I’m writing this both as a way of organizing my own thoughts and encapsulating the year that was according to the criteria of the annual “Beyond the Ballot Box” Awards show. These year end analyses are always tricky; a balancing act of what was important, what was fascinating and what was overlooked. For this year’s awards show, I was very conscious to sidestep around the words “Rob Ford,” as he could have easily taken the prize in two, maybe three, of the categories. The truth is that even without RoFo, there was still a lot of material out there. I’ll be interested to hear what the rest of the gang has to say, and who they give out their awards to (and by the time this article goes live, we’ll all know). For now though, here’s my BTTB Award winners, and my reasoning for their getting the laurels.
1. Worst Politician of the Year
How can you be a white knight when you can’t slay the one old, bloated and docile dragon that’s plaguing the kingdom? That’s the question of Timothy Patrick “Tim” Hudak, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Worst Politician of the Year. Every pundit, at some point in 2013, thought that an election was one false move on the part of the minority Liberals away, but there have been numerous false moves, and Hudak has yet to capitalize. True, there’s little electorate appetite for an election, but is there ever? With $1 billion in misspent power plant cancellations, a stagnate economy and a government that’s stuck in neutral, there should be ample ground for Hudak to push for change, but he can’t make the case for himself as Premier. He’s released 15 different white papers outlining his policy ideas, and none have gained traction, and then he undercut all that hard work after the release of the last paper by saying these were just his ideas, and not representative of future party policy. The sole victory for Hudak, the by-election win of former Toronto Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, he can’t even truly claim as an artifact of his leadership, with Holyday being a popular figure in his own right in Etobicoke. Then, losing four out of five by-elections, Hudak was briefly confronted by a small insurgency in his own party. It was a bad year for the Liberals, but it was a bad year for Hudak too, and even his allies are saying that anything less than a PC minority in the next election will mean the end of his leadership.
2. Dumpster Fire Award – A policy or idea that was so bad, it’s funny
If you’re stymied by how Rob Ford can admit he smoked crack cocaine, confess to drunk driving, be caught hanging out with criminals, run over an old lady in the council chambers and graphically talk about his sex life in front of the press and still have 39 per cent support, blame low information voters. When pollsters broke down the data of who constitutes the Ford Nation they found it was old and young voters with a high school education or less. They believe that Ford has save Toronto $1 billion, and they’re also more likely to believe that the Toronto Police, gang members and the media conspired to make a mockery of their man in office. South of the border, it’s low information voters that force the media to squander time on non-conspiracies like Benghazi, and talk about Obamacare like it’s an Orwellian nightmare constructed by Hitler and Dr. Evil. Marked by anti-intellectualism and a mistrust of science, LIVs make being a crackpot mainstream, and push the idea that rational examination of the issues is a biased approach, because ultimately, what you feel is more important than learning what you don’t know. You can like Rob Ford, you can like the cut of his jib, want to have a beer with him and all that, but if you think Toronto this year functioned because of his leadership and not in spite of it, then you’re probably really missing the Ford Bros. radio show having lost your only source of “genuine” information on city hall news.
3. Mixed Feelings Award – A story or event that gave you mixed feelings
Done anything on computer lately? Anything you’re not sure you would want anyone to know about? Too bad, because this is the year we learned that privacy is officially dead thanks to the NSA surveillance program. This is an important story, perhaps the most important in the last 10 years or so, which is why it’s too bad that some of the people responsible for bringing us this story seem themselves to be less than upstanding as individuals. At the top of it all is the current U.S. President Barack Obama, who was famously supposed to change the culture in Washington, but his presidency has seemed to double down on the worst tendencies of Bush-era foreign policy. There’s Julian Assange’s ongoing legal troubles, which have forced him to live like a refugee out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning appears to have had a whole host of personal issues that had really nothing to do with patriotism when he turned over all his material to Wikileaks. As for Edward Snowden, he highlighted numerous issues, from the width and breadth of NSA surveillance to the shocking number of people who are granted top secret access, but there is something somewhat unsavory about the way Snowden dumped his documents and and then started knocking on doors looking for protection. In A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton goes to the guillotine thinking, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Not, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; now I’m going to haul ass to Russia!”
4. Most Important Story of the Year
Before the end of the year, a Federal review panel gave the official greenlight for Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline to begin construction. Of course several hurdles still stand in the way of actual physical shovels being put in the ground, but did it really comes as a surprise that this project was good to go ahead? Of course not, and readers of Chris Turner’s book The War on Science doubly know it. In 140 some-odd pages, Turner lays out a startling indictment of the Harper government’s 180 degree turn on a century of environmental stewardship and analytical, fact-driven science. In Harper’s Canada, a government scientist can’t speak on their subject of expertise without first getting approval of some government flack whose idea of hard science is the Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet. Government labs doing world-leading research in important areas involving the recovery and preservation of clean air and water are cut or eliminated without a second thought in spite of the fact that the costs to keep them open are a fraction of what it costs for a round Economic Action Plan ads. Most fiendishly though, is the refusal to accept scientific evidence if it contravenes policy; that is to say that if the facts get in the way of executing “The Plan,” change the facts. But you can’t change facts. Facts don’t have a bias, they are not partisan, and they are not some “version” of the truth. Facts come from years of rigorous testing and re-testing, and sometimes they don’t reinforce the accepted dogma. In that case, you don’t throw them out till you find something better suited to the dogma, you change the dogma. Or at least you should. The focus of governmental criticism has been on misspending money, but were misspending something a lot more dangerous to the long-term health of our country, the knowledge and critical thinking of our scientists.
5. Politician of the Year
It was not a banner year for politicians, which is why it was so hard to decide on someone to serve the role of “Politician of the Year,” but in the end I voted for Kathleen Wynne. Why? Because she survived. She emerged from a crowded field and was able to politick her way to become leader of the Liberal Party after receiving key endorsements, and became the first woman and LGBT person to be Premier of Ontario. After that, everybody thought it was just a matter of time till the minority Liberals would fall, and it would be sooner rather than later. The gas plant scandal has burned all year, but it’s a fire that seems to be contained rather than destructive. When it came time to serve a budget, Wynne accepted amendments from the NDP and gained their support in passing the bill outright and avoiding a confidence motion. Later, when it came time to fill five vacant Liberal seats, Wynne shrewdly (or vindictively) scheduled the by-elections for the dog days of August. Also working in Wynne’s favour is an opposition that seems unable to land its blows and is struggling with its own identity; when they lead in the polls, it seems purely on the basis of being the next obvious choice rather than genuine enthusiasm. Of course, the same can be said for Wynne, who seems so confident in her chances she put out a campaign-style ad, and found herself in several choice photo ops as she helped co-ordinate ice storm recovery last month. Wynne, and her government, may not survive the year, but it was one more than most thought she’d get. And that’s a modern political success story.
6. Predictions for 2014
No predictions, just some hopes. A hope that we might focus more on the bigger problems facing us than the little ones. A little less focus on the way government spends money, and a little more focus on what we’re spending money on. Let’s get politicians who value a buck, but are not so naive to think that kitchen table economics are analogous to how a government is run. And for that matter, let’s end to this notion that government should be run like a business, because the point of one is to improve the standard of life for all, and the point of the other is profit. Let’s bring reason back into the equation, and let’s quash the notion that changing one’s mind in the face of new facts and evidence isn’t weakness, but a strength. Finally, this is an election year in many areas across Ontario, and while you should get out and vote, don’t vote because you have to, vote because you’re passionate and well-informed on the issues. Inform yourself, and decide what’s important to you, question the candidates and see how they feel about those issues, and then cast your vote accordingly. These are serious times, with serious problems, and we need serious people to solve them. My hope for 2014 is that we strive to be better this year than we were last year.