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FORD, SCHEER AND CONSERVATIVES: NUT BARS OR FRUIT CAKES?

There is a limit to the success of conservative populism and the exploitation of “little guy” or “silent majority” rhetoric, and it is very often reached because of the emaciated, corrupted personalities of the demagogues themselves. – Christopher Hitchens

Populism is folkish, patriotism is not. One can be a patriot and a cosmopolitan. But a populist is inevitably a nationalist of sorts. Patriotism, too, is less racist than is populism. A patriot will not exclude a person of another nationality from the community where they have lived side by side and whom he has known for many years, but a populist will always remain suspicious of someone who does not seem to belong to his tribe. – John Lukas

Frank A. Pelaschuk

Doug Ford and his shrill sidekick, Lisa Macleod, in fact, the whole gang of Ontario MPP neanderthals and their federal and provincial counterparts, seem to be following the path loved by certain types of politicos of the day: parochial, dishonest, mean-spirited, ignorant, craven, self-serving, hypocritical, abusive, lying, media-hating, science-denying, thought-aversive, punitive, vindictive, petty, dogmatic, autocratic, and fossilized.
Ideas, if they have any, are so immured in locked minds that not a hint of light is discernible as if a requirement that not a ray be allowed to penetrate — ever. They swept into office and immediately set to work dismantling every liberal piece of legislation put in place by the Kathleen Wynne government; it doesn’t matter if the ideas were good, bad or indifferent, they took office in the way of thugs swinging metal bars and bats bent on the destruction of anything they don’t like, don’t understand and don’t support. Doug and his gang don’t like much, understand even less and support only that which plays to the worst instincts held by their supporters: that they are victims of Big Government and Liberal elites; that asylum-seekers are not only to be feared but receive preferential treatment over “legitimate” border crossers and Canadian-born citizens; that those on low income deserve even less and should get off their butts. They whine, really whine, about the decline of our infrastructures: failing roads and overpasses; the state of our education; and they whine, really whine about the shortage of doctors, hospital closures, the interminable wait times in emergency rooms while whining, screaming, that taxes are too, too, TOO, high. The Progressive (now talk about misnomers!) Conservatives have made an art out of playing on stupidity and fear encouraging the concept of victimhood and finger-pointing: it’s not them, it’s them. So they target opponents as liberals and socialistic elites but, if pressed as to what they mean by either, will often prove themselves ignorant on both or offer the usual bromides: soft on crime, tax-and-spend, pro-refugee, anti-life baby-killers. Everyone apparently needs his or her bogeyman. For Ford supporters, indeed for conservatives across the country it appears, the bogeyman is often new or reworked ideas progressives call progressive and conservatives find suspect, frightening, and foreign: too much emphasis on feminism and gender equality; too much tolerance of niqab-, turban-wearing newcomers; climate change isn’t proven; those on welfare are bums. And what about that Middle Eastern family next door who recently moved into the neighbourhood. Are they legal? Are they economic refugees? Are they asylum seekers? How do we know they’re not terrorists? Why don’t they dress like Canadians? Why are we allowing so many into our country? Grab the cell phone and record their movements. It’s that damn Trudeau’s fault; he just threw open the doors to anyone especially those Muslims.
Racism has always played a role in Canada, a fact we consistently ignore and too often deny, but the increasing tide of hostility towards newcomers appears to be the legacy of Stephen Harper’s last campaign (remember Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander and the Snitch Line) and with the rise of populists as reflected by Trump and Trump-lite Ford fanning the flames of suspicion and intolerance with unproven claims of crisis at the border to Liberal assurances that that is not the case. Fomenting fear is an unproductive distraction; it does nothing to solve the problem of refugee claimants if there is a problem. The Trudeau liberals certainly could have done a better job regarding refugees but making life more difficult for those already having a hard go of it is not a solution and is unworthy of a nation that often boasts of being one of the most welcoming and tolerant on earth. Recent polls suggest that is no longer true if it ever was. Behaviour by politicians exploiting and exacerbating reasonable concerns regarding asylum seekers along with recent videos of fearful, bigoted Canadians harassing identifiable minorities should be enough to safely put that myth of smug moral superiority to rest once-and-for-all.
As is often the way of small, mean people with an even smaller vision, provincial conservatives, Scott Moe, Brian Pallister and Doug Ford, as do their federal counterparts, almost always believe it necessary to point fingers and blame others whether merited or not for any failures in society especially if those blamed are liberals just booted from office. So, for them, as with Trump, the media, perceived by conservatives as a cabal of liberal elites, becomes the target because one thing liars and sewer rats detest is light of any kind: facts are often a hindrance to their worldview therefore unwanted and unnecessary to the cause. For them, as with all of a despotic nature, an informed, educated populace is a dangerous populace; best keep the ignorant ignorant; so, to that end, stoke the flames of fear, warn citizens against the invasion of asylum seekers and economic refugees and the extreme likelihood of terrorists slipping into the country; tell them at every opportunity they’ve been lied to by a press made up of elites passing on FAKE NEWS not wanting you to know that the government is corrupt, is out to take away your rights, and is stealing all your hard earned money to help those foreigners get into the country, get more than you, and take your jobs: in short, you are the victim of a vast conspiracy of bleeding heart liberal-socialists. Of course, the ignorant lap it up for it confirms what they have always known but never been able to articulate: thank God for Trump and Fox News in the US and for Scheer and Ford and Rempel and Macleod and The Rebel Media at home who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is or, at least, tell us what we want to hear regardless of how crazy. And crazy it is.
Conservative supporters are much like the smokers of my day who refused to except the thousand science studies proving cigarettes cause cancer preferring instead to embrace, gasping for breath all the while, the single tobacco-sponsored study refuting all such claims: cigarettes are safe. Today, it’s Climate Change; it’s not happening, even if it is, it’s not man-made and any government intervention is nothing more than a TAX GRAB. It’s twisted, but that’s how ideologues win support: facts are unimportant; just give folks what they want to hear: You’re not the problem; you’re a victim.
For Ford, as with his federal counterpart, Stephen Harper, now longer in office and making mischief elsewhere, it is not enough to twist, ignore and/or make up facts, it is not enough to demonize journalists and the press, it is far better to muzzle it and what better way to suppress the media than to use taxpayer dollars to create your own propaganda organ and call it “Ontario News Now”. Now you can not only get true fake news with fake “journalists”, you can get it 24/7. And guess whose paying for it, Sucker. The very person whose money Ford says he wants to save.
Yeah, he wants to save your money. So he cancels Kathleen Wynne’s carbon program and allocates $30 million to fight the federal government on the imposition of a tax on provinces that do not come up with a carbon price program of their own. Ontario and the other provinces will likely lose the case but they don’t care because their real concern is demonstrating to their supporters that they are fighting on their behalf with a federal government of elites out to screw them. Conservative supporters will lap it up, run to the Ontario government website and click on Ontario News Now for the “real” truth and walk away deeply content in having once again confirmed what they already know: conservatives are the only ones capable of telling the truth and the truth is they are victims of an insidious liberal government conspiracy. But you will never hear that from the liberal media.
Kathleen Wynne, the wicked witch may be gone but everything she and her government have put in place has not only been bad, it has been DISASTROUS. Now that’s bad.
So, if Wynne’s carbon plan, as well as Trudeau’s, was disastrous, terrible, bordering on CALAMITOUS, what else has she put in place that could be as bad, maybe even worse?
Perhaps the basic income pilot project that was to be tested over three years. Now that’s pretty bad because, well, not to be too churlish about it or to make too fine a point, it’s a program that’s reaching into my wallet, taking my hard earned dollars, to help a bunch of poor, low income people whom I don’t know and could care less about. Why? I’m not responsible for their miserable lives. And the Ontario conservatives agree with me. Hell, they even broke their campaign promise to see the program to the end and are cutting a planned three per cent increase to social assistance by half. Why? Because, Lisa Macleod says, it’s a “disincentive” to work.
The program started near the end of last year. Yet less than a year into the three year test period, certainly not enough time to make an informed decision as to its effectiveness, but enough time to attack the poor and desperate simply because conservatives have a propensity to meanness and for categorizing the poor as shiftless or not trying hard enough, it’s been cut. The program involved 4000 low income people in various Ontario communities; it was one of the largest test projects of its kind eliciting world wide interest. It didn’t and doesn’t matter to Ford and gang. Singles received up to $16, 989 a year while couples received $24,027. If they had a job, the government would clawback 50% of every dollar earned. Did the project work? Lisa Macleod claimed it was failing recipients from becoming “independent contributors to the economy”. How could she make that determination when the project was axed before it became fully functional? One thing is certain: Ford and gang where not interested in knowing if the program worked. It was gone as far as they are concerned. What was at play here was just pure partisan political malice directed against a liberal Wynne government program with only the very poor taking the bullet.
This was not just the act of an unkind group of people; it was the act of nasty people.
I have in my long life met many conservatives with whom I have had disagreements but who were and are kind and generous and open to ideas and truth. Sadly, in my opinion, they are too few. Too many are like Trump and his followers and like Maxime Bernier, Kellie Leitch, Michelle Rempel, Pierre Poilievre, Stephen Harper, Doug Ford, Lisa Macleod and their supporters. They are too shrill, too angry, too invested in their own interests and peeves to be concerned in yours or mine. Harper was a petty individual with a despot’s heart. Ford and thugs are the same.
In a few weeks time, municipal elections are to take place. Last week, just hours before cutoff time for candidates to put their name forward, Ford, unilaterally, in a truly anti-democratic and vindictive move, went after Toronto and the incumbent mayor declaring he would cut the number of council members to half its size. There was no consultation.
It was a petty act by a petty man wrapped in a big body with a pea brain.
The world is harsh enough for far too many with little to no resources. No one, least of all these, need the added burden of cruel, spiteful, selfish, tight-fisted political mercenaries targeting them. What Ford and gang are doing is not fiscally responsible, not being tough on waste, and certainly doing nothing to solve very serious problems. It’s just a cruel slapdash way of governance that allows the petty and mean to crow about acting and then clapping their hands dismissively as they ignore the pain and bewilderment of the poor and disadvantaged disposed as easily as one does trash.
Truth is not a plaything. Truth may be played with, it may be used and abused and deployed for unholy and selfish ends by the unscrupulous and vile. Truth is a light towards justice. If we want both, it is up to us to be vigilant and protective of both. We must not blindly accept anyone’s truth as gospel nor should we be foolishly closed to any truth or idea because it is not ours. An open mind is called for. When presented a story, a fact, it is best to study what we hear, see and feel before we embrace it wholly. Denying what we don’t like doesn’t make something any less true than embracing what we like makes it more true.
I am no more a fan of Trudeau than I was of Harper or Scheer. He is dishonest and untrustworthy and I believe his feminism a prop and his public displays of empathy fulsome and too full of self-regard…is the public taking notice? Nor was I a fan of Wynne’s governance though I did like her personally. The Ontario liberals were incompetent and too many of their actions suggested not all members were as honest as I would have liked. But I never thought of Wynne as mean or vindictive or full of herself.
I cannot say the same of Ford, Macleod, and the rest in his gang. They are not people I trust. When he ran for office, Ford offered no platform, gave no information. He would cut taxes but not tell us how or what would be sacrificed. In office, he has dismantled programs and legislation for no other reason than Wynne’s liberals were behind them. He has even cut the Wynne school sex education program reverting to one from twenty years ago and which educators say is outdated. Going back and erasing the work of the previous government is not a plan nor governance when nothing is offered to replace what has been destroyed. Ford’s is the thinking of those behind the government Phoenix payroll debacle. Get rid of the old; we’ll worry about the new later. We can see where he may be heading. If you are poor, alone, in need of assistance, God help you. Ford and his kind will not.

***

But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine.

They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. — Benjamin Franklin

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THE SAVAGE MONSTERS: STEPHEN HARPER’S CONSERVATIVISM AND ROB FORD’S POPULISM

Frank A. Pelaschuk

We are forsaken like children lost in the woods. When you stand before me and look at me, what do you know of my sufferings and what do I know of yours? And if I fell at your feet and cried and told you, would you know any more about me than you know about hell when they say it is hot and sets one shivering? Therefore we men should stand before each other with as much awe, thoughtfulness, and love as before the gates of hell. – Franz Kafka (from a letter to Oscar Pollak)

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. – Aldous Huxley

They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance. – Edmund Burke

Where is their dignity unless there is honesty? – Cicero

The quotes above say a lot about people like Stephen Harper and the Harper gang including Jim Flaherty and his friends the Ford brothers in Toronto. They also say as much about those who continue to support them. They are a disagreeable group and do not mind that they are; indeed some seem to glory in it. The politicos, whether the present day tin-pot conservatives in Ottawa or of the foul populism of the Ford brothers, are largely bottom feeding panderers backed by special interest groups in Big Business and supported by narrow, parochially obsessed scavengers content to feed off their droppings freely offered in the way of cheap, flashy promises. They are shameless in their fixations and in their petty narrowness blind to the bigger picture, closed to the wisdom of others, blind to their own corruptive smug incompetence and completely indifferent to the needs of the whole of society and their own ugly negative impact: it’s all about them, “what’s in in for me?” Theirs is a tawdry, skewed view of humankind: those that deserve get, and they and their cronies deserve. Failures, underachievers, the poor and unfortunate are freaks, undeserving masters of their fate and the bleakness of their existence products of their sloth, incompetence, criminality. The poor and needy are worthless creatures, easily bought and discarded with cheap promises and mythic lies (tax cuts create jobs, Conservatives are the greatest money handlers in the history of the universe, Stephen Harper never cuts and runs, more jails will reduce crime) only to be gingerly approached and pandered to when absolutely necessary (photo-ops with “ordinary” folks) during election campaigns. There is little room for the empathetic toryism of Joe Clark and the departing Hugh Segal.

For the Harper gang, compassion is weakness, ethics and integrity hindrances; theirs is the distorted social Darwinism of “survival of the fittest”: top dog wins and they are the top dogs. They view welfare recipients as potential fraudsters and, when it comes to crime, take “the one-size fits all” view removing the discretionary sentencing powers of judges, imposing longer jail times and setting harsher sentences for the mentally ill and warehousing them in prisons: these are criminals we’re talking about. Facts will never get in the way of gut feelings, the “truthiness” of what they “feel” about crime, criminals, and justice. For Harper’s gang, and for many in the public, it doesn’t matter that statistics show crime has declined; the Harper gang will pander to those who just “know” that’s not true. So out with judiciary discretion, no more mollycoddling of the worthless, the liars, the cheats, the thieves. And, if one of their own gets caught lying, cheating, stealing, well, hell, anyone can make a mistake and that’s all it is, a mistake, nobody’s perfect. You want to get tough, get tough on those lying, cheating, thieving, leeching, homeless nobodies on UI. More jails, throw away the keys. And those bleeding hearts? Gimme a break, it’s Big Business we should be weeping for, Big Business that needs taxpayer help, Big Business cronies that deserves the breaks and the good life. After all, they are “wealth creators”.

For the Harper Conservatives, it’s about tax cuts, jobs, the economy and growth, all laudable but, when reduced to just these four, cruel, exclusive, harmful and most likely to result in public service cuts, exaggerated projections of budgetary shortfalls and more public service job loss. But, just before the next election, the great conservative myth kicks into gear and, as has happened countless times, the conservatives will have achieved that miracle, not just of a balanced budget, but a surplus. It works every time and too many fall for it. But such concentrations on tax cuts, jobs, the economy and growth also creates a certain level of meanness leading to such thoughts as voiced by Industry Minister James Moore: “Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so.” And then there’s Peter MacKay who opined that poor criminals should simply sell their belongings to pay the victim fine surcharge mandated by Harper’s gang.

This is the conservative humanism of today: cold, calculating, cruel. Ontario Justice Colin Westman had a response for MacKay. “You have to understand, these people have nothing….someone has to remind the minister there are broken people here who don’t have anything to give….a high portion of them are broken souls” (Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 18, 2013, Andrew Seymour). These are the conservatives of today: boorish, thuggish knaves who make, then break, the rules, give themselves raises, set their own pensions, help their friends and treat as enemies all critics. They live in a bubble; they never see, because they never look for, the hungry homeless huddled in the cold or scavenging for food in garbage bins.

And if you’re poor, disabled, mentally and physically ill, if your roads are collapsing, your drinking water polluted, your health failing, well, too bad, there’s more important concerns, like getting re-elected with more shiny, broken promises. Your life’s tough? Gimme a break, brother, you think it’s easy being a politician these days, everyone hands out wanting, wanting, wanting and then bitching if I claim for a spa, coffee and toothbrush or treat a crony for a meal on the public dime while campaigning? You want housing for the poor, improved healthcare, better roads, every child fed? What am I? Made of money? Who’s going to pay for it, sister? I want to get re-elected and you worry about those whining folks, those lowlife have-nots who have only themselves to blame? Okay, okay, you drive a hard bargain. Tell you what; I’ll cut a deal but no, no more money for roads, for bridges, for healthcare, for homes, for seniors. I’ll cut the price of your telephone calls, maybe the price of sports equipment for your kids and lop off a hundred in taxes. That should be enough to shut you up. But you understand, now, that’s less for education and higher costs for your dear old mother’s medication. If you want to thank me, and I suggest you do, just remember this next time you vote: I’m the guy that cut your taxes. And, if I break a promise or two, don’t worry, there’s more. I never forget the little guy. See ya next election, now get lost.

Moore says the comments were out of context and the reporter who broke the news takes a hit. For Conservatives, it’s blaming and then shooting the messenger. Anything goes with this shameless, shiftless lot, Harper and his gang and their erstwhile counterparts in Toronto, the thuggish and brazen Ford brothers. They are products of the same roiling, slimy pot, the Fords emerging less polished and the Harper crew gleaming yet just as offensive, both parties equal offenders nevertheless in their debasement of democracy and the electorate. There is nothing too low, too vile, for them to not exploit or degrade; the viler, the better particularly when it comes to wooing those members of the so-called Ford nation those brainless nitwits who somehow confuse belligerence, vulgarity, dishonesty, brutishness, and questionable associations with leadership. They embrace Rob Ford as one of them. God help us all if that’s the case. Pandering to the worst and lowest while brother Doug hands out $20 bills as if further proof is needed of how cheaply love can be purchased.

But if Ford Nation is made of ordinary folks, as they claim, Rob Ford carved in their image or they his, what can one say of cabinet minister Jim Flaherty, who should know better, yet claims and defends Rob Ford as a friend once even coming close to tears over the shenanigans of this comedic, asinine figure who lives in a world all his own.

Now loyalty is a good thing, admirable in most instances. But in the case of Rob Ford, misplaced, nothing to boast about, and even less to support when, in spite of all the lies, all the questionable antics, all that is offensive about Rob Ford and his ever present shadow, Doug Ford, Flaherty’s only offering on this issue is to opine that Rob Ford should perhaps seek some help. What Rob Ford has done is no silly, harmless schoolboy prank. He bought illegal drugs and denied it. He hangs around folks of questionable character. He is a swaggering bully, he says things on the fly and then lies, lies, lies only to apologize time and time again. With the Harper gang and their own troubles with the Senate scandals, there is not even the crumb of an apology. Harper knows nothing, has done nothing, sees and hears nothing; Nigel Wright is the fall guy, just another of many in Harper’s entourage thrown under the bus.

If Flaherty’s loyalty to Ford impresses you, if his suggestion that Ford seek help seems sufficient, what of his outrageous response to Jason Kenney who, on Nov. 19, apparently having had enough of Ford, had suggested that Ford resign. Flaherty, according to a CBC report, took exception to that confronting Kenney in Parliament and suggesting that he “shut the f**** up” regarding Ford. In fact, according to the same report, the contretemps became so heated that some MPs were fearful blows would be struck. Which is strange behaviour from the Finance minister. It’s one thing to be loyal, but being stupid about it is another. Rob Ford has debased the political office he holds. Apparently that’s okay with his supporters, but why is Flaherty fine with that? Surely, even buffoonery has its limits. Are lying, bullying vulgarity, thuggery, and fake apologies the new normal?

Apparently.

When one looks at the Harper gang, you just knew politics was going to take a bad turn over time and it did, in spades. There was Penashue forced to resign for his 2011 campaign irregularities including accepting corporate donations. Even so, he was shameless enough to run again in the by election with Harper’s equally shameless endorsement as the “best Member of Parliament Labrador has ever had”. And then there was Bev Oda, according to an article in The Star (July 3, 2012, Joanna Smith and Allan Woods) was known for subjecting staffers in her department, The International Development Agency, to a reign of terror and for routinely breaking smoking regulations. Known for lavish spending of taxpayer money, including upgrading to a more expensive hotel to accommodate her smoking habit, she had been forced to repay previous spending anomalies until finally felled by questionable ministerial funding decisions which led to a forged government document and, later, by a $16 glass of orange juice. But even then there is some question as to why she resigned: was it the misuse of expense claims or the fact she felt she had served long enough as some have suggested. Pushed or not, I see little honour in their stepping down. That said, in some respect, these could be said to be the highlights during Harper’s governance. Two individuals actually stepping down even if pushed. But that was then. Today, we have the Ford and the Senate scandals and Harper peculiarly mute on one and pleading ignorance on the other.

In some ways, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s response to the Ford issue is emblematic of all that is wrong with the Harper Conservatives and the state of politics today. There is no shame in associating with discreditable people, with smoking crack, with uttering misogynistic comments, and with lying, lying, lying. All that’s necessary is to apologize; mutter the words, mumble them, roll your eyes; there’s no applause metre for sincerity. The Harper gang rolls on. Robocalls, subversion of the electoral process, illegal campaign claims, that’s all in the past. Never mind that Dean del Mastro faces charges for breaking election rules in the 2008 campaign, or that Shelly Glover refused to give Elections Canada a full accounting of her campaign expenses until learning she was to be promoted by Harper or that we have prima donna Eve Adams illegally denied claims for spa treatments during the 2011 campaign. Some might quibble and say that, in the grand scheme of politics, these are small issues. Perhaps. But I am not as tolerant as some towards those who fudge about the small things. How trustworthy can they be with the big things?

Perhaps, even in my old age, I’m still a bit naïve. I don’t believe politics has ever been completely clean, but has it ever been this dirty, so degraded by so many for so long? No one today, least of all Harper and Rob Ford, appears ready, willing or decent enough to want to accept responsibility for their acts; they finger point, they lie, they obfuscate, they run and hide. But, to defend such behaviour is indefensible and inexcusable. Democracy is taking a hit and Ford Nation and Flaherty’s response to Jason Kenney may help explain why.

While neither Kenney nor Flaherty has denied the episode took place, Flaherty’s comment to reporters appears a confirmation. “You know, I’m the minister for the Greater Toronto area. I don’t comment on the mayor of Calgary” (the Canadian Press, Dec. 15, 2013).

That is an astounding statement on several levels and exposes Flaherty in a light that is both puzzling and disturbing. Why commit oneself to Ford, as Flaherty has clearly done? For the rest of the country not buying into the populist garbage, Rob Ford is a laughingstock, a clown who, if incapable of experiencing shame, has certainly shone the spotlight on Toronto and not to its credit. Flaherty’s loyalty is disconcerting and suggests singularly bad judgement. Not only was his response childish, Jason Kenney, from Calgary, and just another in the long string of Conservative members for whom I have little regard, has every right to demand of Ford what many Torontonians clearly wish for: the resignation of Rob Ford, the crude entertainer who would be prime minister of Canada. As well, the comparisons between the two mayors are particularly invidious. Unless there is something of which the public is totally unaware, there are no comparisons and there can be no comparisons because there is no moral equivalency at play here; the argument evidently hinted at by Flaherty of a nonexistent moral superiority of Toronto’s mayor is untenable, offensive and risible because nonexistent. Just look at the two men, Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi on one side and Toronto’s Rob Ford on the other. Both are, without doubt, widely recognized across Canada. That’s about the extent of the similarity. That Flaherty would even go there, pit his friend Ford’s reputation against Nenshi’s is outlandish and as mystifying as Harper’s gang going after veteran’s, especially disabled veterans, and clearly evidence of poor judgement by both Harper and Flaherty. Surely there is no percentage in defending the inexcusable? True, world wide, Ford is more likely to be recognized than Nenshi, but as a target of ridicule and an object lesson of the extent of the abasement of Canadian politics. Could Flaherty really prefer to defend a scoundrel, however lovable he may appear: a repeat liar; a man who has admitted to breaking the law in smoking crack after months of denying he did so; the same man who later apologized after months of lying about the existence of a tape showing him doing exactly that; the same man who consorts with questionable characters; who has been taped numerous times while publicly intoxicated; who has been caught on camera using a public park as a lavatory; a man who has not shied away from misogynistic crudity; a man who is a bully and absolutely disagreeable in almost every respect; who apologizes time and again promising that’s the last of surprises only to add another the next day? And none of this, apparently, troubles Ford and his supporters; in fact, he appears to relish rubbing the public nose into his sewer. This is what Flaherty supports, unless, perhaps, there is more than friendship involved. Could it be simply a matter of politics, Flaherty and the conservatives afraid of alienating Ford Nation, who, true enough, appear more than happy to swallow from that that filthy swamp? If that is it, if it’s only about politics with Flaherty and the conservatives, even more shameful than misplaced loyalty; it confirms the worst of my suspicions of Harper’s gang: they are not just tolerantly willing to turn a blind eye to the follies of their own, they are also actively unscrupulous, willing go to any length to get and to hold on to power and nothing, nothing, is too vile for them: if it helps, go with it. But to succeed they need willing accomplices, those amoral self-interested “me” folks, those folks who time and again support them and only on the condition they get something, however small and shiny, in return. Go figure. Anything can be forgiven and anyone bought with a few cheap promises and a few dollars a day in tax cuts.

But let’s now turn away from Ford and Ford Nation to examine the equally offensive Naheed Nenshi. As far as I am aware, the Calgary mayor has not been accused of smoking crack, has not had a video of him smoking crack, and has not lied about smoking crack. Clearly that is evidence of dullness, reckless law abidingness. I am not aware of his associates so do not know if any have a criminal past and I know of no public intoxication on his part, or of any existing video of such, nor do I know of his use of a park, building or tree as a public urinal. Nenshi seems to have problem with fun-loving risk-taking. During his term in office he has revitalized Calgary, seen crime rate decline, and, during the Calgary flood earlier this year, he was front and centre in keeping the public informed, in organizing response efforts, and in boosting morale. This guy is just too uptight. In fact, so offensive is Nenshi he was re-elected by a surprising margin of 74% of the vote. If Flaherty were to comment on Calgary’s mayor, what would he say? “Nenshi’s a disgrace. No one is that good. His smiling persona is a con; his support rigged, a fluke, that 74% achieved only because only 39% of those who could, voted. And all that about him during the flood? Just leftist media propaganda. This mythmaking is making my mayor and friend Rob Ford look absolutely terrible!” Yeah, I guess that would hurt. Poor Nenshi. He doesn’t even have his own nation!

Loyalty to friends and family is commendable. But loyalty to the unworthy, the amoral and untrustworthy is not only misplaced, it is shameful. But what do the politicians of today know or care about shame? There are a few, we know that, but they are rare, too often silent, or, even more sadly, fleeing to kinder havens. When integrity, ethics, honesty, decency and acceptance of individual responsibility play little to no role in governance, is there need for shame? That conservatives, provincially and federally, have been relatively mute on Ford should alert undecided voters who still believe in democracy, the value of ethics and demand law-abiding behaviour from those they elect. Ford deserves no defending. If he had any shred of decency, he would simply resign and fade into the sewer. He is vulgar, loose with the truth and facts. If he’s admired and defended, it’s by morons who don’t even value themselves, let alone others or it is by those political opportunists, the users and posers who believe it is more important to curry to the lowest and worst than to adhere to a code that enhances and ennobles. Kenney, at least, had this right.

Not so Flaherty. Not the Harper gang or the provincial conservatives. Shhh! Don’t make waves. Who the hell needs a moral compass? It’s all about winning. Good guys finish last.

And you out there? When will you wake up, if ever? When will you take responsibility, how long before you have had enough?

Harper and his gang and the Ford brothers believe you are stupid, that you are merely self-interested and narrow and can be bought with slogans and by pandering to the worst in you. Next election, prove them wrong.

***

But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine

STEPHEN HARPER, ROB FORD AND THE LIMITED VOTER

The same people who can deny others everything are famous for refusing themselves nothing. – Leigh Hunt

Where is there dignity unless there is honesty? – Cicero

Frank A. Pelaschuk

Stephen Harper and his gang believe you are dumb. So does Rob Ford. They believe that your only concerns are bread and butter issues. They believe their assaults on Democracy and the democratic process doesn’t interest you. They believe you are fearful and that the fear must be exploited. They believe you can be bought with cheap promises and shiny gewgaws. The fact that so many of you still support them tells me they are on to something.

The old adage goes like this: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

But what happens when most of the players involved experience nothing of shame, are insensible to outrage, one side contemptuously certain of the venality of the other, believing anyone can be bought with vague promises and pandering appeals to their worst instincts, and the other proving them right, easily dazzled and easily swayed and, once hooked, remain stolid and loyal as dumb oxen, impenetrably blind to light, knowledge and wisdom. Almost nothing will shake them, almost nothing will wake them; they live but are dead upstairs stirred only by the vulgar hijinks of TV reality shows or the latest salacious Miley Cyrus romp. And the coarser it gets, the more aroused they become. Neither side is interested in the ennobling possibility of politics but only in what politics can do for them. For one side, the aphrodisiac is power and influence, for the other, cheaper TVs and more duty-free goods from across the line.

CLONES

To look at both men, Stephen Harper, manicured, stiff, measured, articulate, and apparently publicity shy, and Rob Ford, always in apparent disrepair, loud, coarse, and publicity hungry, it is easy to believe them from different worlds. That is surface and artifice. Politically, they are kindred spirits neither trusting nor respectful of the Democratic process; both believe the worst of us and pander to the worst in us. As politicians, they are successful, each in his own way. Their supporters are many from all walks of life and they are of a kind. They believe themselves underdogs, victims of “special interests”, i.e., unions, the left wing media, the liberal agenda, and distrust almost everything governmental.

These folks, fearful and angry, encouraged from the sidelines, egged on by Harper and Ford conservatives, are going to save the world from itself. How? Less taxes.

Conservative supporters, especially those beloved core supporters, succumb easily, almost eagerly, to cheap, empty promises: promises of less government, less taxes, less crime. They believe the Tory mythology that they, the voters, are under constant danger from crime, lefties and unionists. They are told, and believe, that our justice system is lax and fixed to benefit criminals; that more prisons and harsher sentences will reduce crime; that crime is rising; that those on welfare are leeches; that unions are special interests and unionists are lazy, fat and overpaid; that Oil is ethical; climate change, fear mongering; environmentalists, radicals. They are warned that Conservative opponents side with pedophiles, are soft on crime, and are the enemy. They are told that Big Business is always good, moral and sacred; that corporate tax cuts equal job creation; that well-paid workers threaten business and, therefore, jobs; and that Big Business is the cure for all societal ills. Why shouldn’t they believe it: Everyone knows that Conservatives are the best money managers ever.

Mythology.

DUPES AND STUPES

Still, some folks willingly suspend all credulity. They want the promise of magic and the Snake Oil salesman knows this and he has them. And, because they want to believe, they mistake the unbending resolve, suavity and glibness of Harper for strength, wisdom and knowledge and the vulgarity, tell-it-like-it-is-in-your-face bombast, threatening behaviour, and public outrages of Ford somehow endearing and indicative of a straight shooting, no nonsense type, someone to be trusted, someone just like them, one of the “ordinary” folk. It’s utter rot, of course. And you’re left wondering: What that hell’s wrong with these people? Will they never wake up? There is nothing endearing about thugs who govern without consultation, who govern in secrecy, who subvert democracy and threaten public servants and scientists and mistreat disabled veterans in the way Harper has and there is nothing endearing about thugs behaving like thugs, as Rob Ford and his brother, Doug have, and it is certainly less charming when the “ordinary” citizen claims Ford as his own and turns him into a folk hero. If that is the ordinary citizen, then god help us all.

But who is to blame for all this? When has public service degenerated to self-service? Is the politician solely to blame for exploiting every opportunity, every weakness, for resorting to every vile trick, no trick too vile or too low to not be used? Perhaps it is the exploited who are at fault, the voter who has surrendered his capacity to think, to reason, and to investigate, preferring instead to leave that for others, those who stand to benefit most, either out of laziness, indifference, or dependence. It is no longer, if it ever was, that simple. For whatever reason, politicians and voters have become co-conspirators, accomplices in working towards the degradation of the Democratic process. The truth is, and there is no greater evidence of this than in the shocking display put on by the Ford brothers and their supporters in Toronto, that neither side frets about the greater good of all of society for the only good they believe in is the benefit to themselves. They do not concern themselves with respect, ethics, honesty, integrity, decency or shame for one side is always willing to buy and the other to be bought: the only value the exploiter believes in is power and the only logic of merit is the logic of legalese. Whatever is legal is allowable, whatever one can get away with is acceptable, and whatever one can pull over another is legitimate because the other is just a dupe, a fool, a simpleton, deserving of the entire ill that comes his way. However, should the fool inadvertently gain some good, the exploiter will take credit.

It is easy to see the benefits for the users and exploiters, the Harpers and Fords, but what’s in it for the exploited, the willing dupes, co-conspirators in their own exploitation? Well, that appears to be rather vague. They appear not to know what they want but are amiable to the promise of better and more and if the promises are never wholly met, never fully honoured, never energetically pursued, it doesn’t matter, a soupçon will do, perhaps a cut in mobile roaming fee charges will serve or the unbundling of television packages; there’s always more promises and more tomorrows.

So, are those Harper and Ford supporters simply dumb like those Tories believe? Are they so indifferent, so locked into their narrow narcissistic lives that they cannot see or comprehend what’s happening around them? Are they that immoral and empty that nothing matters, that nothing shocks because it doesn’t touch them personally? Have they, in fact, become that jaded, that insensate, they no longer care? Do the exploited not see themselves as used? If so, perhaps, in that sense, because they don’t, they are not. They sell themselves too cheaply because they value themselves only as objects to be purchased: give me this I’ll give you that. Buy me: cut my taxes, cut the price of my cable or phone or television set; I don’t want much, but I want something. In return, I’ll give my vote, I’ll give my forgiveness, I’ll believe everything you say. To the onlooker who cares about the state of our politics and our world, there can only be bafflement mixed with fear. The turncoats within have hired themselves out and opened the gates. The barbarians have taken over and Democracy is getting a rough ride.

SO, WHO’S TO BLAME?

Alise Mills, the Conservative pundit who frequently appears on CBC’s Power & Politics attempts to make the case that there can be no linkage between Harper and the Rob Ford of today. That’s hardly credible. Rob Ford’s character did not develop overnight, nor did his present difficulties; surely those who knew him best saw the signs long ago. He is an open book in many ways, proudly playing upon his crudeness, loudness and ignorance, adopting the role of the loner and underdog fighting for the ordinary against the insiders and elite (i.e., unions, the educated and Big Government). And that was hardly a secret; certainly not unknown by those needing, and willing to use, his help. That, too, was Harper’s shtick, without the crudity, playing the role of underdog and pandering to the fears and prejudices of the uninformed, the “little” guy, both, however, Harper in particular, downplaying their efforts to accommodate Big Business with tax cuts, deregulation in environment, in labour, in workplace safety, and with concerted attacks against the public service and union bashing. For the envious, attacking public servants and unions are always winners: it’s easier to drag well-paid workers down to your level rather than pull yourself up to theirs. It’s easy to understand why the so-called “Ford Nation” was a natural fit for Harper and Harper for them. Did it matter that Ford was coarse, vulgar, unlikeable? He was one of them, shared their values, their vision. And Ford was hugely popular. So, why not a few photo-ops of them together, shaking hands, working the barbecue crowd, the perfect odd couple. Ford could bring in the votes and he did, helping Harper make considerable gains in Toronto and ensuring his much lusted after majority. Which is all very interesting, particularly now with the on-going Ford saga.

If Mills is right, what accounts for Harper’s muted response to the Ford dilemma for so long? If there is no linkage to be made, why has Harper, leader of the law and order get-tough-on-crime brigade, been so silent in denouncing the antics of his one-time ally and very best friend? Why has Harper not forcefully demanded that Ford resign from office? Why not even timidly? This is the mayor of Canada’s largest city. This is the man who has disgraced his office. This is the man who, for months, denied smoking crack, denied being a drunk, denied drinking and driving, denied consorting with alleged criminals. This is the man who has revealed himself to be a liar with his sudden, almost daily offerings of apologies for admissions of smoking crack, buying drugs, drinking and driving. This is the man who, in an angry response to a charge by an ex-staffer in a police report, denied consorting with prostitutes. The response was a tirade that was misogynistic and shockingly vulgar especially in regards to his wife who latter appeared with him in a news scrum looking shell-shocked as he once again offered an apology. This is the man who, to all those admissions, would cavalierly add, “I made mistakes.” No big deal. But how many mistakes, how many apologies before members of Ford Nation have had enough? This is the man, along with his brother Ford, points to other councillors saying he hasn’t done anything they haven’t done the only difference being he was “honest enough” to admit it! As if the guilt of others absolves him! Well that’s their world and they’re sticking to it.

THE HYPOCRISY OF HARPER’S OMINOUS SILENCE

It’s a freakish gong show, ridiculous and sad for politics and Democracy. And yet, what has been the response of the Conservatives provincially and federally? Muted. Tim Hudak belatedly and mildly distancing himself from Ford, though, it is also true, neither Kathleen Wynne nor NDP provincial leader, Andrea Horwath, were hardly stellar regarding this matter. It is the federal Conservative response that is most telling and disturbing, however. Not that long ago, when Justin Trudeau declared he was in favour of decriminalizing marijuana use, Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay, the minister of incompetence in everything, pilloried him, attempting to paint him as a drug pusher to children. Yet, when the PMO finally commented on the Ford saga, Nov. 18th, weeks after it began, his comment was less about Ford, in fact, Ford wasn’t even mentioned, but more about Trudeau. “These latest allegations are troubling. Our Government does not condone illegal drug use, especially by elected officials while in office, including Justin Trudeau,” ran part of the statement. Not only was this ad hominem cheap, it was the revelatory, a desperate attempt to divert by a hypocritical Harper who wants it both ways. He wants to appear to condemn drug use without condemning the self-admitted crack smoking, drug buying, cocaine snorting, drunk driving Ford lest he offend members of Ford Nation. But this double standard is not unique in politics and certainly not to Conservatives who are double-jointed to the core. Just as Ford denied and denied until finally confronted by the evidence proving him a liar many, many times over, Harper still insists on denying he knew anything about the Duffy/Wright deal. Not believable, not credible. We saw how Harper behaved with the senate scandal. And we see how Ford behaves today with his own troubles. Secrecy, disrespect for the public and for their offices, Harper, once cited for Contempt of Parliament, his gang and the Ford brothers are poison in the well. Yet some of the public happily drink from it. Apparently, to those in the rose coloured world of Conservatism, the poisoned water is magic, nothing is as it seems: honest criticism is lack of patriotism, fakery is reality, lies are truth, ethics anti-democratic, secrecy openness, opponents enemies, and knowledge dangerous. Who cares about facts, truth, integrity? Not Conservatives who have made subverting the electoral process a fine art nor those who vote time and again for Harper and the Fords who appear to live in a world all their own. And it isn’t pretty.

THE DAY THE THUGS CAME

When Toronto councillors stripped Ford of most of his powers on Nov. 18th, viewers were witness to a spectacle that was raw, thoroughly ugly, and utterly menacing. We saw the Ford brothers for the thugs they are as they ignored the speaker, mocked councillors, derided city staffers, and roamed the chamber to scream at heckling spectators. We saw Rob Ford knock over councillor Pam McConnell as he attempted, so he said, to go to the aid of his brother whom he believed involved in an altercation with a spectator. Another councillor repeatedly demanded that Ford apologize to McConnell. Evidently that was difficult for Ford. When he finally did, using McConnell’s name, the apology was as heartfelt as all the other apologies in the past few weeks and just as insincere. But, if knocking down fellow councillors and heckling spectators wasn’t enough, there was another episode that was extremely disturbing. Rob Ford, accompanied by his bodyguard driver, roamed the chamber with the bodyguard taking pictures of hecklers in the gallery. There was little doubt what Ford intended by this. What was that in aid of if not meant to intimidate?

It is beyond understanding that people still support either Rob or Doug Ford. It is shocking to me that they are treated as celebrities, that they have garnered the attention they have. They are hoodlums, worthy of nothing but contempt. Instead, they get their own TV show.

I have heard some say over and over that Rob Ford needs treatment, that he is endangering his life. That is probably true but I couldn’t care less. The sooner he leaves office, the better. I don’t care how he leaves, as long as he leaves. I feel no sympathy for him and can’t even work up pity. And that is sad. If he possessed a shred of dignity, some sense of pride, an iota of shame, he would know that stepping down would be the best move for Toronto, the city he professes to love. It could even help him. Crude, loud, profane, he insists on staying in office and has declared war on all those who oppose him. We have seen him exposed and humiliated, he says, but, if humiliated, it is difficult to see. It is not his fault. It never is with the Harpers and the Fords. It never seems to end and it’s always the fault of others. For Ford, it is enough that he has apologized, time and time again. He wants to move on, voters are expected to take him at his word that he is not an addict, isn’t a drunk, that pictures of him with alleged felons is a one off, just the mayor posing with ordinary folks as far as he knew. To his mother and sister, the only problem Rob Ford suffers from is his weight problem. His brother Doug, a person who would know, one thinks, considering their closeness, says he has never seen Rob drunk. Yet the world has seen more than a few videos of an apparently intoxicated Ford. Hell, he’s been even taped taking a leak in a public park. He is surrounded by enablers and all, like himself, deniers: he’s done nothing wrong, he hasn’t a problem, the elitist lefties are out to get him, he’s loved by voters. Sadly, that last may be true. There are some who see him simply as some harmless, goofy, loveable buffoon and nothing more. To them, as to the Ford brothers, the whole thing smacks of the conspiracy of the left out to get Ford. They dismiss his drug use and public drunkenness as a private matter during time off work. Yes, he is entitle to time off; the thing is, he is mayor 24/7. His behaviour hasn’t affected his job, they say. How could they know? They, too, are deniers. It is immaterial to them that he has failed the test of character, that his flaws and faults are many and serious.

SEND IN THE CLOWNS

Earlier, I stated that Harper and Ford were kindred spirits. Who can doubt it? Harper and the Ford brothers are pathetic, weak men. Harper takes no responsibility for what happens in his office as with the Duffy/Wright affair. Rob Ford accepts no blame for his actions. People were out to get him. Had he behaved, there would have been nothing to get. And while Harper may appear to be more refined, he is no less a bully than the Ford brothers who have made their way into the public consciousness largely by the force of their brutish antics. Harper and Ford think nothing of pointing fingers, of pleading ignorance, of denying wrongdoing. These are the acts of children, of bullies and cowards who cannot man up and take responsibility. Even so, there will be those in the Ford camp who will say that Rob Ford did step up, that he did accept responsibility. They live in a world of fantasy and nothing will alter that.

There are too many too willing to defend the indefensible and the inexcusable. Too many will say that Ford’s private life has nothing to do with his public life. Since when has character become a nine to five role?

Ford cares no more about democratic process than Harper’s Conservatives. If he did, he would resign. But he will not any more than Harper will. And for that, we can thank their supporters.

Too many of us expect too little from our leaders. Too many of us say we want leaders just like us. I ask this: What is the glory in having leaders “just like us” when so many of us are flawed, incapable, and disinterested? When I vote for a person, I want them to be better than me, and not just more knowledgeable about pinching dollars, cutting costs, and lowering taxes. I want them better than me in wisdom and humaneness as well. We don’t live alone. I want them to have a broader view of my society and theirs and the world at large. I do not want them to pander to the worst in me, to my prejudices, my ignorance, and shallowness but rather to help me understand that there is no place for such things. I want them to make me proud that my vote helped elect individuals who worked for the good of all members of society, who are not tied to business interests, who are not blind to workers’ needs, who believe that justice is not just about punishment but also fair treatment.

I have actually heard people say they like Rob Ford because he is just like them. That terrifies me, for what I see in him is dangerous hucksterism, disingenuousness, magical thinking, buffoonery, ignominy. If he is truly representative of the population, then, perhaps, we should have a means test for voters. Surely it’s not too much to ask voters to inform themselves, to be aware of the issues, to know their candidates and the party policies. When I hear some declare, as if it was something of which to be proud, “I don’t vote”, I want to ship that person to a deserted island because he has already isolated himself from society by his disinterest in how it operates or is governed. When asked why they don’t vote, they sometimes say they are not interested, that they don’t know enough, that their vote doesn’t count. These are excuses from individuals who haven’t grown up, who cannot see, or don’t care, how our lives are intertwined and how our actions affect others. We already have too much of that in public life. There is no room for apathy, laziness, for leaving the decisonmaking to others. “Politics doesn’t interest me.” How can anyone say that of something that affects almost everything in their lives every day? It is these people that the Harpers and Fords love. They don’t think, they don’t analyze, they don’t absorb, they don’t remember. They just don’t care. They are zombies; they go through life asleep and are the ones who will do as they are told when they are told. They believe in nothing because they know nothing beyond their own needs wants and fears. And because they cannot see beyond their own narrow sphere, they vote for the populist emptiness of Ford and for the secretive, vindictive, and mean-spirited free enterprise governance of Harper and gang. They don’t mind, they don’t know, they don’t care.

And the rest of us? Well, we pay the price.

***

But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine

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