C Is For ‘Conservative Country Mouse’

Hardly equipped to wade into the fallout of last night’s Alberta election except to say that both pollsters and more right wing types from the ‘Calgary School’ and on the interwebs must be feeling a little glum today.

“In Alberta yesterday, voters were given a choice between Principled Conservatism and Unprincipled Conservatism,” The Clown At Midnight wrote. “And Unprincipled Conservatism – populism — won the day. Boy, did they ever win the day…We can stop pretending that just because our views are principled, people will share them.”

The day before the election, University of Calgary economist Frank Atkins established what exactly was at stake on a segment of the CBC’s Sunday Edition. “This is the big question right now. What do Albertans want? Do they want to be true conservatives on the right or are Albertans actually drifting to the left?”

Apparently a majority of Albertans aren’t principled or true enough conservatives for some. But I’ll leave them to battle that one out.

What did jump out at me, though, from a city perspective was a glaring urban-rural/moderate-right wing divide. Once again, cities proved to be the righter wing’s Waterloo. The Wildrose Party won only two ridings in Calgary and none Edmonton. Since more than half the Albertan provincial seats are located in those two places, that’s a mountain the party’s going to have to scale at least partially if they ever want to form the government.

Which isn’t really the strong suit of the more hardcore conservative ideologues. Cities and true, principled conservatives seem to go together like oil and water, birds of different feathers or, in terms that a Wildrose supporter might understand, the Hatfields and McCoys. They don’t quite get us. They scare us.

At the federal level, Conservatives were able to pick off enough suburban ridings especially here around Toronto to form their majority government. What did we get in return? A pedestrian tunnel to our second, smaller airport. How about a national transit strategy? Yeah, no. We’re not that close.

Conservative city love (CCL) has traditionally never really been a thing. All those great unwashed huddled there, causing trouble back in the olden days. Now, joined by champagne sipping socialists demanding we scale back car use and pay $9 for free trade coffee. What’s with these people? Cities are just somewhere you go to work and get the hell out of at 5pm.

While it may be politically advantageous at this point to exploit those antiquated divisions, it’s simply becoming bad policy, and not just at the local levels, but provincially and federally as well. Senior levels of government neglect of public transit is threatening the economic well being of the region, the province and country. A ‘national tragedy’ according to Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. A little overwrought perhaps but certainly a national crisis.

“Gridlock and congestion impede our mobility and productivity on a daily basis,” claims the not unconservative Toronto Board of Trade. Red Tory John Tory and the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance are spearheading a regional transportation initiative. “Making it easier to move people, goods and services across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area is critical to our region’s economic, social and environmental prosperity.” “We have far outgrown our existing transportation infrastructure, which is not meeting the current or future needs of our growing region. This outdated system is hampering our ability to realize the rich potential of our region.”

Cities matter. Overwhelmingly, Canadians are living in cities. To ignore that fact and use outmoded electoral distribution to subvert the changing demographics is ultimately undercutting the country’s future.

It also may be self-defeating in the long run for politicians who exploit it.

In our review of Tim Falconer’s book, Drive, way back when, (an aside here: come out to the launch of his latest book next Monday. There will be drinking involved.) we excitedly noted one of the conclusions he came to after driving his way across the good ol’ U.S. of A.  “People who live closer together and are less dependent on the automobile develop a different attitude toward citizenship and activism.”

We become more liberal, shall we say?

If that’s so, politicians continue to ignore us, defy us, demonize us at their peril. As more and more voters get wise to city ways, it will pay fewer political dividends to cast them as the enemy within. Just ask the Wildrose Party today.

urbanely submitted by Cityslikr

The Company He Keeps

Before everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that at least a Rob Ford mayoralty is not assured at this point, we might be well served to pause and look more closely at the man who is shaping up to be the only viable alternative. George Smitherman.

Ignoring the distasteful aspect of feeling obligated to vote for a candidate in order to stop another one from winning – the ‘Do I Have To?’ factor – and the inevitable disenchantment with the political process that follows, we should be alert to the tone Smitherman’s taken on the campaign trail recently. Instead of trying to distance himself from Ford’s ultra-right platform and embracing the wide open centrist territory, Smitherman’s been mouthing increasingly conservative platitudes. He’s stepping onto his rival’s turf and attempting to engage him in a knockdown, brawling neo-con slugfest.

Tax freezes (and cuts), hiring freezes except for police, privatization and outsourcing. All of which can be found on Rob Ford’s campaign website. Yes, Smitherman’s pledged to increase things like arts funding but it’s difficult to see how those kind of ‘special interest’ targets will get much priority amidst the fiscal restraint he’s vowing to bring to City Hall.

Moreover, look at the people backing Smitherman and working in his camp. While his fellow rivals on the right, Ford and Rocco Rossi and the media organs that stand in opposition to him, namely the Toronto Sun, try pinning the tax-and-spend, Liberal label on Furious George – he was part of the Dalton McGuinty government after all – Smitheman For Mayor is actually eye deep in Tory blue. And not just the soft and squishy Progressive Conservative brand of yore, either. Jamie Watt, senior campaign strategist for Smitherman, was a communications advisor for Mike Harris in 1995 and 1999 where he helped introduce good ol’ American style neo-conservatism into these parts.

Further Harris ties gained front page news last month with an open letter of support for George Smitherman signed by some 38 conservative voices. Some prominent, others forgettable but most having had something to do with the Mike Harris government.

In amongst those names was one Ralph Lean. Lean is part of the Smitherman fundraising team and signed on early to the campaign in that capacity. Along with being a highly placed figure on the conservative scene, Lean made waves last year when he publicly broke with David Miller after having turned heads by helping Miller get re-elected in 2006. It was a public excoriation in the pages of the National Post that came out mere weeks before Miller announced he would not seek a 3rd term.

Among the mistakes that Miller had made as mayor that cheesed Lean off were “… overspending, for failing to freeze councillors’ salaries, for narrowing Jarvis Street, for fighting with Porter Airlines (“I’m a big supporter of Porter”) and for refusing to examine outsourcing some city functions.” Hmmm. Sound familiar? Oh right, Smitherman’s mouthed the same complaints, all of which he’s vowing to alleviate if we elect him mayor.

None of this is at all new or groundbreaking. The dividing line between Conservative and Liberal politics is often times slippery and blurry. It’s just that as the endgame of our mayoral race is being forcibly shaped into a two man race, between the far right and the not-as-far right, progressive voices and views have been squeezed out. The accepted narrative being spun has it that Toronto is a city on the brink of financial and social ruin, its citizens over-taxed and under-serviced. Pure hyperbole mixed in with a soupçon of outright bullshit.

Not only are those of us who range on the political spectrum from centre to left being asked – nay, told – that in order to avoid a calamitous victory by Rob Ford we must vote for a candidate who is displaying no affinity for our political views. We are being instructed to cast a ballot for a candidate who is campaigning further on the right than anyone has seen here in a long, long time, if ever. We are being neo-conned by stealth.

There are other choices available to us, folks. Don’t close the book on this race yet. To give in to the two man race narrative is to hand over the keys to someone – either Rob Ford or George Smitherman — who is determined to reshape Toronto in ways that will benefit few and be harmful to many. Let’s not be a part of that.

defiantly submitted by Cityslikr

Conservatives ♥ Smitherman

Conservatives For Smitherman!

Strike you as odd? Really? Like how odd? Jews For Jesus odd? Red Sox For Yankees odd?

When some prominent local conservatives signed a letter in support of George Smitherman’s mayoral candidacy yesterday, the interwebs concerned with such matters lit up. The Rob Ford/Rocco Rossi right wing base (or, in the case of Mr. Rossi, let’s call it Sue Ann Levy) were all up in arms, defining themselves as true or real conservatives as opposed to those who’d signed the Smitherman pledge who were.. how’d Sue Ann put it ..? “the fah-fah Rosedale crowd”. The same “fah-fah Rosedale crowd” Ms. Levy sought to represent when she ran in last year’s provincial by-election under the Progressive Conservative banner, proving once again that the new conservative mind has no institutional memory whatsoever; replaced entirely by a simple binary yes, no, yes, no, thought that can’t recall the events of the previous day let alone year.

For their part, supporters of Joe Pantalone waved the letter about as proof that Smitherman was, to use their candidate’s own nifty campaign catch-phrase, just another mini Mike Harris. An easy leap to make since the letter was signed by some former members of the Harris government. This was the smoking gun to show that Smitherman was a Liberal in name only.

The surprise of all this was that there was any surprise about this in the first place. Anyone who’s followed Smitherman’s political career at the provincial level must know that to succeed as he did in climbing the ladder of the Dalton McGuinty government, he had to be a dyed in the wool red Tory. (I’ve hyperlinked the term for all you youngsters out there unfamiliar with it.) In my day, Progressive Conservatives like John Robarts, Bill Davis, Robert Stanfield, Joe Clarke were what you’d call red Tories. Conservatives not viscerally anti-government and pathologically opposed to the notion of taxation. They were closer in spirit to one of the original conservatives, Edmund Burke, who thought society should conserve those aspects that were working while gradually changing those that weren’t.

When the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario successfully lurched radically right, the Liberal party tip-toed in that direction with them, ending up occupying the centre, centre-right. Thus becoming Red Tories. As a very high-powered member of that government, it should hardly be surprising then that Smitherman has attracted the support of socially liberal, fiscally conservative types like Isabel Bassett.

What we should know by now is that, at his most fundamental, George Smitherman is a political animal. He will be whatever he needs to be to get the number of votes needed to win office; listening to him earlier today being interview by Matt Galloway on Metro Morning proved that point again. The topic was governance and reform. As Smitherman showed last night at the urban issues debate, he comes prepared with appropriate talking points for the event at hand and will dispose of them as soon as he needs to.

Lifting an idea straight out of Paul Bedford’s talk on Tuesday, Rethinking Toronto’s Governance (which we talked about here yesterday), Smitherman floated the notion of keeping all 44 councillors but having 22 of them elected in expanded wards and the other 22 voted in on an at-large, city wide level. What about expanding the numbers of councillors, Galloway asked, as another solution to helping citizens reconnect with the local representatives. Less constituents/councillor. Scoffing, Smitherman responded — and I’m paraphrasing here — With the prevailing, anti-government winds out there? Proposing more politicians?!

You mean, actually lead, Matt?! Come on! That’s crazy talk. Even if more politicians might be good for the city, you don’t think I’m going to possibly suggest that now? In this anti-incumbent, anti-City Hall environment that I helped stir up? I could lose votes if I suggested that!

Red Tory. Blue Liberal. Centrist. George Smitherman can be all these things if he needs to be. As we have written previously here, he possesses an empty core that is constantly refilled with the fluid of the moment. An automaton, programmed to do nothing other than to win elections. No reason to think it’s not going to happen again.

unsurprisedly submitted by Cityslikr