A Bitter Victory

May 3, 2011

He was not answering his phone. Rain or shine, day or night, while sitting on the toilet conducting his daily constitutional, he answered his phone. So this was unusual.

It’s not like the evening had been a total failure. Yes, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives seized the majority that had hung so tantalizingly close before their eyes just out of reach for the past 5 years. If you have any attachment to the notion of the positive role government plays in our lives, no good can come from last night’s results.

And being what my friend Donald calls an ‘unreconstructed Pierre Trudeau Liberal’, the party of my youth is not even the official opposition any longer. It is just officially in tatters. No one’s going to be talking about the ‘Liberal brand’ anymore without giggling mournfully.

Yet the NDP had scaled historic heights. A second place finish seemed to be merely empty boasting as recently as two weeks ago. By the end of last evening, however, the NDP were les rois du Quebec, nearly obliterating the Bloc in one fell swoop. For that, federalists of whatever stripe should be grateful. The party also managed to hold seats elsewhere and mounted their own assault on Fortress Liberal in downtown Toronto, taking out a few Liberal incumbents in the process.

So for that alone, I expected at least a modicum of ebullience from my colleague, the NDPisty of all of us. But he wouldn’t even pick up his phone. From past experience, I knew this to be a bad sign.

When I arrived at the office, the door was slightly ajar. I knocked. No answer. Popping my head into the darkened room except for the glow coming of the computer screen, I spotted the silhouette of Cityslikr, sitting at the desk. With a “yoo-hoo!” I made my presence known but still received no response. My rational side told me he was just lost in deep thought but part of me wondered, well, I’d seen too many movies with scenes just like this. A corpse still sitting upright, waiting to fall over at the slightest touch. It wasn’t like the man didn’t have a short list of people who’d vowed to kill him at some point of time or other.

I slowly but noisily approached him, still eliciting no reaction. The first thing I noticed was the half full (yes, I remain the optimist even in the darkest of times) bottle of Woodford Reserve. OK. So maybe he’d drunk himself into a joyful stupor. I mean, the Orange Wave had taken 100 seats after all. Conservative majority be damned. It was still an impressive feat.

Then I spotted the opened pill bottle. Picking it up from the desk with still no acknowledgement from Cityslikr, I checked out the label. Lorazepam. Oh oh. I leaned in for a closer look. His eyes were open but just staring ahead at the computer screen. Giving him a gentle nudge, I asked how many of the pills he’d had.

It wasn’t clear if he’d heard me as the question seemed to make no impression. The only sign of life Cityslikr exhibited was the slow blinking of his eyes, randomly and not always in unision. I began wondering if a call to 9-1-1 might not be in order. And then he spoke.

“Not nearly enough,” he said. “I was thinking of trying to sleep for the next 4 and a half years.” He continued to look at the computer screen. I followed his glance to see what, if anything, had so focused his attention. Sentences blinked on the screen in front of him.

In the end, we send our words and ideas into the void, Mafingo.

(Mafingo?)

 Into the fucking void to die a neglected death. Nothing to be done. Nothing to be done.

Yep. Our fearless leader had slipped into the dark recesses of a Beckettian induced coma. Clearly this was not the time for upbeat words and thoughts. He was nowhere near ready for that. Now we simply mourn. And how better to do that than a slug of some silky smooth bourbon to wash down the warm, pillowy embrace of a benzodiazepine? Warning: Do not drink alcohol while taking benzodiazepine. This medication can increase the effects of alcohol. Exactly.You know, it’s not the majority government that’s so hard to swallow although, it is a big, big, bitter, bitter pill for sure. Nor is it the collapse of Liberal support that’s dismaying. While much will be made of the vote splitting that gave the Conservatives many unintentional seats especially in Toronto and the GTA, I curiously await the numbers to see how many of those were caused by natural occurring left of centre, NDP-Liberal splits and those caused by rightist Liberals jumping aboard the good ship Conservative to try and stem the Orange Wave. Perhaps Liberals needed to purge their party of those types anyway. It’s just an ugly way to do it for the rest of us.

No, for me the really disheartening aspect of Monday’s election is the total lack of imagination and nerve on the part of voters who cast their ballot with the Conservatives out of fear and desire for stability. They bought into the dubious notion that parliamentary democracies can only function properly with one party in a majority position to make all the decisions. Here you go. Do your worst. And we’ll tune in again in 4 years time, see how you’re doing.

We had a golden opportunity by electing a third straight minority government (in whatever makeup) to truly change the political landscape of this country. To make it known to all the parties that this is what we wanted. We wanted compromise. We wanted consensus. So instead of working to undermine a minority parliament, all parties would have to properly deal with that new reality and perhaps put their own interests aside for those of the country.

Instead, we rewarded those who did everything in their power to discredit the idea of a workable minority government with unfettered access to the levers of federal power. Actually, fewer than two in five voters rewarded the Conservatives for their parliamentary treachery, somehow feeling that they’ve restored the natural order of things where one party garnering less than 40% of the popular vote gets to play with all the marbles. A skewed stability that disenfranchises 60% of the electorate. But no matter. We won’t have to bother to vote again for over 4 years!

This type of Conservative victory has set back voting reform at the federal level for another 5 years at least. Why would a majority government want to reform a system that benefited them greatly? While seat numbers weren’t far off their popular vote, the NDP may be likewise loathe to bring up the subject with the majority of their seats now in Quebec, a province that could see their political influence dwindle somewhat under a more proportionally representative system. Only the Liberals and the Green Party are left to carry that banner but their impact on the next parliament will be minimal.

In its place, the talk will be of uniting the centre left at least between the NDP and Liberals, and disfiguring our political landscape even further into an entirely contrived two party, left v. right, scenario. It’s just simpler that way, I guess. Because if there’s one take away lesson from the election campaign this time around it’s that voters are uncomfortable with complexity. It’s too difficult to follow and takes up too much of their time. Politics, as in any game, needs a clear-cut winner and a bunch of losers.I won’t always feel this way. Nor will my colleague, Cityslikr. We will bounce back. But for a few days anyway we seek to dull the pain of our ever growing misanthropy in a pleasant, totally legal, narcotic haze, telling our woes to our new best friend, Mafingo.

ativanly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Conservatives To Cities: We’re Just Not That Into You

February 3, 2011

Trying to shake free of the grip events in Egypt have had on me for the past couple days and get on with life… even writing that makes me squirm in embarrassment. Sorry about all that repression and killing of unarmed civilians, Egyptians, but I’ve got a post to write. Hold tight. I’ll be back in a jif.

I was struck while watching the situation unfold in Cairo’s Tahrir Square by the thought that governments, especially authoritarian ones, must hate cities. All those millions of people, gathering together, plotting, resisting, café latteing. While it may make for some easy turkey shoots, exerting control in cities of millions can ultimately prove impossible. Thus, unlawful assembly edicts tend to be urban oriented. Country rabble rousers are easily rounded up with a quick visit to the closet highway exit Tim Hortons location.

In between paroxysms of outrage and despair, I came across a series of articles yesterday that suggested even non-dictatorial states aren’t really that crazy about cities. It either began here or here or, quite possibly, here (which is why I love the internet. Stories nested within stories, allowing you to read about a subject for hours on end without so much as a bathroom break. Just strap on your Depends and wallow in the informational overload.)

Now, much of this has a very American slant and is not entirely relevant to us in Canada especially the views on the U.S. Senate being, at heart, an anti-urban institution due, in part, to the power wielded by the many smaller populated states. Although we have had a variation on that argued here recently about the under-representation of the more populous regions in both our federal and provincial legislatures. This discrepancy has allowed our current Prime Minister to piece together a workable minority government over the last 5 years without any representation in the country’s 3 largest cities. And all his machinations to build a winning majority have not included attempts to garner increased urban support.

Which brings me to the pertinent point of all these articles: the politics at the centre of this anti-urbanism. Conservatives seem to take a dim view of cities. Or at least, the higher density, public transit depending, non-car loving, artsy-fartsy, (you know where I’m going with this), downtown, pinko elitist parts of cities. On the surface you could argue, why wouldn’t they? Downtowners are not their kind of people and don’t tend to vote Conservative. So, fuck `em. Conversely however, it could be pointed out that Conservatives don’t stand for anything much that downtowners might get behind.

It’s a thought we touched upon a little last August when we reviewed Tim Falconer’s book, Drive.  After talking to the Sierra Club’s Transportation Committee chair, John Holtzclaw, who believes that higher density living creates a more open-minded, tolerant society, Mr. Falconer concludes that, “People who live closer together and are less dependent on the automobile develop a different attitude toward citizenship and activism.” A different attitude from one that prizes individualism over the collective as the surest vehicle toward achieving well-being.

Conservative antipathy toward urbanism is nothing new nor is it something they possessed exclusively. E. Barbara Phillips noted in City Lights the early 20th-century perception of city life was largely negative. “Alienation. Rootlessness. Superficial relationships. The loss of human connections. Materialsim. Money instead of personal relations as the bond of association among people.” One moved to the city out of necessity while pining for the simplicity of small town life.

Understandable as we still saw ourselves as a largely agrarian country. A century later, however, and that is no longer the case. Despite our wide open spaces and iconic national images of the Rocky Mountains, prairie wheat fields and (formerly) frozen tundra, we are now an urban nation, like it or not. As of 2006, nearly 14 million Canadians lived in cities with populations of 500,000 or more. That’s almost half of us and the percentage over the last 5 years certainly won’t have declined.

It’s all part of a global urban trend which makes our anti-urbanism somewhat archaic and more than a little self-destructive. As cities go, so goes their countries, and if we insist on knee-capping them with outdated approaches to planning, transit, sustainability and infrastructure, we will make ourselves less competitive and less economically viable. Aren’t those the core of conservative values?

He asks, living in a city that just elected a mayor who needs space, his own driveway and backyard. A mayor that thought it necessary to build parking for a new proposed waterfront aquarium site that the developer’s chose “… because of the (pedestrian and transit) options…” and that “… parking made the project not financially viable…” A mayor whose administration is eyeing with suspicion sustainable and green initiatives as something outside of a city’s “core services”.

Yeah, some points of view die hard and when they rise up to take control of the levers of power, all we can do is resist mightily and try to mitigate the damage until we regain our civic senses. We can also take solace in the fact that at least so far here in Canada, anti-urbanism hasn’t achieved conspiracy level status where light rail transit, sustainable development and smart growth are seen as some U.N. plot to pry right thinking Americans out of their “personal mobility machines” and into tiny, cramped “human habitation zones”. It’s a sci-fi, dystopian view of cities that conservatives seem bound and determined to make a reality.

city mousedly submitted by Cityslikr


M.I.A. At The G20

June 28, 2010

All things considered, I guess arriving back home with only an hour delay should be considered a pleasant surprise. As we approached Pearson airport last night, the pilot informed us that we should buckle in due to reports of ‘weather’ on the ground. Certainly the plane circled in the dark clouds and growing dusk for a time but the landing was no more adventurous than many I’ve sat through.

It was raining for sure, more startling to my eye perhaps due to the fact that I’d just spent 6 days in Scotland without seeing more than a wee dram of the stuff. Hey! You’re looking tanned. Been down south recently? No, Scotland. What?!?

We sat for a spell on the tarmac, waiting for gate personnel to come and free us, again due to the earlier deluge. There was no reason to suspect otherwise. That is, until I caught sight of this monstrously huge, unmarked, half-cargo/half-military plane taxiing on past us on the right and into the darkness ahead. Ah, yes. The G20’s packing up and heading out. Moments later, our plane lurched forward to the gate.

Truth be told, in the part of the world I was holed up in during the course of the G8/G20 meetings there wasn’t much talk of them. Granted, I was in the soccer mad U.K. although they still insist on calling it ‘football’ despite the fact that what we play over here is called ‘football’, leading only to confusion and Three’s Company-like conversational mix-ups. Not much else but soccer was talked about and with England’s humiliating ouster at the hands of Germany yesterday, it will continue to be so in all likelihood until the qualifiers for 2014 start up again in a couple years’ time.

We heard about the outbreak of violence on Saturday, of course. The main point of the exercise, I imagine. There were images of the suited G8ers, glad-handing and photo-opping in front of Muskoka backdrops. As for the details of what was going on inside the gathering? Nothing much aside from many commentators pointing out that the annual aid pledges promised to the developing world were less than the cost of hosting this particular 3 day event.

According to the statement our Prime Minister released at the confab’s conclusion, it appears that the deficit hawks in the crowd won the day. Countries have vowed to start cutting and slashing their spending and wrestling down their debts and deficits starting almost immediately. The PM assured us that Canada would lead by example, hitting its targets ahead of schedule. It will be interesting to see if we’re more willing to keep that promise than we’ve been with past declarations of international aid.

Making my way uneventfully from the airport and into a cab, the drive home was tinged with the surreal. There was no westbound traffic on the Gardiner except for the two motorcades that zipped past us. Motorcades. Huh. Our driver seemed skittish and told me that it had been a crazy weekend. A moving target of road closures and detours. As if to prove his point, he attempted to turn north from Lakeshore only to be sent back west by a traffic cop blocking the street. This, however, seemed to be G20 non-related and more to do with the earlier weather event, what with the massive pool of water in the road and a downed hydro pole nearby.

We wound our way through unfamiliar territory all of which was very quiet and peaceful. Granted, it was 10:30 on a wet Sunday night so I’m not sure what I was expecting. It was only when we reached College Street that some life seemed to pop back into the streets. But there’s nothing really all that unusual with that, right?

Once home and slightly unpacked, I began to comb through in more detail the reports of what happened here over the weekend. Again. Huh. As bad as the doomsayers predicted? Well, there were no dead bodies on the streets but outside of that, despite all of the military tactical planning, serious violence against property erupted, civil rights were egregiously trampled upon and nothing more came of the proceedings than an attempted buffing up of the justifiably damaged neo-liberal brand.

Likewise, I too feel shamed. For choosing convenience over conviction and allowing myself to be chased from the city by the braying of the law and order crowd. Retrospectively reading through the stream of information that emerged over the course of the weekend – much of it in real time – it is clear that a significant segment of this city’s population was traumatized by the show of force shown on both sides of the (figurative… and quite possibly, literal) fence. And I was m.i.a.

What would my presence here have accomplished? Next to nothing, I’m sure, except maybe bearing witness to the imperious show of power. Citizens’ rights were summarily rescinded while I was off drinking beer and watching soccer in the warm Scottish sunshine. A scenario, I must admit, that is depressingly routine (minus the Scottish sunshine angle).

So to those of you who remained here and got involved, recorded the events for posterity and maybe even were detained or arrested, my heartfelt apologies for abandoning you and this city during a time of need. It is due to attitudes like mine and my cavalier approach to our rights and responsibilities as citizens of a democracy that allow our elected officials to behave as if there are no consequences or repercussions to their actions.  They cannot be held accountable from afar and no few hundred words in hindsight will change that. Again, my sincerest of apologies.

And if there’s anything I can do to make it up to you…

supplicantly submitted by Cityslikr