Politics 101

July 19, 2010

I like to think of myself as a man not oblivious to political machinations. There is no subterfuge buried deep enough that my nose cannot uproot, truffle style. Long gone are the days when I read anywhere but between the lines.

But I am the proverbial babe in the woods in these matters compared to my acquaintance, one Jose Cuervo Manchego (not his real name, I suspect). Sitting drinking in our favourite west end watering hole, he coolly and quickly dispels any notion I might have of possessing an ‘operative’ mindset. It is both disturbing and thrilling to watch one’s self-assured perspectives so systematically dismantled.

“To think Harper staged the G20 where he did simply to kick sand in the face of Toronto is infantile in its level of petulance,” Jose sneered at me. “It attaches human emotion to someone who possesses none.”

“Yes, yes, everyone’s trying to convince us the man’s actually a warm, huggable guy in person,” Jose continues. “All kittens and lollipops but in the political realm, he’s a machine, a robot, Vulcan. Spite is something completely foreign to him.”

So if not spite, what?

I make the mistake of wondering the thought out loud and am met with nothing but an icy stare of heart-stopping derision. It cost me another round of drinks plus one of the establishment’s marvelous pulled pork sandwiches to get Manchego to stay, let alone fully explain his diabolical theory. An investment well worth it in order to travel down the river to such a heart of darkness. But it would have to wait until the sandwich arrived. Our table was overcome with a stony silence.

“Everybody knew there was going to be a riot,” Manchego restarted in between bites. “As soon as the thing got moved downtown. Expected and desired.”

Sitting listening to Jose Cuervo Manchego brought to mind that scene in Oliver Stone’s JFK where Kevin Costner’s Jim Garrison is schooled in duplicity by Donald Sutherland’s X on the park bench. Yes, the man is that mad!

“They knew there’d be a riot. They knew there’d be police overreaction. Hell, they assured it with the number of cops they put on the street and the toys they gave them to play with. They knew there’d be a huge outcry of protest afterwards. Laws manipulated. Rights stepped on. And they knew… there… would…be…pushback.”

Manchego delivered the last line pretty much as written. Like he was talking to a child. To someone who would never fully comprehend what he was pointing at. But he underestimated my growing grasp of the situation.

“Over 70% of Torontonians approved of how the police dealt with the protesters!” I yelled out, startling everyone in the bar except for Jose Cuervo Manchego. He sat back, smiling a Yoda smile and gestured to the bartender for another round.

Locate and mobilize. Showing support for police actions over the G20 weekend (and beyond) revealed a law and order sensibility that was the Conservatives’ bread and butter. Where these people are and getting them out to vote might be the key to future electoral success.

“The Conservatives are this close,” (gesturing but, in fact, I take some editorial license here because what Manchego actually said about the miniscule proximity included an Andrew Brett degree of vulgarity which I’m not sure readers of this blog are ready for), “to securing a majority government. But they’re tapped out everywhere else in the country. The major breakthrough in Quebec fizzled because they have a fundamental cluelessness about the population. So, where … are … they … going … to … find … the … extra … seats?”

Now, I was just being patronized. The Conservatives had no presence in the country’s 3 biggest cities. A surge in any of them would provide the numbers needed to finally go over the top. So Manchego seemed to be suggesting that the PM deliberately set Toronto on fire in order to find out where his supporters were and to get them excited. That was too Machiavellian even for my tastes.

“Look at that debate at City Hall afterwards,” Manchego countered. “All those councillors who stood up to applaud the police. They proudly claimed to have had no part in the protests and watched it all go down on TV. Why? Because they don’t live anywhere near the downtown core. They go there to work and that’s the extent of it.”

“They live in Rob Ford country, friend.”

Maybe it was the number of drinks we’d downed on this sunny weekend afternoon but my head was a-swirl with the implications Manchego put forward. So the summer of 2010 was to be one of recruitment for the Conservative Party of Canada in the 416 area code. Identify, locate and mobilize. All they needed was a handful of seats and discontent was indeed running high throughout the city. Discontent generated and intensified by many of the candidates running for mayor, none more so than Rob Ford.

“His campaign is nothing more than a trial run,” Jose Cuervo Manchego suggested. “Trotted out to see what sticks and what slides. And exactly where his support is most intense.”

“And if he wins even better!”

Once again, the depths of my ignorance and obliviousness were revealed by Manchego’s reaction to my statement. He dropped his head back and his jaw down, staring in astonishment up at the ceiling. Before I could be relieved over the gentleness of his scorn, he grabbed a crust from his pulled pork sandwich and flung it at me, scoring a direct hit right into my slightly open mouth and forcing me to spit it out onto the floor in full view of the bartender. We apologized after getting a rebuke from him and remained quiet for a few moments but Manchego could not contain himself.

“Nobody in official Conservative circles wants Rob Ford to be mayor, you idiot!” Manchego hissed at me nowhere near as far under his breath as he might’ve imagined. “That would be a disaster. It would set back their agenda years if not decades.”

“The man’s a moron, a buffoon. One year in office as mayor would reveal the entire neo-Conservative, anti-government ideology to be the destructive, brutal, ruinous movement that it truly is. He’d get nothing accomplished except for sinking Conservative chances of ever electing anyone to office in this city ever again.”

I began to suspect the sanity of my drinking partner, Jose Cuervo Manchego. If what he’s saying were true then Toronto progressives should consider voting for Rob Ford as mayor. Take the long view and embrace a one term Ford mayoralty as a giant step toward damaging the neo-conservative brand. Our own little George W. Bush or Sarah Palin. Take one for the team for a brighter future. Fall on the grenade to save the platoon.

But alas, that was too far through the looking glass for me. A worldview I was unprepared to embrace lest I lose my very soul. I would admire the mind of someone like Jose Cuervo Manchego but would not seek to emulate it.

A conclusion I kept to myself, not wanting to be pelted by any more sandwich detritus although, judging from the smoldering, even hateful, look I was subject to, Manchego very likely knew what I was thinking. We continued drinking in silence. The heat outside was too stifling for us to do anything else.

shakenly submitted by Acaphlegmic


The Moth-like Politics of Dalton McGuinty

May 4, 2010

A debate has been raging around the office in recent days… OK, not so much raging as dribbling out in fits and starts. If not fits and starts, at least, bored bouts of opinionated discussion. And even the word ‘discussion’ gives too much a sense of engagement in the topic.

You see, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been pondering on Dalton McGuinty. So you understand the complete and utter ambivalence and passionate disinterest at the core of the subject. The room was far from electric when talking about the provincial premier.

The two sides can be summed up as follows: Dalton McGuinty, evil Machiavellian political operator masking as country bumpkin or just plain country bumpkin? Andy Taylor of Mayberry or Barney Fife? Andy Taylor of Duran Duran or Simon LeBon?

Frankly, I don’t buy the Machiavelli angle. There’s no convincing proof. Stephen Harper is nothing but Machiavellian with a little sliver of ideology to give him direction. Dalton McGuinty possesses neither. He doesn’t machinate nor does he even so much as dabble in the cold, cold waters of doctrinairism. Dalton McGuinty simply is.

It is my contention that Dalton McGuinty is the luckiest politician going. He took over his late father’s seat at Queen’s Park in 1990. He took over a dispirited provincial Liberal party who’d just been caught flat-footed by the Common Sense Revolution. He was fourth on both the 1st and 2nd ballots of the 1996 leadership convention before finally lurching to victory in the 5th and final ballot, ultimately backed by the Red Tory contingent of the party. He was summarily defeated in his first provincial election as Liberal leader by a far from popular Progressive Conservative government but retained the leadership reins with little struggle. He became premier next time out with the collapse of the Harris-Eves government under the weight of its own malicious incompetence.

As the premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty has successfully governed by being perceived as a better fiscal manager than the NDP and a more humane overseer of social services than the PCs. It is a baffling perception. The province has a record deficit. (Yeah, yeah. They’re dealing with a nasty recession. Where was that slack cut with Bob Rae back in the early 90s? Or the present city budget?) In terms of social spending and provincial downloading of services onto municipalities, well, the Liberals have hardly restored matters to anything close to pre-Harris Tory levels.

One of the most telling shortcomings of the McGuinty government is in terms of education funding. With the devastation of the provinces manufacturing sector, all the talk is about the new, high tech information age. For that to happen, we need heavy investment in education at all levels. Yet, Ontario remains last in higher education spending per capita of all the country’s provinces. Yes, that was a trend started under the Tories in the 90s but more than a decade later we are still last.

Excuses only go so far. For McGuinty, first it was that the preceding government had left a bigger deficit than expected. Now it’s the economic downturn. He’s trying his best but let’s be reasonable, people.

It is my hypothesis here that the success of Dalton McGuinty is due to the fact that he governs as a moth flies. His is an unpredictable, random approach that is near impossible to pin down. He zigs when you think he should zag. And like the moth, McGuinty has no control over it. It’s like punching water or putting the squeeze on jello.

Hey, don’t worry Toronto voters. If I’m elected premier I will upload all those services that mean nasty Mike Harris burdened you with. Eventually. Maybe. Transit City? You bet. Or maybe not. Times are tough all over. The cupboard’s bare.

You can never tell when the man will stand firm or fold up like a card table made of a deck of cards. He’s remained staunch in the growing outrage over the harmonized sales tax that’s coming down on us in July, possibly risking what should be an easy re-election. But with a minor peep of protest from a small contingent, he quickly backed off the proposed sex education grade school curriculum.

There’s no rhyme nor reason to it. It’s a governing style impossible to engage with rationally. At least with the stridently ideological bent of Mike Harris, you knew what to expect and (usually) prepare for the worst. With Dalton? He’ll stab you in the back without apparently even knowing he’s doing it. Apparently, it’s a method conducive to political longevity but impossibly difficult to work with or count on.

musingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat