Retail Politics

July 10, 2013

You’re the best retail politician in the country!

On this, Councillor Doug Ford and I (and the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale) could all agree. everythingmustgo1Mayor Rob Ford is indeed a fantastic retail politician although, unlike his councillor-brother, I haven’t seen every politician in the country so can’t really make the complete comparison. But certainly, the mayor just might be the best I have ever witnessed.

Now, you might consider that a startling confession if retail politics was something I was looking for in a politician. Unfortunately (for me), it isn’t. In fact, it’s the kind of populism I abhor in those seeking public office.

When I think of retail, I think of somebody trying to sell me something I don’t need at a price I can’t afford. Pandering also springs to mind. What do I have to say for you to buy my product?

According to the etymology of the phrase, ‘retail politics’ meant ‘buying votes’. salesman1Hardly the most flattering of descriptions for a politician and probably not the way we think of the phrase these days. It’s more, tell me what you want to hear and I’ll say it. You don’t like paying taxes? Let’s cut taxes. You hate streetcars? Me too. Let’s get rid of streetcars.

It’s more complicated than that, of course. Like any good retailer, it’s about shaping the perfect pitch for your product to the consumer. Snappy slogans, easily committed to memory. Political jingles, really, that stick in your mind and spring up unexpectedly years later.

“Marine Land and Game Farm!”

Stop the Graa-Vee Train! The city’s got a spending not revenue problem. The city’s got a spending not a revenue problem.”salesman

(Yeah. I’m more of a word than a tunesmith.)

Retail politicians essentially sell themselves to the voting public, complete with easy to follow labels and instructions. Their policies are usually just extensions of their personalities, extra bonus add-ons that come with the full package. Pick me and I’ll freeze property taxes. Pick me and get subways.

At least since amalgamation, Toronto seems to love its municipal politics retail. The very first mayor of the place was in fact a salesman. Who voted for Mel Lastman? Ev-er-ee-bo-dy!

Now, Mel served in the capacity of mayor since 1972 up in North York. Over the course of 30+ years, he certainly refined his product to suit the changing political landscape but, ultimately, it was always Mel people voted for, salesman3and his pledge to keep taxes low and the government small. Who wouldn’t want that?

The problem with retail politics, however, is that they’re very, very limited in their scope.

If you buy a carton of milk from the supermarket, for example, you don’t go back there to get the brakes of your car fixed (except maybe at some Walmarts). You shop at a supermarket for supermarket-y stuff. You take car problems to a garage with a qualified mechanic.

If the city you live needs more than lower taxes and small government, like say a transit system or other infrastructure requirements, politicians who promised nothing more than low taxes are kind of out their depth. In fact, the bigger matter of governance in general may well be beyond their grasp or even interest level. Whoah, whoah, whoah. Pilgrim. I promised to look out for the little guy not build them a liveable city.

The complicated nature of big city politics finally took its toll on Mel Lastman in his 2nd term as megacity mayor. mellastmanIronically when it came to selling Toronto to the world in an Olympic bid, he came out embarrassingly flat and awkward. He was hopeless during the SARS crisis. Lobbyists filled the void created by his increasing disinterest in the actual day-to-day running of the city.

We’re witnessing a very similar failure of retail politics, much earlier in his administration from Mayor Ford. In the face of the severe storm on Monday and with much of the city’s infrastructure under duress, he was nowhere to be seen. The press conference he eventually participated in the day after was perfunctory, as most of his press conferences are. He toured some of the sights still struggling with the excess of water and stared blankly at them.

“There’s no doubt about it. We do need infrastructure. We just have to fund for it,” the mayor said.

Funding. The billion(s) dollar question, and one the best retail politician in the country is ill-equipped to answer. How to invest in infrastructure when all you promised to do was lower taxes and reduce spending. deathofasalesmanHe’s already come up empty on the promise to build more subways in Scarborough. It’s hard to imagine how the mayor can be a part of this solution.

But he’s not to blame for that.

On the campaign trail, he told us what he stood for, what he planned to do if elected. Sure, he polished some rough policy corners but what retailer doesn’t buff out the blemishes of their product? Buyer beware, right?

We bought what Rob Ford was selling us, so it’s unfair to expect that he has anything much of value to contribute to this ongoing discussion of city building. That’s not his product. Anyone reading the fine print would’ve known that.

sellingly submitted by Cityslikr


Don’t Look At Me. It’s Not My Mess.

January 30, 2013

Our premier to be says ungridlocking the GTA by investing in new transit is one of her first priorities. To do that we must generate new revenue streams. madhatter1Our Toronto mayor says he’s not really a tax-and-spend kind of politician. The ROO screams ‘favouritism’. (Seriously. Read through the comments in the linked Toronto Star piece.)

Over at the city’s Parks and Environment Committee, chair Norm Kelly wonders out loud about the expensive necessity of preparing for the fallout of climate change. What if it’s not a thing? Can scientists’ models be trusted? Why the rush to judgement? Besides, if some of the stuff he’s read is to be believed, it could end up being like Tennessee here. How great would that be?! (It should be pointed out to the councillor that climate change alarmist Al Gore hails from Tennessee. Just so the facts are all out there on the table for him.)

It’s days like yesterday when I wonder if it wouldn’t be better for all concerned if we as a species aren’t simply wiped off the face of the earth by one rogue tidal wave created when a big chunk of Arctic ice sheers off and plops into the ocean. Or some mammoth solar flare fries us all to dust. redqueen2Or God simply claps his hands and starts all over again.

I’ve written often of our lack of resolve to tackle important issues that might possibly involve any degree of personal sacrifice. Is that what happens when you see yourself as a consumer or taxpayer instead of an engaged citizen? You can have my money when you take this wallet from my cold, dead hands!

Yes. We’ve become a society of grumpy Charlton Hestons, unwilling to look at the bigger picture beyond our own backyards. Every penny in tax we pay is a penny stolen. Inconvenient truths that threaten our lifestyle need further study. We’re sick of the country asking what we can do for it. What’s it going to do for us for a change?

What have the Romans ever done for us?

Businesses sit on more than half a trillion dollars, yet government boondoggles and outrageous union demands drain our coffers and our patience. There is an easy solution to all our financial and infrastructure problems that don’t involve us giving up anything especially more money because… well, because… eHealth! ORNGE! We already gave at the office, OK?

Build us a casino. One that will pay for everything we need. So simple, it’s a wonder no one’s ever thought of it before.

I don’t want to get too cranky here and sound like some bitter old drunk in a divey bar bending everybody’s ear about the ill-state of the world today. aliceontherun Because in my time, in my time, youngsters, progress has been made on many fronts. Matters of equality in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation have evolved in a positive direction over the past four decades. An African-American president of the United States? A gay, female premier in Ontario? Not during my lifetime, sonny jim. Yet, here we are.

But those are historical inequities and injustices that are far from being leveled and while we’ve been battling on those fronts, new pressing problems have emerged. These are legacy issues as well which will fit nicely under the environmental umbrella. Climate change. Infrastructure to both help cope with the implications of climate change and to mitigate possible worse case scenarios from playing out.

Shrugging it off with pejorative terms like ‘alarmist’ is the easy way out. alfredenewmanAs a late onset boomer, I think my generation’s lasting contribution is fighting to get governments off our backs, to keep taxes as low as possible and minimize our civic engagement. Good for us who got in while the going was good. Not so much for those coming after us. We’re like the anti-social picnickers, enjoying our time out in the sun and leaving all our garbage behind.

We aren’t the first era ever to face seemingly insurmountable challenges. What era has been spared such a dilemma? As of now, we’ve avoided stepping up to accept the responsibility. What, me worry? is our official motto, Alfred E. Neuman our spokeman.

Not sure who that is, kids? Ask your parents. They can tell you.

responsibly submitted by Cityslikr