Like my North Bay colleague Wally Hourback in his column a few days ago, I’m having difficulty feeling any enthusiasm about the political choices offered by the three Federal political parties, and I’m enjoying the slide to the political right even less than he seems to. The Jack Layton-led NDP wants to take us back to an imaginary social democratic past that looks suspiciously like Ed Broadbent’s “here’s our chance to become the official opposition” opportunism that nearly lost us the country to Mulroney’s Canada/US Free Trade Agreement. The Paul Martin Jr.-led Liberals seem to be flogging a status quo—with better accounting practices and, one suspects, bigger profits for Martin’s corporate friends—that Martin just spent six months blaming Jean Chretien for, and refusing to have anything to do with. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives—no longer pretending to be even faintly “Progressive”–seems intent on rending the fabric of the country and hiding it with that bland smile of his. I keep waiting for David Frum to pop out of his pocket, but so far, nothing. It has become clear in the last several days that, if elected, he’ll not only privatize medicare, but also dismantle most of our cultural industries, which will lose us our important-to-the-big-cities indigenous film and television industries. And I suspect that’s just the tip of a pretty nasty iceberg he’s planning to land on our shores.
I happen to have thought that the last several years of Jean Chretien’s tenure as prime minister constitute a kind of golden age for this country. We didn’t meekly follow the Americans into Iraq, we wondered aloud whether there was anything truly criminal about people smoking a little home-grown dope, we decided it was perfectly okay for gays to get married, (or, for all we care, join the Rotary clubs of their choice) and we became more civilized and comfortable about admitting how great this country really is. It is an unrecognized truth that Canada has been the sanest country on the planet for a half-decade now, and we were settling into the role with a confidence we’ve never quite shown before.
I don’t think this election was timely or necessary, and the Paul Martin Liberals are going to pay dearly for prematurely ending the golden age. Unfortunately, if Stephen Harper gets to be the next prime minister, the rest of us are likely going to pay even more dearly, particularly those of us who live in Canada’s major cities.
My dismay and confusion shows in the way I’ve responded to the election so far. I sent $100 to a suburban NDP candidate I like named John Richmond, and I have an Olivia Chow NDP sign in my front yard. But when Chow’s people asked me if I’d work for them, I said no, that I haven’t liked the Federal NDP for a long time, and I’m not terribly impressed with Jack Layton. But I also sent $100 to the Dennis Mills campaign in Toronto Danforth and Mills is the sitting Liberal MP in the riding Layton wants.
I admire Mills and like him personally, and not just because my 24 year old son is working on his campaign. Mills is a guy who gets things done locally, he’s a decent, unpretentious human being, and he’s been described by Ottawa’s Hill Times as the best constituency MP in the country. He’s the one who more or less single-handedly dragged Toronto out of its post-SARS paralysis by organizing the Rolling Stones concert last summer, an event which ought to be better recognized as the most peaceful, well-organized megaconcert ever carried out–anywhere. People had a good time, no one got beaten up, and the crowd was so cheerful and orderly as they left Downsview Airport after it was over that they were stopping to wait for street-lights.
I’ve watched Mills in action on several occasions. He’s not confrontational, and he doesn’t scrag his opponents, maybe because he has a rare gift for seeing the good in those he meets. This interests me because he’s also the best verbal counterpuncher I’ve ever witnessed in politics, and I’ve seen a few good ones over the years. He knows his stuff, he knows what’s important to the people he represents, and he’s there to get things done for his constituents—and not just the ones who vote for him. He pretty much epitomizes how politics ought to be conducted in a democracy. He’d also be a good guy to be marooned on a desert island with, as one of our dooneyscafe.com dictionary writers pointed out, and not just because he’d likely find a way to get you off the island.
Mills is likely to get dragged down with the Martin debacle, which is a shame, because he’s not a Martinite. He’s arguably the last true Trudeau Liberal, which means that his politics are more tolerant and progressive than those of the current NDP. Even in opposition against a Harper-led government, he’d probably be more effective in working for his constituents than Layton will, who isn’t known for being much of a worker for his constituents unless he happens to have an interest in their cause. As NDP leader, Layton will be off hither and thither, fluffing the unions who support the NDP financially but never seem to vote for their candidates, or pursuing national issues of interest to the NDP’s plethora of minority interest groups. Since much of the Danforth riding sits along the Toronto waterfront, losing Mills and his negotiating skills—and his high level connections within both Canada’s government apparatuses and the business community—will be a loss Toronto can ill afford, particularly when you realize that the Conservative alliance, so to speak, is a party that draws its support from the hinterland and the deep urban suburbs, and from people who are about as interested in the health of big cities as they are in providing Inuits with refrigerators. They’d just as soon carpet bomb downtown Toronto as give it the money it needs to keep it socially sane and livable.
I’ll probably end up voting for Olivia Chow, but only because I have little respect for sitting Liberal member Tony Ianno, a Martin loyalist who only shows up in the riding at election time. But the one thing I am sure of is this: if I were living in Dennis Mills’ Toronto Danforth riding, I’d be voting for him. It’d be the first time in my life I voted Liberal, but this is no ordinary election. And Dennis Mills is the better man, for people living in Toronto Danforth, and for Canada’s future.
June 12, 2004, 1079 w.