If We’re Not Going To Take Ourselves Seriously

June 1, 2011

Friends and family often question my obsession with municipal politics. While recognizing its importance in the operation of our city, they express serious reservations about the cast of characters involved.

“Municipal politicians are clowns,” I’ve heard said. “Buffoons. Bush League. The B-Team.”

In part, I think such a dismissive view just comes with the territory. Municipal politicians oversee mundane but vital matters. Sewage, snow plowing, parking, pot hole filling. It all lacks a little nobility. Like sending off soldiers to die in faraway lands.

There’s also a degree of over-abundance, let’s call it. A problem of perception. Here in Toronto, for every 1 MPP or MP, there are 2 city councillors. So there are double the chances of experiencing clownish behaviour and buffoonery.

That said, it’s very difficult to ignore the fact that Toronto, especially since amalgamation, has flirted, courted and indulged in some very heavy petting with political folly. If Mayor Ford actually serves out one term (pending campaign financing audit), 10 of our first 17 years as a mighty megacity could, and very likely will be, deemed as an abject failure to take ourselves seriously. We’re all adults. How could we not foresee the consequences of our actions and realize that no good would come from the mayoralties of Mel Lastman and Rob Ford?

So yes. There are times, too — too many times it feels like — when following the municipal politics scene can only be viewed as a mug’s game. Rubber-neckin’ at a car wreck. Assistant coaching your kid’s t-ball team and your kid is the worst player on the team.

Why bother? Just step aside and let the big boys use the field.

Such a Bad News Bears moment played out last week when federal Finance Minister and Ford family friend Jim Flaherty came to town to last week to take part in the groundbreaking or another piece in the Waterfront Toronto development, Underpass Park. “This is transformative,” Flaherty pronounced. “It’s important not just for Toronto, but for Canada.”

Not just for Toronto. But for Canada.

Or as the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug, has said, ‘a boondoggle.’ In fact, he wrote off all of Waterfront Toronto as “… the biggest boondoggle the feds, the province and the city has ever done.

The Fords seem unable to toss up anything besides lifeless hanging curve balls about belt high for other politicians with even a modicum of ability with the stick to go yard with. It’s not even fun to watch. Switching sports analogies, remember the teachers-students rugby match in Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life’? Just like that.

Even with his fresh majority win in last month’s election and a minor Conservative breakthrough in Toronto itself, it’s hard to imagine the Finance Minister taking his late friend’s sons out to the woodshed on this. But maybe there was a bull session over son beers and nachos at the family compound. “A boondoggle?!” Flaherty exclaims. “A boondoggle!? I’ll give you a boondoggle. How about a cool $35 billion for engineless fighter jets? I know my boondoggles, boys. Waterfront Toronto ain’t one of them.”

The Finance Minster along with the local MPP and city councillor then head off to witness the start of this transformative piece of waterfront real estate. The mayor and his brother are AWOL. Like the mayor has been for every Waterfront Toronto meeting he has supposed to attend as a sitting member of the board. As a councillor, he wasn’t a big fan either of the city’s involvement with the waterfront, voting against approval for private investment near the Sherbourne Common late last year. (h/t to Ford For Toronto for all the links. We swim in the beneficence of your knowledge pool.)

It takes some doing for someone to make this Conservative government seem like city builders or deep urban thinkers. Yet somehow we’ve elected that very person and his equally blinkered and terminally short-sighted brother as our dynamic duo mayors. What does that say about us, as citizens, taxpayers, residents of Toronto? That we don’t care about how this city grows and develops as long as it doesn’t cost us too much? Or are we just cognizant of the fact that it hardly matters who we elect municipally? Ultimate power doesn’t lie with us or our locally elected officials. So why not just go for the entertainment value and send in the clowns. There’s only so much damage they can inflict before the adults step in and sort the mess out.

Such a condescending view, with correspondingly low expectations for municipal politicians, invariably leads to candidates seeking only to limbo under the low bar and nothing more. High fliers and over-achievers need not apply. As Homer Simpson once said, ‘trying is the first step to failing.’ Municipal politics is only for those who dare not to dream big or are merely content to take marching orders from their betters.It may be fun to watch for a little while but like any Punch and Judy show, the spectacle grows dismal and dreary. Humour is replaced by cruelty, and you’re left wondering why the hell you continue to watch.

clownishly submitted by Urban Sophisticat