the diary thing 
i voted and they gave me this stickerIT'S TWO WEEKS NOW since the municipal election. It was hardly a close race, and made all the more swift and inevitable-seeming by the speed of the returns, thanks largely to a new, electronic polling system instituted this year. No recounts here -- the ballot-readers at each polling station sent their results in by wireless modem, and by eleven o'clock that night we had a firm result. Go ahead, Yankees -- be envious.

Once we had our vote scanned into the fax-like machine, we were thanked, given a little sticker (see above) and sent on our way. It felt, in the moment, somehow disappointing, as voting almost always does.

The result, alas, was pretty much as expected. Lacking any serious competition, our incumbent mayor, a gaudy halfwit by the name of Mel Lastman, won handily. City council returned a few more "progressive" councillors than the mayor would have liked, but he'll probably just try to freeze them out of any significant post, and guarantee a fractious, frustrating three years ahead for anyone who actually gives a damn about municipal politics.

The thing is, I give a damn about municipal politics; as much as I think of myself as Canadian, I think of myself as a Torontonian even more, a syndrome I think is more common than anyone admits, especially for residents of major cities. Sure, Canadian trade and foreign policy will affect my life, as will our eternal debates about sovereignity and federalism. And our current provincial government is a bit of a bete noire in my life, inasmuch as their hospital closings, adversarial stance to organized labour and ugly, confrontational policy on education is concerned. 

(Keep in mind -- I'm not in ill health, don't belong to any union, and don't have kids in school. Still, I have my principles, mostly lefty-liberal ones, about public institutions and the ill-advised policy of treating public institutions like private-sector for-profit businesses. There's something about dismantling social policy and beating down unions that smacks of moving firmly into the mid-nineteenth century.)

My hometown is about to undergo a drastic transformation in terms of development and infrastructure, and issues I care deeply about -- heritage buildings, architecture, planning, housing -- are all at the the forefront of the changes. For this reason alone, I pay close attention to municipal politics, an especially frustrating preoccupation in a city that, historically, has always valued the bottom line, and the short-term prerogatives of developers, over vague concepts like culture, or quality of life. Toronto may be a lot of things, but Paris -- or Barcelona, or New York, or Chicago -- it is not. It's a provincial capital, with provincial attitudes, and a ruling class that proudly pursues its own, fiscal and proudly unsophisticated, goals with little care for the larger picture. In any case, the free-market ethos has always ruled here, with an attitude that what's good for business is good for the city, and city hall has rarely raised a peep in objection.

The bottom line is that none of the candidates I voted for -- not for mayor, or council, or separate school trustee -- got in. I voted agains the incumbent every time, and lost across the board. I voted for the environmental candidate against Lastman, in spite of K.'s solemn warning that "He's a power-hungry leftist, and they're the most dangerous type." (She voted for the drag queen. In all respects, just as valid a choice, really.)

Our local councillor has relied on the Polish vote concentrated just west of here for years, and it didn't let him down. The riding is starting to split in two, with Parkdale developing a distinct voting block from the more middle-class neighbourhood near High Park, as gentrification slowly makes headway over Parkdale. The new residents are like us -- community-minded soft-lefties who want to accelerate the process of rehabilitating the main street while preserving the social services being offered to the poorer residents we're (gradually) displacing. A nice balancing act, if it can be pulled off. (I'm not optimistic, but that's beside the point.)

The Catholic school trustee has been in office since 1978. She's back again. To the extent that anyone even makes an informed vote in this category, I think the results were pretty unsurprising. 

Voter turnout was low -- just above 35% -- and local t.v. gave just an hour over to election coverage. Pretty anticlimactic, overall. Somewhere out there I'm sure some pencil-neck is referring to this as a "post-political" age. What a horrible thought.

"Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time."
- E.B. White
World Government and Peace

It somehow seems quaint -- a world where you could make a statement like this, confidently assuming that half of the population actually bothers to vote.

More politics. Canadian readers might find all the backstory a bit tedious. I can only apologize, and explain that I' m working from the assumption that American readers don't have the foggiest about how we do things up here. If this reads like a story in the Economist more than a diary entry, I'm sorry; I'm sure that the political is the personal somewhere in here.

THE FEDERAL ELECTION, the big show up here for the last month-and-a-half, is tomorrow. There's only one category on the ballot -- local member of parliament -- and the consensus is that the federal Liberal party -- the "natural ruling party of Canada" for the better part of the century -- is unlikely to lose its majority despite the ugly name-calling of the campaign and their lacklustre, even corrupt, public image. 

Simply put, Jean Chretien and the Liberals have been in power for too long and, like Liberal regimes of the past, have gotten lazy, sloppy, and unrepentant about it all. The Prime Minister is a political beast: pragmatic, deceitful, power-obsessed, and unapologetic. When confronted with his unabashed influence-peddling and porkbarreling in his home riding, his response was little more than a shrug and a faintly bewildered excuse that it was "just politics". 

Still, the biggest threat he seems to think he faces comes from division in his own party, rather than from any of the four (or more realistically, two) parties the Liberals face this election. He needs to win one more time; with two years left in his party's mandate, there was no reason for him to call this election except to consolidate his position as leader of the Liberal party.

The historical opponents of the Liberals -- the Tories, or Progressive Conservatives -- are a non-entity this year, since the dramatic coup on the right performed by the Reform Party as it voted itself into extinction in the process of becoming the Conservative Alliance, in an attempt to outgrow its prairie base and bogart the Tories' base of support here in Ontario. The leader of the Alliance is an evangelical Christian creationist -- normally a creature to be avoided here in the country's centre of power, except that he's willing to offer the kind of tax-cut-based fiscal policies and privatization programs that are economic gospel to free-market types. 

If there's been any issues in this election -- beyond smearing the Liberals and scaring the populace with visions of an Americanized Canada under the Alliance -- it's the looming, nightmare spectacle of health care as the Boomers slip off into their golden years. Depending on who you talk to, we can't afford our current system, the current system is in trouble, the current system is being dismantled, or will be dismantled, depending on who you vote for. For the first time in years, our socialized medicare system is a bigger election issue than the survival of the country in one piece.

Fear of the Alliance -- and a palpable horror of the anti-abortion, anti-evolutionist, school-voucher supporting, social-state dismantling program he is considered to represent -- will probably drive a lot of the left-of-centre votes to the Liberals, in an exercise of strategic voting that will likely marginalize the leftist federal New Democratic Party even further into the background, much as the Alliance has driven the Tories to the once-unthinkable verge of losing official party status, banishing them both into the political netherworld of the Natural Law, Marxist-Leninist, Marijuana and Green parties. 

(For the record, the Tories have held office many times in the country's history, in a kind of drunken see-saw that usually rewards them with a term in office to every two or three Liberal administrations. The NDP have never held power federally. There's another party -- the Bloc Quebecois -- whose whole and entire raison d'etre is to take as many seats in Quebec as possible and advance the ultimate separation of the province from the country. 

In a less democratic country, they'd be outlawed or, at the very least, severely marginalized by the government. It's as if the U.S. had a "Confederate" party that regularly took most of the senate and congress south of the Mason-Dixon. The happy co-existence of the Bloc in our federal system is one of the great mysteries of Canada, imponderable to outsiders. Every election, there are the usual jokes about self-declared Bloc candidates running in ridings outside Quebec, in order to make a mockery of the party. So far, nobody's taken the joke that far.)

WITH THIS IN MIND, I'll probably be voting for the NDP candidate in my neighbourhood, against the incumbent Liberal, a junket queen whose actual presence in the riding consists of two vapid, glossy pamphlets a year, filled with little more than Liberal Party boilerplate. It's strategic voting, of a kind, but I get the impression that most of the country -- or that part that will bother to vote in the face of such an ugly, largely issue-light campaign -- will be voting strategically. 

It feels undeniably ugly and diminishing to vote this way. Somehow, you end up envying the creationist free-marketers and die-hard separatístes who can vote perfectly in line with their convictions and conscience. It's a faintly cynical, hold-your-nose-and-mark-the-ballot way of exercising your franchise that seems to diminish the whole process.

OUR FRIENDS GREG AND VICKI finally made it into the hospital last week for V.'s delivery of a baby girl, Lily. K. was overjoyed -- I think she was looking forward to this baby almost as much as G. and V. The baby was fine, when we visited the day after V.'s rather long, difficult delivery; she certainly seemed more comfortable than her parents. V. could barely walk, while Greg -- unknown to him at the time -- was about to develop a nasty blood infection from tucking his six-foot-three self into the only sleeping accomodation the hospital provided for fathers -- an indifferently designed armchair -- and having his leg fall asleep.

The hospital had promised some kind of lounger for fathers to nap in, and while they officially encourage fathers to stay with their families in the maternity ward, no such lounger could be found. It left me -- I can't speak for G. and V. -- with a profoundly bad feeling toward maternity wards. 

The development of women's health centres has gone a long way towards eliminating the crude, even unscientific conditions of medical practice that prevailed a century ago. I'm sure it's not perfect -- maternity exercises some kind of magic spell that encourages the most fanciful flights from logic -- but the steady rise in live births, successful treatment of premature babies, and the relegation of death-in-childbirth to a historical fact, is proof that progress has been made.

Men no longer have to entertain the idea that the birth of a son or daughter could leave them a widower, but it seems like it'll be awhile before a man's place in procreation will be valued during the period between providing DNA in the shape of semen, and providing funds in the shape of child support. There are private hospitals, of course, that offer hotel rooms for the whole family for the happy occasion, but at a cost, and as a good, old-fashioned Canadian I tend to regard privatized medicine as once step from gated communities, charity-as-welfare and sterilization for "social undesirables". 

It's conditions like those that G. and V. endured that make the possibility of private hospitals, two-tier health care, and the nightmare world of HMOs more real up here in the north. Simply put, if the medical establishment wants to resist such a scenario, they'd best try to make maternity stays -- the one hospital experience most income-earning, tax-paying, voting families are guaranteed to endure -- more palatable. 

It doesn't look likely, since doctors are sure that they'll earn more money under a privatized system. While conventional political wisdom has seen funding to health-care cut over the last few years, it's unlikely that hospitals have the cash, or wherewithal, to move in such a direction. Somewhere in there, a kind of sinister logic is making itself apparent; none dare call it conspiracy.

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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