A funny and inexplicable thing happened in two mayoralty elections in Canada in 2010 as both Toronto and Calgary went against the traditional grain electing mayors that would probably have seemed like a surreal joke only a year earlier.
Naheed Nenshi, a member of a visible minority, a Muslim, and an urban activist, won in Calgary on a progressive platform. Riding on a very clear mandate and a successful social media campaign, Mr. Nenshi downplayed personal things such as his faith, and ran on the issues including putting a lid on suburban sprawl which has become a large problem in Calgary. No city in the history of this country has ever done more in one day to absolutely destroy a negative stereotype, and bravely declare itself an open minded progressive international city. The whole world will see Calgary differently now.
In Toronto things were very different. Rob Ford, running on a conservative anti government spending, pro automobile campaign, carried the suburbs into victory. Rob Ford represents the anger and resentments in the Canadian suburbs, that repetitive, boring and crowded hinterland that lies somewhere between urban and rural. Rob Ford is a merger mayor, perhaps a precedent for how politics plays out in our large cities once the suburbs have been annexed. Rob Ford’s first major move was to cancel Transit City, a massive sustainable transit project that would have catapulted Toronto to center stage in international urban development. Instead, the voters chose to go backwards, to rush madly into the sunset of Peak Oil and the overwhelming negativity that that will bring to future generations.
There are plenty of articles on the net that attempt to analyze these two elections, especially in regards to demographic turnouts, though you may find it hard to pinpoint exactly where the tipping points lay. One thing remains very clear, Torontonians voted against something and Calgarians voted for something.
Canada is heading towards an election with a minority Conservative government demanding, in it’s relentless attack ads for example, that Canadians vote against something, a campaign that feeds on voter anger and resentments. Given how much scandal has rocked this government, and despite their Nixonian claims that they have done nothing wrong, one has to seriously question how this government could even have a chance of being reelected. Canadians are not that stupid, so what is going on?
A lot of it no doubt is caused by a general distrust of politicians and the national perception that none of the leaders of any of the opposition parties have the charisma required to capture the imagination of the country- there is no Trudeaumania like movement to be seen anywhere on the horizon. Still, how can you explain a willingness to vote for a party that cheats, lies, and is the only political party in the history of the country to be found in contempt of parliament?
This should be a no brainer, but they are still alive and with a chance of getting a majority.
The only answer can be that people are angry, frustrated and, yes, full of fear. And fear causes a paralytic effect that can spread across society like a seasonal flu. You turn your back away from most things and focus on the fact that you are ill, that no one seems to be respecting your discomfort, and you get angry and frustrated, and even more sick, and more resentful, and you certainly are in no mood to hear that any changes in the world are necessary. And how dare anyone suggest that you don’t have your grandchildren’s best interests at heart, that your chosen lifestyle is somehow a bad thing? The mind wanders a little, but mostly it is looking for an affirmation. This may at least partially explain how Rob Ford made it in suburbia.
But it still doesn’t explain Canadians turning their backs on each other or becoming supportive of blindly following the Americans into war and approving tax breaks and opportunities to corporations who kickback generously to those who can change laws for them. It still doesn’t explain how our collective pride in the nation is being so seriously corrupted by a government that distorts the truth, makes a mockery of transparency and fair play, that openly attacks the family of the leader of an opposition party. I don’t love a possible Canada where that is okay.
In Calgary the people took a brave step forward and voted for something different. They voted for change. They voted to get themselves firmly footed in this brave new world called the 21st century. Torontonians voted for pushing the pedal to the past and to stay under a cloud of impending doom. The Conservative Party of Canada will work every hard to make sure that change becomes impossible, and just as Governors in the United States are passing bills that make collective bargaining a thing of the past, the Conservatives will make sure that only they, and the corporations they are so beholden to, will control everything including your health care and your old age pensions.
And so Canada stands at the crossroads of history and we have a choice between keeping our autonomy and everything that has made this nation of strong, peaceful, tolerant people so attractive and admired around the world, or we can just choose to leave Canada as we have loved it alone, unrecognizable, heartbroken, on the side of an abandoned road stretching out to a land no one knows.