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Election 2011: How Canada is Replicating America’s Hyper Partisan Politics

 

 NDP surge means more than a political shift – it completes the national polarization process

By: James Di Fiore

As far as Parliamentary systems go, Canada once had an international reputation of demonstrating fiscal prudence, strong social policies and a peacekeeping military. It wasn’t too long ago when our national identity was predicated on our ability to differentiate ourselves, respectfully of course, from our American cousins. Canadians, a patchwork of various political leanings, had a reputation of not letting ideology trump civil discourse, even while their politicians took cheap shots or when Question Period looked like Romper Room. Americans, by contrast, treat politics like a blood sport, a tug of war between polar opposites fueled by cable news, conspiracy and the tendency to vilify opposing views. And while the two countries are easily separated by this political distinction, that gap is shrinking ominously.

The 2011 election has been preempted by deliberate tactics of aspersions meant to reinforce political differences rather than spotlight honest disagreements. This reinforcement seems logical on the surface; after all, this is an election of partisan ideas and genuine dissimilarities between the parties. But the tactical trends indicate an increase in hyperbole, demonization and vitriol between regular people, not just the leaders they support. Evidence of this new mindset among voters can be seen on social networking sites, the opinion sections of news outlets and in pubs and coffee shops across the country. The two sides are drifting from the center, espousing far right and far left ideals while warning their fellow Canadians of the perils of political views opposite from their own.

By attacking Stephen Harper on military spending, corporate tax cuts and perceived government secrecy, the Liberals and NDP are inciting reactionary rhetoric from their loyalists rather than a frank discussion on policy differences. Rooted in these talking points may be reasonable concerns, but the conversation is routinely fertilized with fear mongering and allegations of conspiracy.

The far right, disciplined in their ability to robotically stay on message, firebomb the left with labels like ‘socialist’, ‘fiberal’ and ‘anti-Semite’. The latter smear is telegraphed and eerily reminiscent of Evangelical America, the slur being delivered arbitrarily and deliberate. The term socialism, as the Obama era has demonstrated, is now the political equivalent of calling a person a Brownshirt, stoking a reaction among those conservatives who still cynically dub Canada ‘Canuckistan.’

Identical to American politicos in tone and delivery, these two groups have become the loudest voices during this campaign. Television broadcasts may not espouse or endorse the same kind of language, but journalists and pundits quietly recognize the behind the scenes trend of tar and feathering political opponents. As the Conservative base digs in, the rise of the NDP marches on. Ideologies are continuing to drift farther apart. The rhetoric provides the kind of cover that helps avoid the effective discourse needed to reconcile opposing views. You might never hear Stephen Harper publicly utter the word Canuckistan, but you can hear his base cackle enthusiastically when the term is used. Jack Layton probably won’t point and yell ‘Fascist!’ if Harper wins a majority government, but many of his minions are already wearing t-shirts bearing the message.

The chances of further polarization among Canadians is high. Engagement in politics is rising, moods are shifting and party strategists are encouraging an ongoing spirit of anger among their respective loyalists. Torches and pitchforks have been replaced with internet trolling and reactionary, inflammatory language.

Disinformation. Relentless name-calling. A dangerous and tragic replication of American discourse is being born, and many Canadians are unwitting, tragic accomplices.

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A View From the Fringe

A fringe candidate’s experience debating the Toronto Mayoral front-runners

By: James Di Fiore

Who was that guy sitting beside Rob Ford, looking like the Mini Me version of Rocco Rossi? That was me, James Di Fiore, and I was asking myself that same question as the Mayoral Arts Debate commenced.

I arrived at the Art Gallery of Ontario where high brow members of the city’s creative community, representing the crux of cultural validity in Toronto from several arts-related sectors, milled about, sipping wine and fraternizing.

Three representatives walked Joe Pantalone, George Smitherman, Rocco Rossi and myself into an secluded area of the Member’s Lounge to go over the particulars of the debate. Rob Ford was missing, so we waited a couple minutes longer for the front-runner before making our way to the elevator that would take us to the the 450 people waiting for someone to champion their livelihoods, their scenes. When we took our seats in front of the audience Mr. Ford was still nowhere to be found, then finally appeared out of thin air as AGO Director Matthew Teitelbaum was making his opening comments.

Our moderator was Jim Fleck, a last minute replacement for one-time mayoral hopeful John Tory. He was both gracious and consistent in the way he handled the candidates during the evening, and when he introduced me first my butterflies waved their wings, to say the least.

On paper my experience sounds great, but as he introduced the others I noticed a line being drawn between my lack of political experience and their lifelong achievements. So I decided I would not try to fit in, nor emulate these politicians. Being myself was the only option, and one that eventually paid dividends.

Lead with a joke, I told myself. I scanned the two other Italians on stage and let rip what I thought was a decent, self deprecating effort. (I am short…and bald…with glasses)

“As most of you can tell by my appearance, I’m related to both Joe and Rocco,” I managed. Thankfully, the crowd reacted with some laughter and a brief applause. So far, so good.

The debate progressed with candidates vying for crowd approval, civil discoourse be damned. It was during the first real bickering session, this one between Joe, George and Rocco, when I leaned in towards Mr. Ford and quietly asked “Are they always like this?” Mr. Ford smiled, shook his head, leaned towards me and said “All the time…always…this is why nothing ever gets done.”

Listening to the candidates throw barbs at each other is bad enough, but to be in such close proximity to the bickering was eye opening, if not amusing. While I am miles away from Mr. Ford on policy concerns, it was still an honest snapshot of the candidate I had been trashing for months.

As the debate progressed I began to accept that I wasn’t a seasoned spin master (flubbing a question regarding city planning), but I was articulating my views, inexperienced voice and all.

Closing statements…and I felt unprepared. I improvised my way through 60 seconds of dialog, the voice of my girlfriend ringing through my head – “stay on message, stupid”. It worked, and the audience gave me a rousing applause.

I felt pride and relief when it was over. I was unsure if I was well received and heard, or if I was simply viewed as just a token candidate. The graciousness of the crowd made the experience a memorable one, and the up-close-and-personal sides of the main candidates gave me a new respect for the lives they keep. I shook hands with each candidate, except for Mr. Rossi, who gave me a Euro-Italian two cheek kiss in front of the stage. Mr. Rossi won the debate in my mind, outclassing and outperforming his competitors. He has since dropped out of the race after a  poll showed his support was just 4%. Salute, paison.

To my surprise, The Globe and Mail declared me the winner a couple days later. It was a surreal experience, and important to add that the mainstream candidates had participated in over 70 debates up to that point. That’s right, 70. Here I was, a fringe candidate beaming with pride over the one and only debate I appeared in, and doing my best to make the most of it.

I still have no shot at winning the election. Hell, I might not finish in the top ten, but the view from the fringe could be a whole lot worse.

An Open Letter to George Smitherman

Dear Mr. Smitherman,

Toronto is where you have called ‘home’ for your entire life, so it is hardly surprising you would want to become its Mayor. You have been a stalwart pioneer of sorts, becoming the first openly gay politician elected as a Member of Provincial Parliament, and the first openly gay cabinet minister to boot.

Sadly, you have no shot at becoming Toronto’s very first openly gay Mayor.

When this campaign began you were considered the front runner in several polls. As the months ticked by however, your eHealth albatross proved to be the weapon of choice for your opponents, most noticeably Rob Ford. And while you have repeatedly taken responsibility for your role in the 1 billion dollar debacle, as well as rightly pointed out the roles of other politicians who also share the blame, that albatross became much too heavy for any mayoral candidate to carry. It is now ingrained in the public consciousness – Smitherman = 1 billion dollar loss of Ontario taxpayer money. As you know, politics can be cruel, but if you stood outside yourself for a moment and imagined someone else trying to shed that label you would see what the rest of us see (excluding your base of steadfast supporters) – a man with exactly no shot at becoming Mayor of Toronto.

Don’t take it personally. eHealth is your Howard Dean scream, as it were. It is your accidental branding in a game that can change overnight, provided you have an accomplishment that can overshadow the setback. Unfortunately, the campaign is almost over and the time for tangible accomplishments has long expired. You can’t  create policy that will un-brand you, so to speak. You can’t crunch numbers, hold them up and say “See?! See?!?!” in an attempt rightly discredit Rob Ford’s alien math when it comes to budgets and taxes.

So, what to do….what to do…

Drop out of the race. Yes, the time for officially withdrawing has come and gone, but you can still do the right thing. This just wasn’t your year. The words ‘too soon’ might as well be emblazoned on your forehead. That Furious George thing would have actually helped you if eHealth did not exist. Toronto, clearly, has an appetite for a fiery politician, but it just isn’t you. It just isn’t Sarah Thomson, and it certainly isn’t David Miller sidekick, Joe Pantalone. As much as it hurts you to hear this, and despite what the polls may say, the only candidate who stands a chance at defeating Mr. Ford is Rocco Rossi. I know, it’s crazy. He’s polling lower than you, had trouble resonating with voters and has an unsettling smile, but he has been consistently polling as the person voters would select as their second choice, meaning he is the only candidate left who can save this city from becoming Lastman 2.0.

Even when you drop out, it still is a long shot Rossi can pull it off. He will need to scare the shit out of Torontonians, asking them to imagine Mr. Ford at the helm, a lame duck Mayor from day one who can’t build consensus and will be barking his elementary orders from the king’s seat, a picture too disturbing for voters to allow. He will also have to convince your supporters to rally behind him, no small feat given the ideological differences between you two. This, by the way, can also only be successful if Rossi can shrink voter apathy, especially among young voters. If turnout can swell to 50% Mr. Ford will not become Mayor. Bet on it.

Take that love you no doubt have for this city and put it ahead of your political ambitions. You still have time to make your mark. It’s not like this eHealth thing will stick to you forever a la Bob Rae and social contracts. You got time to rebrand yourself. Take that time and help Toronto escape the clutches of Chris Farley…please.

And no, Mr. Rossi did not encourage or suggest I write this letter. In fact, I don’t think he likes me at all after the beating I have given him in my blog. This is just an honest effort to keep a buffoon out of office.

Sincerely,

James Di Fiore

Toronto Mayoral Candidate (who knows he can’t win…bummer, I know)

Welcome to Fat City (formerly Toronto)

Why Most of Toronto is Fear and Loathing Election Day, 2010

By: James Di Fiore

Three quarters of Toronto despise him, and yet Rob Ford may be the next mayor of the city.

‘But how can that be?’ says the uninformed Ford supporter, ‘After all, he is ahead in all of the polls with 45% support of voters.’

And that’s the answer – he has the support of voters, which is roughly 40% of the city. So, Ford has approximately 20% support citywide. How’s that for harsh realities?

Far be it from me to try to educate Ford supporters about percentages, apathy, splitting the vote and other items slightly more complicated than slogans like ‘End the waste at City Hall!’ Seniors gravitate towards slogans, suburbanites live in a bubble and the remaining Fordians are simply, tragically, uninformed. Christie Blatchford, who mused about City Hall employees being overpaid, is not uninformed. She is a hypocrite, however. On one hand she chastises councilors for making close to a hundred grand a year, all the while saying nothing about her own salary – $180 000/year for tapping keys on her laptop in the wee hours from her house in the Annex.

And Fordians say we are out of touch.

This whole election has been one folly after another. One man has cemented himself as the champion of seniors, suburbanites and the intellectually bankrupt, while the remaining four have shown our city to be a den of opportunists who couldn’t play politics to save their lives. If Rocco Rossi had been busted for DUI he would have been done. If Sarah Thomson forgot that she got busted for pot she would have been as irrelevant as Ellie Kirzner, the NOW Magazine flower-child throwback who thinks it is still 1969. And if George Smitherman had told an Iranian man that his wife should go back to Iran to get beaten and raped, we may have at least questioned his homosexuality.

And if any of these things had happened to Joe Pantalone, it likely wouldn’t matter. Sorry, but Joey Pants doesn’t resonate enough for even the worst scandals to make a difference.

But here we are; a city about to elect Chris Farley as our mayor. Who would have thought this could have happened in a post-Mel Lastman city? Most people look back at those years as some sort of dream, a Coen Brothers Production of what happens when the water supply is laced with LSD. Speaking of which, Hunter S. Thompson once ran for Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado on a platform consisting of removing all the roads and replacing it with grass, and renaming the town Fat City in order to deter an influx of elites from moving there.

Toronto might become Fat City. And while Hunter S. Thompson was making a statement, likely drug induced, about the repression of young, liberal citizens who were being forced out by the ultra-conservative bunch, at least he wore his blunt on his sleeve. Ford is the opposite; a Tea Party-ish buffoon running on slogans directed towards the old, suburban middle-class who are tired of the downtown, liberal hippies.

A cosmopolitan destination once adored for its inclusiveness and cleanliness, its friendliness and commerce, may soon have an alleged wife beater at the helm who calls journalists ‘socialists’.

No word yet if FOX News is suing for trade mark infringement.

What is clear, and this is an against all odds play, is that non-voters need to shed that apathetic skin, get off their asses and cast a ballot. A low turnout means Ford wins, but anything higher than 50% means Toronto does not have to experiment with yet another mascot mayor. The math is simple: and since Fordians aren’t very strong at anything that can’t be emblazoned on a foam finger, there’s still a shot at saving Toronto from 4 years of being known as the modern day Fat City.


Toronto Media Biases Exposed Over Giambrone Scandal

City’s News Organizations Show Sex Scandal in Varying Forms

by: James Di Fiore

If you’ve ever thought to yourself “Hey, we don’t have to worry about dogmatic media biases…after all, this is Canada!” then please, think again.

Adam Giambrone, the Toronto councillor ratted out by his university student mistress just as he officially threw his hat in Toronto’s mayoral race, is likely doing a lot of groveling right about now. After all, his texts to Kristen Lucas included referring to Sarah McQuarrie, his long-term mate, as basically a convenient means to a political end. Not exactly the best Valentine’s Day gift a gal could ask for, but nothing we haven’t seen in politics before.

Setting aside the obvious betrayal McQuarrie and supporters are experiencing (after all, he allegedly had sex on a couch in his office at City Hall), the tell-tale sign Toronto’s media has set up distinct political camps is in the language of our city’s major outlets. Observe the following headlines:

“This is THE Giam-boner”…eloquent words by The Toronto Sun. There’s really nothing to add to that, except to say we didn’t know Howard Stern’s pen-name was Rob Granastein.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Star was already busy handling damage control for Giambrone, even as they broke the story on Tuesday. It is fairly unusual, to say the least, to drop a bombshell AND the apology in the same column, but there it was.

The Globe and Mail played the role of ethics police by publishing this on their web site, but if you read another post, it is clear they are fastening themselves to the same fence they normally sit upon.

What’s missing you ask? Well, the only ‘publication’ that had strongly supported the Giambrone campaign was NOW Magazine, Toronto’s Village Voice copycat whose reputation for pandering hopelessly to anything left-wing always shines through. On Tuesday, NOW’s political reporter, Enzo DiMatteo, the ass kissing hack for all things Giambrone, tried his best to sound like a real journalist by leaving the question ‘what’s next?’ open-ended. (this is the same person who thought Giambrone was gay, only to revise the article in question to read ‘gay-positive’…wishful thinking reportedly played a role in that hiccup). Look for Di Matteo to pucker up while trying to give the appearance of showing balance in Thursday’s issue, however. DiMatteo’s relentless admiration for the young councillor seeps through the vegetable-based ink on NOW’s pages, and this scandal will likely result in a sympathy piece, outlining the real media’s supposed hunger for sensationalism.

What does this ultimately mean for Giambrone’s campaign? Too early to tell; but he will surely need positive press from outlets other than Toronto’s least credible source of political news. Stay tuned…