Progressive politics, ideas & culture


News from the backwater

This Magazine Staff

As Andrew Potter likes to remind us, the intellectual elite, especially those with international credentials (oh, the mother country has noticed us again!), can’t quite understand why we haven’t just turned Canada over to Michael Ignatieff now that he thinks he might like to run it.

I live in that backwater in western Toronto, and so ventured out in the hurricane last night to meet all the candidates from my riding (except the Communists and Marxist-Leninists whose invitations got lost in the mail). Learned something I didn’t know right away. Etobicoke-Lakeshore has the worst air quality in the entire GTA. Here is my assessment of the meeting, with a sincere attempt at impartiality despite my obvious bias:

John Capobianco, Conservative: Tastes blood in the water and can barely contain his excitement about Stephen Harper’s position in the polls. That said, he’s running in Toronto, so makes little if any mention of Harper’s social policy stands like the traditional definition of marriage. Referred to tax cuts, tax relief, lower taxes, etc. approximately 126 times during the course of a three-hour meeting. Flagellates the Liberals for a poor environmental record concerning our national treasure, Lake Ontario, while presenting little in the way of a concrete plan to improve the lakeshore himself. Is carrying a gigantic “I worked for (former Tory Ontario Premier) Mike Harris” millstone around his neck, which, strangely, he seems rather proud of. Good for him. Don’t try to hide your past, I say. Which brings us to:

Michael Ignatieff, Liberal: Impressively relaxed speaker. When he chooses to address an issue, the room listens. Is being dragged down by ties to the incredibly unpopular Paul Martin and yet, unfathomably, cannot bring himself to cut those ties. In answer to the question “Why should we vote for you?” (which all candidates had to answer), he spoke glowingly about his predecessor, Jean Augustine’s record as the local MP for the past 12 years, how she remembered the birthdays of her constituents, etc. Perhaps the lamest answer of the night, and the packed hall let him know it. 12 years of increased pollution and air quality degradation under the Liberal watch, and we’re hearing about birthday cards from some other politician? Any mention of Iraq brought stifling boos and hisses from his supporters in the crowd, and he never once addressed the issue himself. Why not? I actually want to like this guy. I want him to go all Jebediah Bartlett on me, and force me to deal with his difficult honesty, but the great professor comes across as a rather ordinary politician. Needs to address the sour-faced disapproval look he puts on when he disagrees with something someone says.

Liam McHugh-Russell, NDP: Would it kill you to comb your hair? Clearly the most passionate speaker, and the candidate with the most local street cred, having worked locally on many of the issues topmost in voters’ minds. Great communication with the crowd, even while being rudely shouted down by local Liberals. Did not seem quite prepared for the question on arts and culture, but then what politician says anything about arts and culture other than “I think it’s great, we support it.” Has a great handle on the NDP platform, and mentions Jack Layton a lot. Fell into a trap on tuition and student debt. No one wants to hear left-wingers complaining it costs them too much to go to law school. Everyone has debt – talk about quality and availability of education instead. His closing remarks were addressed squarely at undecided traditional Liberals. The ship is sinking. Our boat looks more like yours than that Conservative submarine over there. Welcome aboard.

Phil Ridge, Green Party: Great rapport with the audience. Excellent local credentials. Knows the local environmental issues better than most. Can really get into the, well, dirt of the Humber sewage treatment plant that stinks up the whole neighbourhood. Understands that these environmental concerns are very high on the priority list for local voters. Could not speak comfortably on any other issue, and while he made a charming effort of it by reading directly from the Green Party playbook, one has to wonder about his ability to do anything in Parliament as a single issue guy.

Wrap up: If there’s a better slate of candidates in any riding, I’d like to hear about it. Yay, democracy! I think St. Paul’s (also in Toronto) has a pretty good slate as well. What about in other parts of Canada? Where are the real tough choices?

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