ongoing war against the car that’s been raging in this city. Who’s looking out for you, Mr. & Mrs. Automobile Driver? Mayor Tory, that’s who. Who spent an astounding amount of political capital this early in his first term to protect this city’s drivers from the nasty clutches or urbanists, latte-sippers and the blinding reality of the future? Mayor Tory, that’s who.

And don’t you forget it. Even if the Gardiner east is brought back down to earth, at-grade, by saner voices, don’t you forget Mayor Tory had your back.

focus

Mayor John Tory, 2018.

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Coffee With Mr. Parker

April 29, 2015

“I’m sure you know how tear gas works.”

I don’t actually (or only from a safe, televised distance). teargasThat John Parker does, with real life, foot on experience, should settle the matter any City Hall watcher in all likelihood has contemplated at least once: How much fun would it be to sit down and chat with John Parker? Lots, in fact, and it heads off in directions you never expected it heading.

Like that time he was backpacking in Europe during the 70s and found himself in the middle of a square in Italy, in the middle of a political donnybrook. Or talking about Cats, the musical Cats, and one of the characters in it, Macavity. I don’t know anything about musicals, councillor. Yes, but T.S. Eliot? Coffee spoons. Coffee spoons.

Sure. We talked some politics too, beginning with his time as an East York M.P.P. and member of the Mike Harris government. I wanted to know how he negotiated the middle ground in the megacity amalgamation battle, representing residents who overwhelmingly didn’t want to be amalgamated. Resistance in his neck of the woods was surprisingly fiery but short-lived, he suggested, settling back once into a sort of acceptance once the deed had been done.

Governance reform was in the air when the Tories came to power. Reports were piled up, gathering dust. johnparkerThe big one, commissioned by the Bob Rae government, with Anne Golden at the helm was pretty much a non-starter with its suggestion of some sort of GTA-wide amalgamation. No one in power at Queen’s Park, not just Mike Harris, would contemplate establishing a local government that would rival the province in political clout, Parker believes. Not back then. Not now.

Was the Harris forced amalgamation an overt anti-Toronto act, I asked him.

He didn’t believe so although there did seem to be some ideological basis for going down the amalgamation path the way the Harris government did. Parker said there was a perception that Toronto, the older, legacy city, had grown “pampered” by its high tax base and social spending. It was thought the suburban municipalities would serve as a “moderating” influence on the excesses of dowtown.

We both chuckled, and thought of Rob Ford.

In retrospect, did amalgamation turn out as well as he’d hoped?

John Parker is in a unique position to address that question. Having been forced to fight for a second term in 1999 in another riding, ironically a victim of his own government’s anti-government mantra that reduced the number of provincial seats from 130 to 103, Parker lost. macavitySeven years later, he won a city council seat in Ward 26, vacated by Jane Pitfield for her ill-fated mayoral run against David Miller. So, like tear gas, he got to experience the effects of amalgamation first hand.

It wasn’t perfect, Parker tells me. The loss of a metro wide level of government without some sort of replacement was almost an off-the-cuff decision, and left city council as first 56 and then 44 squabbling fiefdoms. This basically undercut why Parker thought amalgamation would be good in the first place. The city and most of its big ticket services were already amalgamated. He thinks some of the current council problems could be alleviated with the addition of at-large councillors into the governance mix.

Parker does believe that one of the benefits of amalgamation is the slow but inevitable merging of the planning process from six departments to one. Planning is clearly a passion of John Parker’s, and one of the biggest disappointments for him in not securing a third term in last year’s election. There’s a lot to be excited about, the waterfront, plans and development along Eglinton Avenue as the Crosstown LRT comes to fruition. Unfortunately, he’s not going to be there, on the inside, to actively participate.

This seems to genuinely upset him.

And I think I speak for more than myself when I say, I’m upset with him. Of all the incumbents who were returned to office in 2014, 36 of them in total, only John Parker wasn’t. johnparker1Pick a name. Giorgio Mammoliti. Mark Grimes. Frank Di Giorgio. Ron Moeser. I could go on but I won’t. You get the point. All re-elected. John Parker was not.

Had he not won a 2nd term back in 2010 (another close race), perhaps no one might’ve noticed Parker’s exit from the local political scene. He certainly was not well-regarded on the left side of the spectrum, getting failing grades from media outlets like NOW and from organizations like the Toronto Environmental Alliance. Right-leaning news outlets like the Toronto Sun were lukewarm toward Parker, at best. “Not ready for the chop yet!”

He’d come to City Hall with a newly re-elected mayor, David Miller, who had his agenda firmly in-hand and needing little new support to get it through. Parker eventually found himself part of the Responsible Government Group, a handful of conservative leaning councillors often in opposition to Mayor Miller. The group never really gelled into a potent organized force, Parker says, the coalition often undercut by higher political ambitions of some of the members and other right-leaning councillors. It petered out further after its main target announced his intention not to seek a 3rd term in 2009.

Despite his outsider status and ideological differences with the Miller administration unionjack(although it is fun to hear Parker tout Transit City on more than one occasion when we’re talking transit policy), his first term must’ve been bliss compared to the next 4 years, the Ford era. “A complete disaster”, “disgraceful” is how Parker sums them up. He’d hoped that Rob Ford, after his surprising victory in 2010, would be distracted by the trappings of the mayor’s office and ignore policy which is what he’d done during his 10 years as councillor. What many councillors hadn’t counted on was his brother, Doug.

Parker has no kind words for his former council colleague who basically was calling the shots, and the one targeting things Parker holds dear, transit and the waterfront especially. It was on the transit file, from my perspective, that Parker rose up out of quiet obscurity. He had caught people’s attention as council’s deputy speaker, a calming, funny voice, stepping in whenever the more cacophonous, hyper-partisan speaker, Frances Nunziata, took a break from the chair.

But when Parker, also a TTC commissioner, went on record, referring to the Fords’ Scarborough subway plan as “goofy”, you knew something was up. Soon after, council took back control of the transit file from the mayor, only to take it off in another wacky direction.

ward26Parker had hoped that Transit City simply would’ve been reinstated

This all leads to the question that’s been nagging at me during our conversation. Why did John Tory, who was desperate to convince enough progressive voters that he was reasonable, rational, moderate, publicly endorse the opponent of a reasonable, rational, moderate incumbent like John Parker? Something he promised not to do and only did once, openly campaigning against an incumbent. Once.

If Parker knows the answer, he’s not telling although he did deepen the mystery further for me.

Back in 2007 when John Tory was leader of the Progressive Conservative and running for a seat in Don Valley West, Parker, who represented a ward in that riding at City Hall, reluctantly came out in support of Tory against the incumbent and future premier, Kathleen Wynne. His video appearance figured prominently on Tory’s website (and did not go unnoticed by Ms. Wynne). After the disastrous election results, Parker, as a former member of the party, advised caution in a rush to appear panicky and dump the party leader, once more backing John Tory.

So, why the snub in return? Not once, but twice, Parker informs me. As a high-profile non-candidate in 2010, John Tory also endorsed Parker’s opponent, Jon Burnside, giving his candidacy some legitimacy for any future run.

Parker shrugs. You tell me?johntoryjonburnside

Obviously, I can’t peek inside the “pure heart” of our mayor but it most certainly goes to a question of his character where loyalty and fair play get short shrift. Such machinations on his part would be slightly more understandable if his chosen candidate in Ward 26 appeared to be anything more than a compliant ticket puncher for the mayor. So far, evidence to the contrary is severely lacking.

John Parker doesn’t seem to be bitter about this. Just disappointed about this lost opportunity. Not for just himself but for the city if the new council doesn’t get the big decisions it’s facing right. Transit. The waterfront including stopping the island airport expansion. Eglinton Connects. He’s not sure the right person’s on the job to safely shepherd those issues.

During last year’s mayoral campaign, Parker was an initial supporter of Karen Stintz’s nascent and still undeclared mayoral bid. Policy differences, especially on transit, made that increasingly untenable. He found something of a natural fit in his support for David Soknacki. johnparker2The two men campaigned together.

When that campaign folded, Parker gravitated in a surprising direction. On the big issues that mattered to the city, he said that Olivia Chow was right. Transit. The bulging police budget. Spending on social issues. Olivia Chow got John Parker’s vote for mayor.

A lovely and entirely organic end to a very interesting run at City Hall, during huge upheaval and tumultuous times. Hopefully, now as a private citizen, John Parker’s voice isn’t lost. He’s got a lot of important things to say and it’s a lot of fun listening to him say it.

Thanks, John.

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