Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Soul-swapping cities?

Here in the Twilight Zone, it seems that Calgary has elected a young, Muslim, centre-left, Facebook-savvy immigrant’s son as its new mayor, while Toronto leans heavily towards electing a right-wing, red-faced, “crass, hot-tempered straight-talker” pulpit-bully for its mayor. As Marvin Gaye once asked through the medium of song: What’s goin’ on?

Who frankly knows, but I’ve got a couple of thoughts. One concerns demographics. Calgary’s decade-old boom has meant a burgeoning metamorphosis, and a flooding of new labour from small-l liberal regions including the west coast and Ontario. The idea that sustained and significant growth in Calgary’s population would mean a growth in the number of conservative voters was always based in a premise that there’s something in Calgary’s water that makes people fall into the right-wing. But no, Calgary’s new arrivals seem to be capable of retaining their very “non-Albertan” approach to politics, and it’s evidenced in part by Naheed Nenshi’s victory.

Similarly, I suppose suburban T-Dot is inhabited by a goodly number of cautious middle-agers who have drifted lazily into conservatism, lockstep with their rising insecurity over mortgages.

My other thought is that this is not a picture of right-wing or left-wing trends in either city, but a shared anti-incumbency in both. Disestablishmentarianism isn’t just a fun word to say – it’s an anarchic condition that can rise up from the doldrums at scarcely a moment’s notice. To advantage from disestablishmentarianist (fun!) mood, all you really need is bang-on charisma and an exceptionally well-run campaign – the left vs right elements of the campaign become less important than the watertight message for “change.”

Surely someone out there is going to describe Nenshi’s Calgary win as an “Obama-esque” triumph, which is, I suppose, fair enough. Thing is, while it makes me get a bit sick in my mouth just to think it, perhaps Toronto’s affection for Rob Ford is also Obama-esque in its way.

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9 Responses

  1. Ford’s appeal is purely fiscal – he’s promising to cut taxes and spending and councillors, and everything else, and still end up with huge surpluses. It’s totally voodoo economics (actually, doesn’t even count as economics – it’s just voodoo) but since everyone seems to assume that they’re overtaxed and their money is being squandered, they don’t really care. I’ve never ever voted in a municipal election in my life, but i probably will for the first time this year, only to vote against Ford. That’s the thing – no one is voting for the other candidates, they’re voting against Ford.

    • polygonic says:

      I suppose a tax-cutting-hero always has some appeal – “Money in your pocket!” sounds good after a while. But of course there’s nothing universal about that kind of campaign formula – Ford could have been vulnerable to all kinds of accusations: voodoo economics as you say, fiscal moronism, disregard for how a big city needs to operate.

      His alien quality must appeal to people as much as the content of his message, which is brutal. But, if he’s elected, how long before Torontonians say “whoa, did we just actually Mike Harris ourselves?”

  2. ck says:

    In last year’s Montreal municipal elections, we had an off the wall candidate, Richard Bergeron; left of center and green and no doubt, had great ideas for the city; to make it more green, etc. But, he was (still is) considered a conspiracy theorist and actually came out saying that cigarette smoking was healthy. Then we had the federalist incumbent, Gerald Tremblay and the near unilingual separatist, Louise Harel; both of whom mired in corruption scandals all their own. Funny, Tremblay won, Harel came in second and Bergeron, third. I think Montreal may well be more conservative than everyone else is or than everyone thought.

    The upcoming election in TO of Ford is proof positive of the stupidity of the growing neo-con movement. Much like the Sarah Palin fan club (a group, when questioned, are shown to have no clue about her or why they love her so much)or typical tea-baggers, they’re all rouled up & have no idea why.

    The Naheed Nenshi phenomenon in Neo-con heartland of Calgary; I really have no explanation for it; it is mind boggling. That election along with another so-called progressive mayor-elect in Edmonton is not to be taken as a victory for Liberals or NDP or progressives in general, not while the Harpercons are still polling at a whopping 60% in the polls from most polling firms. Nenshi just may well be a novelty act; a one hit wonder, if you will. Plus, he’s of the Ishmaeli Islam, the same as Rahim Jaffer; Cons actually find them acceptable.

    • polygonic says:

      CK – very right that this isn’t a sign of Alberta turning to the left ‘en masse’, or we’d see it at the federal and provincial levels as well. But it is encouraging to see at least some evidence of liberal pockets in the two big cities, and ones that make noise once mobilised.

      Speaking of Rahim Jaffer, of course it was the NDP’s Linda Duncan who ousted him by mobilising the same left-wing pocket in her corner of Edmonton and got the Dippers a federal seat there! That, of course, led to a lot of head-scratching.

      The big question is, can the federal LPC and NDP mobilise this same demographic come election time? Aside from Duncan, we haven’t seen it really happen yet.

      Part of this may be down to the fact that municipal politics is just different from federal. Voters seem less partisan/ideology driven at the local level, and are more driven by the qualifications and attributes of the individual candidate…. makes it all interesting, if not very predictable!

      • The big question is, can the federal LPC and NDP mobilise this same demographic come election time?

        Speaking as one who worked on the Duncan campaign since day one, I have to sadly guess ‘no’ to this. Because in other ridings, that demographic has given up on provincial and federal politics in the province. Our biggest challenge in the Duncan campaign last time wasn’t convincing people that Duncan was great, it was convincing people that she could win. Change the voting system, and you’ll see that demographic mobilized into more than small pickets of hope like that, but until then, the progressives will continue not voting and Alberta will stay blue provincially and federally.

  3. Phil says:

    I am not as surprised as some with the election result, and I don’t believe it has anything with new arrivals. I have lived in ethnically mixed NE Calgary for most of the last 30 years, during which time our riding returned Art Hanger as the Reform, and then Conservative MP time and again based on the immigrant as well as the white bread vote.

    As a result I don’t see the election of an Ismaili as a surprise victory for progressivism per se. In a place where many immigrants vote conversative, it shouldn’t be so surprising when conservatives start voting “immigrant”.

    Nenshi won in large part because he projects the self-confidence and entrepreneurial and visionary spirit that Calgarians like to picture in themselves. In other words, he is one of us.

    • polygonic says:

      Thanks for the comment and insight – no doubt that Calgarians respect and endorse a candidate with an enrepreneurial streak, and I don’t believe that there’s any general hostility or hesitance towards a candidate who’s a visible minority.

      What’s surprising to those outside Calgary, I suppose, is his place on the political spectrum. The aspect of this campaign I keep coming back to is the anti-establishment nature of his candidacy, and that this can evidently cross over natural partisan faultlines, and successfully.

      Whether these approaches can work to the same level in both municipal and federal elections is the tough bit, but I retain (as an outsider!) both interest and optimism.

  4. polygonic says:

    Idealist Pragmatist – firstly, congrats for taking part in one of the highlights of the 2008 federal election. One hopes that Edmonton-Strathcona isn’t the only riding in urban Alberta where campaigns such as Duncan’s can be successful.

    But you’re right that generating turnout in ultra-safe ridings is a challenge. It is across the country – but Alberta is home to loads. If people are convinced that the local CPC will take 50+% of the vote, getting LPC, GPC or NDP supporters to the ballot box is an incredible challenge.

    Linda Duncan, and now Nenshi and Mandel, show what can happen if they do, which should inspire urban Albertans. Here’s the optimist in me coming through… but get them lending to future campaigns, and who knows.

  5. David Wozney says:

    “… The City of Calgary is a Municipal Corporation in the Province of Alberta …”, according to this pdf document.

    “A corporation is a fiction, by definition, …”, according to Patrick Healy in a statement found in evidence provided to the Canadian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in 2002.

    “A corporation is a ‘fiction’ as it has no separate existence, no physical body and no ‘mind’”, according to Joanne Klineberg in a presentation to the Canadian Aviation Safety Seminar in 2004.

    In the real world, how is it possible for any real natural person to be mayor of a fiction?

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