Thursday, 10 March 2011

A Tale of Two Cities' (dreadful incumbents)



















2011 Election Year - A defiant belligerent in a staid, boring capital and a timid, weak, spineless retreater in the brash and bold metropolis


I originally only had the latter of these two subjects in mind, but recent events have forced me to include the former.  The province that houses two capitals, one provincial and one federal, Ontario - is seeing opposite styles and tactics at work by the leaders of their legislatures.  I will begin with the one that bears some good news.  I have to give a little “Woot-woot” to show my happiness at the remaining vigour of Canadian democracy. A little “ka-pow” with a bit of “shazam”, “ka-zam” and “buh-blang”. This just in, the Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons, Peter Milliken, has made two key rulings that find Conservatives in contempt of parliament, for forging documents in the Bev Oda-Kairos affair and for refusing to disclose any costs associated with their supposed “tough on crime” agenda. The rulings are a setback for Smug Harper, who of late has treated the Canadian taxpayer to commercials of himself pacing late at night in his office, drinking coffee and signing documents as though he was personally responsible for all 34 million of our livelihoods. It turns out some shards of Canadian democracy's former shell remain.  Contrary to the the deluded vision of himself the Prime Minister has broadcast over the air during prime time for several weeks, he does not have absolute power to do whatever he wants. We have recently learned at what heights this man's impunity reaches, with no less than four violations under investigation at this moment for breaching taxpayers' trust by using their funds for blatant partisan and advertising purposes (Lawrence Martin's last column gives a pretty good run-down). The timing of the parliamentary calendar means these matter will not end up as confidence votes, and an election is in the cards after the budget anyway, but they are being aired out in public openly and may contribute to a wider dislike of the PM by the Canadian public.

Of course, Smirk Harper still has two forces working tirelessly for him outside of his spin-fund raising-personality cult-mega machine, so he should not be considered down for the count. Force One is the Canadian community of political journalists led by Jane “TMZ” Tiber at the Globe and Mail, who cover politics like football and are in firm awe of Harp by virtue of the position he holds (it must be that, because I cannot think of anything else significant or endearing about the man). This probably isn't completely unavoidable, but if these “reporters” even sometimes used to their clout to report of the deceit and fraud of the government's misadventures, I could go easier on them. Instead, they insult everyone's intelligence by appealing, without fail, to the lowest common denominator: “Canadians don't want an election over $7 million dollars that the PM denied CIDA for Kairos” Yes, but if it was in his power to deny, why did he have to order a document to be forged? “Canadians don't want an election over a financing scheme in which the Conservatives deliberately misappropriated taxpayer funds”. “Canadians don't want an election over papers the government refuses to hand over that confirm they passed detainees into the custody of locals at whose hands they were certain to be tortured.” I have a better generalization, and unlike all of theirs it is not phrased as an excuse for intellectual laziness: “Canadians don't like being referred to as an idiotic, apathetic, monolithic whole, by people who respect the PM only because of all the cunning manoeuvers he executed and conniving manipulation he engaged in to get where he was.”

Force Two is the rock-hard, dyed-in-the-wool CPC loyalists. Their rise corresponds with that of the man who monopolizes his party's and, increasingly, all of federal politics. They like the strong man who runs roughshod over everybody and never compromises, and are encouraged in this by all of the conservative media. Where you find these people is on talk radio and on comment boards of internet articles, and they will not be swayed. They will find a way to turn the most damning and well-researched exposé on the Harper government (as it now wishes to be called) into a way to shout and scream their visceral hatred of any opposition. But they don't even discern that the opposition is varied and diverse in nature. Harper's pissed off a lot of conservative people too. They'll say things like “Well this is nothing compared to what we'd be going through under the LIEberals. Adscam, anybody?” Or “the LEFT is so bankrupt and pathetic they have nothing better to do than go after competent ministers managing the economy.” In case you haven't noticed, the words “Liberals” (or even better, Fiberals or Lieberals) and the “Left” are sufficient argument and adequate defence against any affront of their champion. If they ever got their heads out of their buttholes and left their rifle rooms on the Canadian prairie, or tricked out suburban basement home theatres, or wherever place it is that such myopically retarded ways of viewing the world are developed, they might be surprised to find out there are people who hold all political parties to the same standards, and who don't fit the descriptions of their lazy and unoriginal caricatures.  It says a lot about the people who unflaggingly support a leader when all they can defend him with are ad-hominems comprised always of the same two insults.  If they could admit that not everyone against the PM fits into these mythical evil demographic groups they've created ("Liberals and the left"), and step back and look at his performance and actions objectively, that would effectively evaporate all of his support. And because they will respond to everything I just said by shouting "Liberal!" and "Lefty" at me, I shall now proceed to my original subject of today to prove to them, to drive it through their thick skulls that I in fact have no axe to grind, liberal or otherwise.

Because while Harper's dogged unwillingness to compromise or back down even in the face of overwhelming evidence of CPC meddling douchebaggery will end his string of lengthy minorities or vault him into the majoristratosphere remains to be seen, the winds are blowing in a different direction in the provincial capital 400 kilometres down the road.  "Premier Dad" has no admiring high profile media personalities fawning over him, nor does he have an army of strident pit bulls to defend him on the internet.  You have to think he's clinging to memories of his popularity and boldness of the past, and wondering when a massive collective understanding of his greatness is going to magically come alive in the minds of the population and sweep him back into power in October.

I would totally understand why the premier would prefer to dwell on the past rather than the present or (*gasp*) the future.  Going on eight years in power and gunning for a third majority, Dalton McGuinty's tenure as Premier of Ontario, just in terms of length, could already be considered prolific. There is a long tradition of writing thick biographies about prolific politicians.  Their always unlikely rise to power, their individual stories, their maddening and inherent contradictions, and their inevitable decline, whether its into obscurity and irrelevance or more likely into the history books if they're being biographed, all contribute to the publication of these books being a frequent occurrence. The material is often abundant and the well of public interest deep.  It is also fascinating for people to be able to appreciate the faults, the fallibility and the humanity of those larger than life, uber-managed figures they are "governed" by; by chronicling their humanity, the biographer allows "regular" people to suddenly see themselves in those who pulled off the most difficult feat to get where they are: seeming normal, regular, and down to earth while simultaneously appearing visionary, exceptional, and authoritative.  This always inevitably ends in the public being disillusioned and disappointed, and rightly so.  Very few people in history have been able to live up to the expectations placed on them.  It is probably because, at the end of the day, one person is just one person.

And that is why, despite being in power since my second year of University (now that's a long time), one person who is unlikely to be the subject of a biography anytime soon is the said Premier of Ontario, Mr. Dalton McGuinty
 
The man is in the middle of a long, hard, painful, gut-wrenching fall from grace.  I have a hard time with immortalizing, biographer stuff, but in his case it is just too intriguing to not address.  How did a man go from two massive majorities to being the media's daily soccer ball they kick around as hard as they can, and possibly the most hated man in Canadian politics? The past year has seen popular anger and disgust with the premiers of Canada's four most populous provinces rise to spectacular levels. Two, in Alberta and BC, have already got out while the getting was good. But Jean Charest (whose government's follies require at least five columns so I can't go there today) and McTwerpy seem emboldened to ride down a bumpy, hostile road dragged by the scruffs of their neck into infinity. Except that we all know that when being dragged by a moving car, you can only survive for so long even if you manage to dodge a few rocks in the road.
 
There was a time when McGuinty could do no wrong. When Ernie Eves hurled the "reptilian kitten eater" insult at him in the election campaign of 2003, it failed to resonate.  This failure wasn't because of the poor taste, desperation, or viciousness of an attack on a man who was after all at that time a pretty much unknown entity.  It was because it missed the mark entirely on what is repugnant about him as an individual.
 
First, there is the panoply of nerdy-sounding, silly re-namings that you can make out of a name you have learned to blame all your problems on.  McGuinty's taxes, McGuinty's flip-flops, McGuinty's lies, McGuinty's deficits, McGuinty's secrecy, McGuinty's boondoggles.  Suddenly this name in your head, associated with all this negativity, has a cursed ring to it that allows you to form it into all kinds of ridiculous titles.  McQuinty. McSquinty, McWimpy, McDimpy, McStinky, McWinky, McSpinty, McFlinty.
 
But the way his name rolls off the tongue is something beyond his control, so I won't fault him for it. Combined, however, with the problems of extreme overexposure and bumbling incoherence, it is lethal.  When you are the butt of every single joke and the target of every single attack, as a serious politician you want to lay low. Operate with stealth.  Use your strong mandate to make effectual changes.  Take no prisoners and don't back down.
 
Instead, this guy is in the media every day, digging himself into a deeper hole and tying himself into more pretzel shaped knots than ever before.  A typical sight would be the premier, top button undone, appearing in front of a green background with the words "Jobs and growth" on it, answering the question: "Why has your government changed its wind-turbine policy three times in the past nine months"
 
Typical McGuinty answer: "Well, you know, I think if you look carefully at what it is you think you want to accomplish, I think folks will agree that we've really tried to make some progress on this.  I know some folks will think that there could have been some things done a little bit differently, but we just have to do what we need to do to make this province the one that I think has a chance of becoming a green energy superpower of the future."
 
Do you want to write talking points for McLimpsky? It's really easy.  Just go heavy on the "think", "folks", unnecessary conjunctions, and complete void of meaning.

Really, why does McSquirmy not deserve anybody's vote? This may have been a little too personal up until now. It is because, despite all his blathering about “prosperity” and “fairness” for Ontarians, he only actually cares about two very powerful, influential groups: public employees and the business lobby. His government lives in a fantasy world where these two groups are kept happy and everyone else smiles between their enormous mouthfuls of shit.

He is guilty of the same self-aggrandizement as Harper – putting his name on a Metrolinx ad to insinuate that he personally wrote the cheque for it “Were breaking new ground this year thanks to an investment from Premier McGuinty”. But at least Harper would have stuck to his guns. McGuinty, on the other hand, then backed away from a project that was funded and approved two years ago because he's scared to death of Rob Ford. That is why nobody has an respect for him anymore. He is a coward.

Examples:
1) Backed away from an ambitious pro-gay, pro-contraception, explicit sex-ed program within 48 hours because of pressure from evangelicals.
2) Backed off a relatively cheap anti-poverty initiative to help the poorest of the poor because of “challenges” during the “recession” (but sure as hell found money to bailout general motors)
3) Has muddled and watered down his alternative energy plans into an incoherent nonsensical mess because of pressure from the wind concerns Ontario grouping of blogs and other NIMBYists.
4) Implemented the HST because of pressure from Bay Street and the Federal Conservatives (then took all the flak for it...what an IDIOT!)
5) Secretly passed anti-constitutional legislation during the G20, and was called out on it by the ombudsman whose powers his government subsequently tried to strip.
6) Has doled out pork subsidies to everyone from international video game companies to a hot dog factory in Listowel.
7) Has created 19 new bureaucracies and hired $27 billion worth of unfireable government salaries
8) And I have no doctor, and one of these bureaucracies sends me a letter every six months to tell me that they have still received my letter

Not to rant and rave, but I could give the guy some credit if all this backing down and backing off and giving up got him somewhere. Instead, it has given his opponents the scent of blood. And for completely different reasons, he magically ends up appears as odious and untrustworthy of a leader as his federal counterpart.

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