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


Another Debate, Same Old Tune

July 21, 2010

With another televised mayoral debate under our collective belts, I do not think it hyperbolic (in the non-mathematical sense) to say that this city is now facing a crisis of confidence, leadership confidence. What seemed funny back in March became mirthlessly laughable by May. Now, more than mid-way through July and it’s simply just sad. And a little bit worrisome.

Yeah, it’s that bad, folks.

At moments like these, I try to settle my rattled nerves by knocking back a few stiff belts of Woodford Reserve over an a.m. bowl of honey coated Shreddies and convince myself that if we made it through the Mel Lastman years, hell, we can make it through anything. We are that strong. We are that resilient.

But this feels a little different, and not in a ticklish, I kind of like it way. It’s more ominous and disheartening. Thirteen years into this experiment we call the amalgamated city and it seems like we’ve learned nothing, processed no information, become none the wiser through the experience of past accomplishments and mistakes. Those endeavouring to assume Toronto’s top office have surveyed the landscape, examined the books and come to the exhaustive conclusion that what ails us most is a… spending problem.

It’s all about out of control, unaccountable, retirement party spending. End of discussion. Full stop. Enjoy the rest of your evening everyone. Vote For Me!

To give Councillor/Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone his due, he did try offering up a variation on the theme. (No, not his charts.) He raised the spectre of tax revenue inequality among the various levels of government, pointing out that for every tax dollar a Toronto resident spends, 92 cents of it leaves the city on its way to either Ottawa or Queen’s Park but it was a conversation the others didn’t want to have. Pantalone was summarily shouted down by all 4 of the others, braying in unison: We have a spending problem!

That’s it. The full extent of the conversation. The alpha and omega of the debate. A paucity of thoughtful, provocative ideas and views, best exemplified by Rocco Rossi. I know you thought I was going to say Rob Ford but what would be the point? He’s a Johnny One-Note that only surprises by his extraordinary ability to bring every issue, regardless of how irrelevant and beside the point back to Kyle Rae’s $12,000 retirement party. I’m pretty sure that’s how he plans on cutting 22 council seats. Anyone who attended the party is gone.

Yet in his own way, Rossi’s no better. He might not turn as beet red as Ford but he manages to spout similarly inane nonsense. Near the end of last night’s debate, he looked into the camera and bludgeoned us with the power of absolute numbers, saying that the present mayor inherited a 6 point something billion dollar operating budget and this year? (Stare deep into my eyes those out there in TV land and listen to the gravity I summon in my baritone voice.) 9 point 2 billion dollars.

Wow. That’s a lot of money. We really do have a spending prob—Wait a second. Might there be any explanation for such a significant rise in expenditure? Let’s see, for the past 18 months, 2 years, there’s been that little recession thing. The biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression with government expenditures at all levels exploding in order to head off an even bigger calamity. So there was that. Plus Transit City, the largest expansion of public transportation in Toronto for decades, making up for previous regimes’ neglect and building those bridges Mr. Rossi talks so movingly about to underserved areas of the city. A little cash outlay was needed for that.

The spendthrift argument Rossi et al put forward de-contextualizes the situation, pulling Toronto out of the reality it operates in for purely political purposes. No real viable solutions are put up on offer. Just hot button topics to raise the hackles of outrage among the electorate.

So whatever audience there is for the debate tunes in, turns off and drops out. We’ve been hearing the same drivel for 6 months now and we’re not biting. Sure, Ford’s made a splash upon entry but he basically siphoned support away from the others. The largest number still remains in the undecided column. The prix fixe doesn’t do it for me. Can I order a la carte, s’il vous plais?

Unfortunately the media maitre d’ remains firm. This is the slate of candidates we gave you, dammit, pick one of these! Given the opportunity of Giorgio Mammoliti’s exit from the mayoral race to open up the field of choice, CP24 declined last night. Brushing off calls to include Mammoliti’s pick to replace him, Rocco Achampong, they said winnowing the debate down to 5 would help simplify things as if they weren’t already doing that with Ben Mulroney MCing the proceedings.

This led to accusations of racism since Achampong is black and every one of the front runners is white. Let’s try and, if not represent the diversity of the city here, at least make a passing nod to it. While not ignoring that point, I do think that it’s part of a bigger problem at work here.

We are a small organization and yet over the course of the last few months have uncovered 5 or 6 other candidates running for mayor who are at least worth a first look at. Some aren’t white, some are. None are saying anything crazier than Rob Ford; all are talking a lot more sense. If we can find them certainly big news gathering conglomerates like CP24 or CTV or CBC or the Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star and Toronto Sun can too. Talk to them. Interview them. Introduce them to the public. That is your job after all, is it not?

Here, let me give you a list of names to get you started: there’s Rocco Achampong. (Check the spelling though.) HiMY SYeD. (Ditto.) Sonny Yeung. (Pronounced just like our main north-south street.) Keith Cole. (He’s gay just like George Smitherman.) George Babula. Andrew Barton. Wendell Brereton. Colin Magee.

These candidates are only fringe because you guys declared them so. Well, given those who you said weren’t and who were on display on CP24 again last night, I’m not sure we should trust your judgment on this. We’re not liking what we’re seeing and suggest it’s time to turn the channel. Or at least, give us more to choice to choose from. What we are seeing here is the deliberate muffling of democracy and the handcuffing of voters. A prospect even more frightening than a Mayor Rob Ford.

End of discussion. Full stop.

ire drawingly submitted by Cityslikr