Yapping

June 20, 2016

So twice within the last 2 weeks, Scarborough Centre MPP and Economic Development Minister, Brad Duguid, has come forward to help bail out Mayor John Tory when bad news kept on coming about the proposed one-stop, “express” subway to the Scarborough Town Centre. “The critics, it’s time for them to take a rest,” yappinghe stated after news about woefully low projected ridership numbers broke earlier this month. Then this weekend, after the mayor took media heat over nearly a billion dollar increase in the project’s price tag, the provincial minister demanded that all the downtown elitists need to stop their yapping.

“I’m very confident the people of Scarborough will get their subway.”

And by ‘the people of Scarborough’, of course, Minister Duguid meant ‘the politicians of Scarborough’.

Ever since the Ford camp blared ‘Subways, Subways, Subways’, local politicians of all stripes and at all levels have basically co-opted the slogan rather than confront it. They have convinced themselves that campaigns have been fought and won on the subway issue as if it were the only variable that mattered to voters, city-wide, province-wide, country-wide. The Scarborough subway. The defining issue of every election since 2010.

So no matter how ridiculous the project gets the more planning that goes into it, no matter how much money the fucking thing’s going to cost, how damaging it’s going to be to the wider transit network, nothing is too good for the politicians people of Scarborough. countmeinThey deserve another subway stop. If you stand opposed, it’s for no other reason than you hate Scarborough and refuse to take your elitist head out of your downtown ass.

Like one of those comic book movies with a cast of thousands of supervillains, it’s hard to pick your favourite bad guy in this sad saga. So many too choose from! The one irony in all this is that the guy who raised the curtain on this shitshow, the late Rob Ford, may have been the least worst offender. While always politically calculating, he seemed to actually believe, owing to his solid grounding in ignorance fed by an extreme disinterest in much to do with public transit, that if you were going to build public transit, subways were the only way to go. He didn’t know any better. Everybody else most surely does. They know, and they don’t care.

For me, the real face of this mess is Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker. There is no nonsense he won’t spout, no gratuitous shot he’s unwilling to take, no number too fabtabulist for him to cite in support of a Scarborough subway. He’s the go-to guy to say the questionable things that need to be said in order to push a major infrastructure project that otherwise possesses absolutely no merit. The kind of things that only someone lacking any sense of self-awareness or shame would be able to say with a straight face.

The thing is, Councillor De Baeremaeker wasn’t always a subway champion. crayondrawingHe loved LRTs. He was a big fan of Transit City that promised to deliver more higher order transit to more people in Scarborough than either variation of a subway would.

Unfortunately, when push came to shove, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker decided his political future was more important than the future of public transit in Toronto. He’s not alone. Liberal premiers, ministers, MPPs and MPs all took the easiest, most craven route, as did many of those running election campaigns against them. Mayor John Tory fell into place too.

It’s just Councillor De Baeremaeker’s conversion was so obvious, so unprincipled, so thoroughly… greasy, and he stands so smugly defiant in his posturing as Captain Scarborough that, while he’s certainly not the biggest player in this unfolding scandal, he’s most certainly its chief enabler.

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, 2016

(h/t @JohnToryWatch)

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, 2012

 (h/t Himy Syed)

sickeningly submitted by Cityslikr


A Sad Symmetry

June 1, 2016

I pretty much had the story already written in my head as I was making my way out to the state of T.O. transit planning public meeting at the Scarborough Civic Centre last night. symmetryIt would be full of beautiful symmetry with a healthy dollop of delicious irony. The last time I had made the trek for the same purpose, back in 2012, just after then mayor Rob Ford had lost control of the transit file, the gathering descended into a verbal melee with then TTC chair Karen Stintz the brunt of much yelling and abuse. Gordon Chong, one of the evening’s panelists, asked her (very rhetorically) if she was ‘thick’. A woman near where I was sitting, outside of the council chambers, just kept yelling, “Where is your plan, Karen? Where is your plan?!”

Oh, Councillor Stintz had a plan alright. It just didn’t pan out very well. For anyone concerned.

With the news coming out a couple days ago, just ahead of last night’s meeting, of possible home and property expropriations as part of the emerging preferred staff route for the one-stop Scarborough subway along McCowan Road, I thought, this’ll be perfect. disbandedtheptaSame place, same subject, 4 years later. Only this time around, the crowd will be screaming against subways! Just like a Simpson’s episode.

Alas, reality does not always break like you hope it would. Probably a good thing, in the end. The reality in my head sometimes even scares me.

While last night’s meeting had feisty spikes from the packed crowd, it felt more discouraged and disgruntled than angry. In no way could I describe the vibe as anti-subway. There were just problems with this proposed subway alignment. Why just one stop now? Why not 2? There seemed to be significant support for keeping a Lawrence stop. Or converting the whole thing to an articulated electric bus network since projected ridership for the subway proposal seems to diminish with each iteration.

It would be easy to just throw up your hands and shake your head, writing off such mob mentality. The issue of expropriation only really flared up after the formal staff presentation and questions from the audience when a man start shouting at Councillor Paul Ainslie, demanding to know if he’s ever had his property expropriated. rageYeah, that Councillor Ainslie. The only Scarborough councillor to hold steady against the building of a subway.

The man should’ve been shouting at another Scarborough councillor, Glenn De Baeremaeker, who was holding court just a few feet away, brushing aside questions of the low projected ridership for his pet project with a glib list of subway stops with even lower ridership numbers. Should we close them too? Why do ridership numbers only matter in Scarborough? It’s only fair. North York has X number of subway stops. Scarborough deserves more to even out the score.

We are currently experiencing a catastrophic failure of political leadership with the transit failure. It didn’t start with Rob Ford, or did it end with him. Glenn De Baeremaeker has become an abhorrent local representative with his subway mania. Karen Stintz gambled a mayoral run on championing a Scarborough subway instead of a sensible transit plan. The current mayor, John Tory, tossed in his own little bit of nonsense, SmartTrack, which, as staff admitted last night, shadowpuppetsis pushing the proposed subway alignment further east than it probably should be, possibly contributing to deflated ridership numbers and bringing up the spectre of expropriations.

And the provincial Liberal government, supposedly the adults in the room, have only helped fan the flames of divisiveness, resentment and bad transit planning. Many of their Scarborough MPPs were former city councillors, and they have drawn a line in the sand. Give them a subway or give them death! Mitzi Hunter was elected to Queen’s Park, touting her credentials as the Subway Champion.

The problem is, the numbers don’t support a subway. They never have. The Scarborough subway is purely political. It’s proven to be great policy for getting elected but a terrible one for getting people around.

None of this is news or any sort of revelation. The public hunger for a subway and their anger directed at any public official who seemed to be standing in the way of it was understandable when the debate was still theoretical. notthisagainSubway versus LRT. But as the studies progress and the numbers continue to roll in showing just how bad an idea building the Scarborough subway extension really is, anger turns to frustration and dismay. Why is this taking so long? Just build something already. Wait, not there. That doesn’t make any sense.

That’s a different kind of symmetry than I originally envisioned. It does, however, follow its own logical arc. Hope becoming cynicism with the eventual realization that politicians are pursuing policies that benefit their own self-interests not those of the wider public.

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Rob Ford

March 24, 2016

I am sorry for your loss. 46 years of age is far too young to die. Cancer sucks. My condolences to the Ford family. Like all of them, I am sure, this is not how I wanted to see it end.

But I am thankful that, at least for the moment, it is over. The Rob Ford political/personal/family melodrama that has held the city of Toronto, a city of over 2.5 million residents, not some provincial backwoods, hillside, Hatfield-McCoy hamlet, in its dense, thick thrall for more than half a decade now has concluded. With the passing, perhaps, we can get on with having an honest debate about local governance and decision-making in the 21st-century.

As someone who only observed Rob Ford from the outside, never meeting him in person except to shake his hand once in the greeting line at one of his Ford Fest gatherings, my relationship with him is not at all complicated or complex. He was a terrible mayor, an awful local politician. His approach to representation functioned in the bleak zone of willful ignorance and stubborn self-certainty. If something conformed to his stunted, myopic world view, it must be right. Anything else was brushed aside as gravy.

That streetcar blocking the lane in front of him on his way to work must be the source of all congestion, everywhere in the city.

He leaves behind a legacy of belligerence, divisiveness, and a disdain for politicians, the bureaucracy and the political process itself. His 15+ years of public service was of the easiest kind. Push peoples’ buttons, get them angry, howl for simple solutions and lie about everything that could not be squared with reality. Millions became billions. Facts observed and acknowledged only when convenient.

The customer is always right, retail politics that Rob Ford mastered boiled down to nothing more than What can I do for you? The idea of What can I do for us? was an anathema to his political calculations. He was looking out for the little guy, gave voice to those left out of the civic discourse, as long as they saw things the way he did, said the same things he said.

Rob Ford is credited with alerting the otherwise unaware, largely downtown elite crowd to the alienated, angry, outsider voices of the inner suburbs. This is true although it hardly tells the whole truth. People were, and continue, to be angry. People weren’t being listened to or, more exactly, people weren’t being consulted, engaged with. There was indeed a certain smugness, let’s call it, at City Hall, a belief that people knew their best interests were being looked after. Bigger picture thinking was at work. The small details don’t matter.

Which turned out to be a near-fatal political mindset.

Speaking for myself, back in 2010, it wasn’t surprising many people were angry. I miscalculated the degree of anger. But mostly, I was caught off-guard that that anger so identified itself with Rob Ford and attached itself so strongly to him.

He appropriated the anger, giving it voice but no solutions. He had no interest in channeling it constructively, only in amplifying it incoherently and destructively. His Ford Nation wasn’t so much a cohesive ideology as it was pure demagoguery of blind resentment.

I don’t doubt anyone’s account of the human side of Rob Ford, his warmth, playfulness and generosity. While not at all getting the political charm of Rob Ford, others clearly did. You could watch him amiably chatting with kids in the council chambers. His enthusiasm bubbled over when he talked about things he loved, like football. That’s where the Everyman label got affixed to him.

That only proves anything if you adhere to a totality of behaviour of personality. Somebody is one thing or the other, and being one negates the other. But no one’s all saint, just as sure as nobody’s a complete shit bird.

Read through Karen Geier’s Remember these Rob Ford Gems?, compiled shortly after Ford re-emerged from what would not uncharitably be called a politically motivated rehab stint. None of it refuted. Christopher Bird’s Torontoist obituary similarly dismantles any notion of a well-intentioned but flawed character. Rob Ford seemed especially adept at one thing. Wreaking havoc. He left others to try and pick up the pieces of everything he broke.

Any notion of Rob Ford as a one-of-a-kind politician, there’ll never be another one like him again is a form of civic self-flattery. A singular political phenomenon we could never fall for again.

There will always be political opportunists. There’ll always be the possibility of another Ford. Pretending he was something he wasn’t only makes the possibility even more likely.

As we’ve seen, that would be disastrous for Toronto.

All of this in no way means I am happy he died. I am sorry for his death. I am sorry for those most affected by it. A death like he suffered will invariably leave a huge hole, a void in the lives of those closest to him.

What I am not sorry about, when all is said and done, is that I will never have to write about Rob Ford again.

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An Indelicate Balance

December 28, 2015

How to be Rob Ford and not Rob Ford at the same time? This is the quantum politics Mayor John Tory is trying to determine as he enters his 2nd full year in office. quantumphysicsHe misses no opportunity to point out to everyone and anyone who’s listening how he isn’t Rob Ford: the return of civility to City Hall, respect re-bestowed upon Toronto by the international community, no more of the proverbial drunken stupors.

The mayor, however, never wants you to forget that, like Rob Ford, he stands firmly opposed to taxes and waste. Firmly. We can build shiny new things, expand necessary services and programs, world class up Toronto, done and done on high hopes and pure hearts. All we need to do is tighten our belts. Root out efficiencies and dead weight. Like that.

What Mayor Tory needs us to believe and accept is that his predecessor’s mess was manifest purely in the personal not policy realm. Policy failures, such as the cutbacks to TTC service, had nothing to do with revenue shortfalls or fiscal mismanagement but were the direct result of character flaws. The years 2010-2014 projected as tabula rasa on the governance front. disappearNothing but scandal and misconduct.

The problem for the mayor is that he’s not really fooling anybody. Non-Ford supporter critics of Mayor Tory, largely from the left side of the political spectrum, see him fighting for at-or-below inflationary levels of property tax rate increases and fending off talk of new revenue sources and can only conclude that it’s pretty much the same old same old, business as usual. This is what’s got the city in the financial straits it currently sits in.

At the other end, the hardcore Fordists, see through Mayor Tory’s suggested City Building Levy, and scream (rightly) that it’s just a property tax increase by a different name. Like the Scarborough subway levy although, for this camp, that’s another thing entirely. The people want subways. Subways, subways, subways!

So Mayor Tory has certain Toronto Sun columnists and editorialists, who never see a tax hike as anything other than proof positive of government overreach, yipping at him quantumphysics2while those having battled the Ford assault on City Hall coffers and services regard this mayor as just a well-mannered faux-populist who really ought to know better. There’s little room left for him to balance, his base squeezed onto an untenable platform made up largely of wishful thinking and constant thanks that, it could be worse, we could still have a Ford as mayor.

Not to cut the Fords much slack on this but a solid argument could be made that they actually believed their tax-and-spend, stop the gravy train rhetoric. Basic math never really mattered to them. The numbers didn’t have to add up. An obstinate and willful stance in opposition to facts passed for principled politics for the Fords. They didn’t have to be right to be right.

But how can a politician like John Tory, elected to the mayor’s office as a sensible, reasonable, prudent alternative to the madness of the Fords pursue policies with similar reckless abandon? johntoryvisionDuring the start of the 2016 budget process, he is being told by city staff in no uncertain terms that the city has a revenue problem. Its dependency on the property tax base and a still hot real estate market in terms of the land transfer tax is unsustainable. We must look seriously at other sources of revenues.

Mayor Tory’s reaction?

To propose an additional half-percent bump in the property tax rate, call it a ‘levy’, and look for further efficiencies at City Hall. It is as indifferent to staff advice and the reality on the ground as anything Rob Ford displayed. How is that sensible, reasonable or prudent?

Mayor Tory touts his willingness to work with his opponents at council on the Gardiner east hybrid to deliver a better option than the one he championed earlier this year as an example of the improved governance style under his watch.ignore Yet, whatever option finally emerges will be, fingers crossed, the best of the worst option on the table, not to mention, in all likelihood, the most expensive. The obvious choice, the one touted by city staff, the sensible, reasonable, prudent option, was to tear that section of elevated expressway down, rebuild it at-grade. Mayor Tory ignored all that and pushed ahead with what he believed to be the most politically advantageous choice.

In October 2014, nearly 70% of Toronto voters delivered what was almost exclusively an anti-Ford mandate. Picking up a 40% plurality of that vote, John Tory has read those numbers and concluded that it was merely the personal scandals Torontonians rejected, the confrontational and abrasive governance style, too. We were all good with the bad math, the deplorable accounting practices, the complete and utter disregard of expert advice, the detrimental policy choices.

All of which Mayor Tory now vigorously pursues if in slightly different guises. Attritional and limited levels of tax rates and revenue sources. schrodingerscatQuixotic cost savings quests. Ruinous public transit projects. Just like happened during the Ford administration. But somehow different with Mayor Tory at the helm, he wants us all to believe.

He’s got away with it for his first year. With reports due early in the new year on things like the Scarborough subway and SmartTrack, an impending budgetary shortfall forcing some tough choices out into the open, 2016 looks to provide a somewhat rockier road for Mayor Tory. How much longer can he continue trying to be not Rob Ford and Rob Ford simultaneously? Even the smallest of particles has to ultimately become one thing or the other.

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1 Year Down, 7 To Go

October 27, 2015

Hey!

Here’s an idea nobody’s thought about until this very moment.brightidea

How about today, on the first anniversary of John Tory’s election as mayor of Toronto, I assess his job performance, by issuing a, what would you call it, a report card of sorts? So obvious. It’s amazing to me nobody’s come up with it before I did.

I kid. I kid.

While children throughout the province may not be receiving report cards this term, Mayor Tory has been inundated with them. So don’t mind me while I just pile on here for a second. I’m sure I’ve got something to say about his time in office somebody else hasn’t said already.

A+s all round, it seems, for Mayor Tory’s restoring of civility to City Hall. Out with the shit show. In with decorum. Toronto’s reputation in the eyes of the nation and the world has been salvaged and revived.

Make no mistake. This is important. While it’s tough to wholly quantify, local governance had been worn down to a slow grind even after the previous administration crashed and burned. oneyearanniversaryThe appearance of serious-minded competence is a vital first step in realizing serious-minded competence.

So, with absolutely no facetiousness intended, well done. Mayor Tory has largely succeeded in relegating the lunacy to the fringes where it belongs. At the local level, this is no small feat.

But this should come as no surprise, really. It’s pretty much as advertised. John Tory campaigned heavily on being the anti-Ford. That’s what the city voted for. That’s what the city got.

But is it enough? Going forward, is simple peace-and-quiet all we can demand and expect from this mayoralty? One year in, what other accomplishments can this administration point to?

I ask because, over the weekend, I was involved in a discussion on social media about the long term electoral prospects of Mayor Tory. It stemmed from a Toronto Star article by David Rider, outlining how the mayor seems to be operating with his attention focused on a rematch with Rob Ford in 2018, catering to the issues perceived to be important to the Nation: cars and low taxes. notthatguyAn unnamed councillor suggested the mayor doesn’t want to be perceived as ‘downtown-ist or urbanist’, and that his staff isn’t concerned with any sort of unrest from the ‘left flank’.

Essentially, as long as Rob Ford remains a viable contender (or the perception exists that he’s a viable contender), Mayor Tory can just waltz toward re-election, scaring left-of-centre voters into supporting him for no other reason than simply to keep Rob Ford from being mayor again.

I questioned the wisdom of that, and heard from some very non-Tory types that, yeah, as long as Rob Ford is in the electoral picture, nobody serious from the left would challenge the mayor, let alone win. This had been a sentiment expressed to me by more than a few voices on the left almost immediately after election night last year. Plan for two terms of Mayor Tory.

That’s 7 more years, folks. All this administration can point to by way of accomplishments is not being Rob Ford and we’ve resigned ourselves to expecting nothing more? For 7 more years?

What happens to a city presided over by a mayor who defines himself by something or someone he isn’t? Where exactly is the aspiration in that? Come 2022, at the end of Mayor Tory’s presumed 2nd term, what does that Toronto look like, aside from being Rob Ford-free for nearly a decade?yoursforlife

Nothing the mayor has done over the past 12 months can point to anything transformative taking place during his tenure. He’ll tell you SmartTrack despite every indication suggesting otherwise. He’s got a report on a plan to tackle the city’s poverty and growing income inequality. But so far, it’s just that, a report on a plan. In the words of the mayor’s chosen right-hand man, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, “When the rubber hits the road, it all comes down to money.” Ambition and aspiration are all well and good but, ultimately, show me the money. “There are going to be competing priorities,” Mayor Tory concurred.

As much as he’s relied on differentiating himself from his predecessor for the goodwill he’s generated from Torontonians, policy-wise, there’s little sunlight to be seen between the two men. Like Rob Ford, Mayor Tory has solidly aligned himself with the suburban, conservative rump of city council, filling his Executive Committee with them almost to the exclusion of downtown councillors. Like Rob Ford, Mayor Tory has rejected any discussion about property tax increases above the rate of inflation. foggytoLike Rob Ford, Mayor Tory grudgingly accepts public transit fare increases but will not so much as consider user fees on other types of commuters (*cough, cough *drivers* cough, cough * cough, cough*). Both Rob Ford and Mayor John Tory euphemistically talk efficiencies when they actually mean cuts. Rob Ford uses the low-brow terminology, ‘gravy’, while Mayor Tory goes all Michelin Guide, 5-star rating, ‘marbling’.

Mayor Tory talks a much bigger, brighter picture than Rob Ford ever did but he steadfastly refuses to discuss the grim reality of how we achieve such things. We might have to pay more. We might have to re-prioritize how we go about doing things, how we go about getting about the city, say. We might have to accept the fact it’s 2015 not 1975.

In no way do I see Mayor Tory willing to accept that challenge. He’s an agent of change from the Rob Ford way of doing things but he seems risk averse to much of any other sort of change. He’s returned us to the pre-Ford status quo, one chock full of intractable problems and structural concerns he seems no more prepared to face than Rob Ford was.unsure

Lest you think I’m just some Douglas Downer, on a positive note, I do think Mayor John Tory is both amiable and pliant enough to establish good working relationships with the other levels of government which, when all is said and done, will be vital for the city to deal effectively with those intractable problems and structural concerns. We’ve seen hints of it in his first year in office despite some setbacks. (You want us to pay how much for our portion of UPX?!) I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But is that enough to feel good about the prospect of 7 more John Tory as mayor anniversaries, to simply concede to him certain re-election because he’s proven little more to us than he’s not Rob Ford? We get it already. Who exactly Mayor Tory is and what he represents remains a mystery. One he needs to start unwrapping before we give him the keys to the office for as long as he wants.

notthatguy1

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No Service Cuts Guaranteed

October 26, 2015

Can we finally put to rest the still simmering notion of Rob Ford’s sound economic stewardship of this city while he was mayor? mythsfactsThis delusional belief that, his personal problems aside, he turned Toronto around, establishing a firm fiscal foundation. He stopped the gravy train, cut our taxes, all without reducing services whatsoever.

It seems, for the second year in a row now, that TTC ridership numbers did not reach projections, 6 million fewer this year after falling short by 5 million last. While no one thing can be specifically attributable to these shortfalls, it seems that cuts in service back in 2012 may have played a significant part. Cuts in service then Mayor Ford claimed (and Councillor Ford still claims) never actually happened.

I cannot comment on a reduction in service I have not seen or does not exist.

“I don’t think anybody can be very surprised if you don’t put more transit on the street that your ridership doesn’t grow with it,” TTC deputy CEO Chris Upfold said. “We are just reaching the stage where we are not leading transit growth anymore.”crowdedttc

Yes, TTC ridership has continued to increase. The city continues to grow. But ridership has been curbed due to a lack of added service to accommodate the population growth and demand. “We’re full and our customers know that,” Upfold claimed.

How does a city allow its public transit system to become “full” or, as anyone who’s squeezed onto a packed subway, streetcar or bus might see it, over-capacity?

Again, there are no simple answers to that question. Certainly a lack of funding from higher orders of government, especially at the operational level, contribute to service inadequacies. Toss in unsatisfactory management practices, if you want. Don’t forget our political fixation on big, shiny projects at the expense of the more mundane task of ensuring proper and functional access to public transit to all areas of the city. A combination of these factors (and more, no doubt) created a scenario where supply fails to meet demand.

But, back in 2012, city council decided to cut TTC service, especially along low ridership routes, thereby making transit a less viable option to move around the city. crowdedttc1Service that Mayor Tory began to restore not long after coming to office, but also not long after he mocked his opponent in the mayor’s race, Olivia Chow, for proposing a similar service restoration. He also reversed his campaign pledge to freeze TTC fares with a bump in them to help offset the cost of the service improvements.

A hike Mayor Tory, like his predecessor, has yet to contemplate when it comes to helping improve drivers’ travel times. Speed up Gardiner repairs? How about bringing back the Vehicle Registration Tax to help pay for it? Off the table. Increase property taxes above the rate of inflation? Get the hell out of here.

And look, this is simply bringing back transit service to 2012 levels. In case you haven’t looked at a calendar recently, it’s 2015. Forget ‘leading transit growth’, like the TTC deputy CEO suggests we’re not doing, we’re falling behind. What city of this size, with the kind of dependence we have on public transit to keep people moving, would allow that to happen?crowdedttc1

Mayor Tory wants to give the impression that his SmartTrack plan is a solution to this problem. It isn’t, certainly not immediately, if ever. He’s got nothing else to offer that we didn’t already hear from Rob Ford. Inflationary property tax increases at most. Elimination of gravy marble across City Hall departments with 2% budget cuts. Something, something efficiencies, something, something.

As we’re learning now from previous experience, that’s no way to build a 21st-century transit system.

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Who’s Out Of Touch?

October 19, 2015

harperford

As the interminable federal campaign draws to a close and our well established liberal media (newspaper division) largely circled its collective wagons around the incumbent Conservative party (some following tortuous paths to get there), one thing becomes clearly evident. If you’re not voting for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, you’re the radical, you’re out of step with the mainstream. You’ve lost your way from traditional Canadian values.

If nothing else, this election has attempted to normalise Conservative behaviour as the old stock baseline. Sure, there were a few mistakes and missteps. Nobody’s perfect. Are you? But ultimately, steady as she goes, no serious deviation from the core principles that have defined this country since Confederation. Above all else, Canadians have fought and died for low taxation and a sound economy. Everything else is suspect.

“But mostly the critics [of the Harper administration] are seething with ideological zeal that warns that today’s Canadian progressives have veered to new extremism,” David Frum tweeted out on Saturday. Opponents of Stephen Harper are the extremists, says the guy who helped cheerlead the U.S. into a misguided war in Iraq that set the Mideast on fire. Yes, we’re the extremists.

As much as we’d like to think we are different than our neighbours to the immediate south, more tolerant, more moderate, more reasonable, in the light of this election campaign and the continued viability of the Conservative brand, we need to rethink that smug point of view. Our conservative segment of the population has drifted farther and farther from the middle of the political spectrum, dragging the centre with it and eyeing suspiciously everyone who hasn’t followed their rightward march. From that relative position way over there, enthusiastically enabling the vanishing of Canada, it sees its opponents and critics as the ones out of touch, out of step with their Canada. Radicals. Extremists.

So be it. Accept the fact that at this juncture in our history, we must consign a quarter to a third of our voting population to intractable conservative fanaticism. My party, right or wrong. A faction living quite comfortably in its no longer veiled racism and bigotry, happy at war with information and history, defiant in denying the inconvenient realities of the world around them. One time fringe thinking now mainstream conservative thought.

We need to stop catering to it, to cease trying to woo it or appeal to its better nature. There’s no such thing as a Conservative better nature. That died a long time ago.

You can’t ignore it but you can isolate it. 25%, 33%, that’s still a minority, healthily so, in fact. It’s not enough to govern properly but it is ample enough to disrupt the proceedings.

When Stephen Harper hooked up with the Ford Bros. for a campaign rally on Saturday night, it was a full and frank admission that this was all it was about, all it had ever been about. Disruption. Governance mayhem. Disregard for anything and anybody not holding to their narrow and dim world view. All of them feeding into and off of our worst instincts, asking nothing more from us than our hatred and fear.

Supporters and apologists tried to make that appear as normal, standard practice, conventional wisdom, plain ol’ common sense. You don’t think so? You disagree? You’re out of step with the rest of us. You’re out there, radical, extreme.

To believe that, though, is to admit that you don’t trust numbers, that basic math is an unreliable source of information. Somehow 25%, 33% makes a majority and dictates what constitutes the mainstream. The rest? Deluded, suffering from a simple case of Harper Derangement Syndrome.

It doesn’t add up but it never was supposed to. A stubborn wilfulness sits at the core of conservative thought belief these days. That’s why it’s so hard to engage. We need to stop trying. It only lends credibility where none is deserved.

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