Toronto The Deluded

August 6, 2015

Let me give you the ‘ethno-racial’ (to use Jan Doering’s phrase in his Martin Prosperity Institute paper, The Political Uses of Race and Ethnicity) makeup of the current Toronto city council (and I’ll throw in gender to further the point). dothemathOf its 45 members (1 mayor, 44 councillors), there are 5 visible minorities and 14 women. That’s what? 11% and 32%, respectively.

I bring this fact up not so much in response to Mr. Doering’s paper but in reaction to it. From my very un-scholarly perspective, it all seems solidly research-y. No aspersions cast in his direction. That’s just an admission I’m a fucking idiot.

My reaction to it is in the direction of the ethno-racial ‘reputation’ of this city as seen by Mr. Doering’s in his examination of campaign material and literature from Toronto’s municipal campaign last year in his comparison to the most recent local election in Chicago. “In Toronto,” Doering writes, “candidates of all backgrounds portrayed immigrant ethnicities as a valued source of culture and symbolically included these groups in the political process.” ‘Portrayed’. ‘Symbolically’. I have no idea if Doering intentionally used such layered language, let’s call it, but to anyone who watched Toronto’s 2014 municipal election unfold, such words certainly have more than one meaning.

Recently, a large study of municipal elections found that race is the single most important factor shaping electoral outcomes in the United States… Moreover, Chicago and Toronto represent starkly different ethno-racial contexts, which provides analytic contrast. Toronto is widely celebrated as a successful model of multiculturalism, while Chicago is known as a hotbed of ethno-racial contestation.

Hoo-rah! Am I right? Toronto ‘widely celebrated as a successful model of multiculturalism’, a haven from all that racist animosity we smugly view emanating from the States. We don’t see colour, to quote Stephen Colbert. Ours is a post-racial society.

And yet, a mere 11% of our city council members are made up of visible minorities. muniraabukarHow do we square that circle?

“In Toronto,” Doering states, “candidates never invoked race and ethnicity as a barrier to upward mobility or as a site of struggle.”

Maybe someone should tell that to Ward 2 Etobicoke North city council candidate Munira Abukar who had her campaign signs defaced, informing her to “Go Back Home”. Her campaign team had garbage thrown at them from a passing Purolator truck. “Terrorist!”

“I’m the most racist guy around,” former mayor Rob Ford reportedly said during a phone call back in the bad ol’ days. “Nobody sticks up for people like I do, every fucking kike, nigger, fucking wop, dago, whatever the race. Nobody does. I’m the most racist guy around. I’m the mayor of Toronto.”robford

Rob Ford was also caught on video, drunkenly (and presumably crack-inducingly) patois-ing while waiting for a late-night order at Steak Queen. As a city councillor a few years earlier he suggested that those “Oriental people work like dogs… The Oriental people, they’re slowly taking over…” and he couldn’t understand the outrage. It was a compliment! What’s wrong with you people?

Remember, despite all that, Ford remained a serious contender in his bid to be re-elected mayor until ill-health sidelined him from that race. Even then, he was easily elected in his old spot as city councillor. Racist?! Who, us?? Look what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri!!

“It appears that Toronto’s political culture tends to discourage potentially divisive invocations of race and ethnicity,” Doering writes.dontsaythatword

In one of the most telling examples of this trait of ours, Doering recounts the clutching of pearls and mock outrage episode in the mayoral campaign after candidate Olivia Chow’s advisor, Warren Kinsella, called rival candidate John Tory’s transit plans ‘segragationist’. Never mind that the statement was true. Tory’s plans left much of the already under-served inner suburban areas of the city, areas home to many of the city’s immigrant and visible minority communities, under-served. You just don’t use words like ‘segragationist’ here in the culture mosaic that is Toronto, Diversity, Our Strength.

Huffing and puffing, Tory, a firm disbeliever in the notion of white privilege, never really denied the core of Kinsella’s accusation, just the use of such an ugly, non-Torontonian word. “Ill-considered”, he told the press, “if you look at what’s going on in North America right now, especially in Missouri and so on.” And so forth. No, we’re good.

Finally, candidates overwhelmingly selected ethno-racial references that “fit” with narratives of ethno-racial politics in Chicago and Toronto. Making this point requires taking a step back. Comparing the patterns of how ethno-racial references were distributed across the two cities, politics in Chicago turned out to be much more divided than in Toronto. This is consistent with existing scholarship… Importantly, however, it is also consistent with voters’ perceptions. Candidates built on the perception of Chicago as an arena of zero-sum group competition and Toronto as a multicultural sanctuary. Thus, African-American and Latino candidates in Chicago mobilized perceptions of exclusion, discrimination, and conflict to promise political leadership in fighting these injustices. They proudly cited endorsements from ethno-racial advocacy organizations. And they largely abstained from using those ethno-racial references that candidates in Toronto heavily relied on: invoking ethnicity as culture and symbolically including groups in the political process by using their heritage languages. These forms of addressing race and ethnicity were persuasive because they were consistent with widespread narratives about how ethnic politics worked in these two cities. Conversely, using those narratives reproduced them as organizing principles of ethno-racial politics. In other words, the findings reveal not only ethnic conflict and harmony, but how conflict and harmony are socially constructed.

This leads to the question of whether certain ethno-racial references cannot successfully be made because they clash with widely-shared narratives. [bolding mine]

The “widely-shared” narrative in Toronto is that, at least in comparison to the United States, there’s no racial or ethnic drive here. This feeds “voters’ perceptions”, freeing them from much self-reflection when they go to the ballot box, convinced they didn’t vote for that black guy or that Muslim woman or Asian candidate because they were black or Muslim or Asian. Race has nothing to do with it. How could it? This is Toronto.

So, it’s just a coincidence that only 11% of city council is made up of visible minorities in a city where that demographic is 3 to 4 times that size. Nothing to see here.

oliviachow

frankly submitted by Cityslikr


No One Gets Out Alive

August 22, 2014

I begin this already doubting its relevance to the wider general public. Which may ultimately be the point of it, I guess. doubtAlthough, why bother then, you could ask.

Indeed.

Earlier this week a whole lot of dust was kicked up when noted political thingie and Olivia Chow campaign volunteer whatsit, Warren Kinsella, referred to mayoral rival John Tory’s Smart Track transit plan as ‘Segregationist Track’ in a tweet. Outrage ensued. How Dare Hes abounded. Demands for an apology were issued.

The offending tweet was deleted. Kinsella apologized, put up a Gone Fishin’ sign, and went silent. The Chow team put some distance between itself and Kinsella, the volunteer. New news broke. People moved on. The earth kept spinning.

Honestly. Did you hear about any of this?gonefishing

If not, maybe the actual intent of the tweet is still at work.

During the initial fury, amidst the calls of misappropriation of the word and the accusations of ugly intimations of racism contained in the tweet aimed at John Tory, Siri Agrell, a communications strategist, consultant and a David Soknacki (another mayoral candidate) fan, dropped this into the debate:

“If intent is to plant a counter-narrative that Tory is racist, is getting everyone in the media to report tweet really a strategic stumble?”

Ahhhhhh!

Essentially, have someone who gives you plausible deniability take the hit for a contentious public statement and when the heat cools, the heat always cools especially in a 10 month long election campaign, what’s left behind, the residue if you will, is the question of why anyone would want to make you think John Tory is a racist.daffyduck

Arguably, Kinsella’s choice of words was inappropriate. Arguably, he should’ve apologized quicker and louder. Pull the pin. Detonate the grenade. Brush the smoke smudge from your face. Ooops. Sorry. Step back from the damage.

Still.

A couple days on now and all that really lingers, if anything is lingering from the incident at all, is that question. Why would anyone suggest that John Tory is a racist? ‘Segregationist Track’? What’s that even mean?

And then the explanation.

Take a look at Tory’s Smart Track map. That dark blue void of nothingness, up in the left hand corner, where a bright red line should be, representing the Finch West LRT and new rapid transit options for the residents of northwestern Toronto. A part of the city home to many of the city’s non-John Tory phenotypes, let’s say. New Canadians hailing from non-white countries around the globe. People representing places that give us bragging rights to our official municipal motto, Diversity, Our Strength.

How come John Tory isn’t prioritizing their transit needs? Why is he ignoring a fully funded by the province piece of vital transit infrastructure in their neighbourhoods? Does John Tory not care about visible minorities?

Don’t be ridiculous. I mean, seriously. Just stop… being ridiculous. John Tory isn’t a racist. Some of his best—Don’t be ridiculous.

OK, fine. Then why has John Tory’s Smart Track plan wiped the Finch West LRT off the transit map? Can he explain that for us?

There you have it. This thing that began as a question of Olivia Chow’s character judgement about those who are working on her campaign, even peripherally, becomes more a question of John Tory’s priorities and who he’s actually looking out for. Who exactly is part of John Tory’s vision of the city?

And those of us who like watching the insider baseball nod our heads, struck by the possible cleverness of the strategy. outragedHuh, we say. Well, let’s see how this all plays out. This is why these people get paid the big bucks, I guess. They know how to play the game.

Of course, we are in the minority, we close observers of the game. Quite possibly the far bigger audience, the general electorate out there who will ultimately determine the outcome, won’t see it that way. They won’t appreciate the nuance of the tactics like we do. Floating the John Tory is a racist balloon might be seen as nothing more than the worst kind of mudslinging. Everything they fucking hate about politics.

Or claim they hate, anyway. Going negative has a proven track record, going negative practitioners will claim. Hell, Rob Ford’s entire existence is built on a negative platform, a campaign of hate and hurled baseless accusations of corruption and incompetence.

People might not like it but they seem to take the bait an awful lot. At least, the people who continue to participate and come out to vote even if they’re not happy or enthused about doing so. The others? The growing number of people who’ve just tuned out and turned off? smotheredWhy bother voting? It only encourages them.

They’re the casualties of the war rooms. Democracy is dead to them. They’ve walked away and not looked back.

So, I guess the bigger question is, is it worth it? Is the shot at elected office worth the long term harm inflicted on democracy? We pay very smart people enormous amounts of money for the benefit of candidates, and at the expense of the general voting public. Is that a sustainable democratic model?

I don’t ask this rhetorically. I have no answer to it. I’m just a concerned citizen.

discontentedly submitted by Cityslikr