Dressed in modest petticoats and starched white aprons, their hair pulled back into neat plaits, a group of women are pictured marching through a hayfield. Arms linked, broad smiles across their faces, they are carrying baskets laden with flowers, which later they will arrange into pretty garlands. In another photograph, they are purposefully huddled around a sewing machine, darning pairs of pinstriped trousers, while other images show them gleefully feeding livestock, chopping vegetables on a kitchen worktop and singing along to another woman’s accordion-playing.
Embattled Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is pleading with malcontents in his own party to put away the knives.
Returning from a one-week summer vacation Monday to quell the rebellion fomenting in his absence, Hudak said he opposes another leadership review and warned party infighting only helps the governing Liberals.
There are no true absences in politics. Timmy might have been away in body, but I doubt he was ever a smart phone away from the intrigue. Vacations are for children, retirees and non-entities. A man who is potentially a few hundred thousand voters away from the second most powerful job in Canada doesn't take vacations. The pressure and workload might tapper off for a few days, the war carries on.
Which bring us to why there still is a war. A tottering and corrupt Liberal government should be catnip to an opposition party, especially a Tory one. By all historical rights Tim Hudak should already be Premier. Even assuming that 2011 was a fumble, now should be the moment when the Tory leader is priming himself to deliver the coup d'grace next spring.
But instead he's fighting rebels in his own caucus.
In politics no one likes a loser. Unless you're the NDP, a perennial Miss Congeniality in most of the country. If anything the Dippers failure to win has given them an aura of principle and romance. So long as you find granola munching hippies, unionized rent seekers and militant professors romantic. The Tories, however, are the party of practicality. Small town business people, disgruntled residents of rural regions and the odd real estate developer. The NDP's base doesn't mind losing or not having power, their daily lives are divorced from the rest of society. The Tory base does much of the work that still keeps this province functioning. They want results.
The sneaking suspicion about Tim Hudak is that he is more a politician than a conservative. Not a bad guy mind you, but he seems to lack the inherent practical ruthlessness that Tories love so much. That vital combination of bank manager and Attila the Hun. He seems anxious not to offend the Globe and Mail's editorial board. In a Liberal leader that's probably a sensible approach. Among Tory chieftains it's a fatal character flaw.
In 2011 Timmy was following the standard front runner's strategy. Be bland and let the other guy screw up. Then his commanding lead vanished as the election approached. After the defeat he received an earful from hither and yon within the party. So then Tim began to limp Right, somewhat convincingly. These recent by-election defeats were, however, proof to some that Timmy wasn't turning his limp into a firm Rightward lean.
While the argument is plausible it fails to keep in mind that by-elections are a crap shoot. A not so random sampling of the overall electorate. Their predictive power is weak and will be read any which way by the interested. Perhaps the combined reincarnations of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Mike Harris and Milton Friedman would have fared no better. Stuff happens and sometimes it's no one's fault.
The problem for Timmy is that the base doesn't trust him. That lack of trust means that every slip up becomes a mortal sin. Short of winning all five by-elections there would still be Tories calling for his resignation. They think he's a compromising wimp. Before Hudak can fix his image with the wider electorate, he needs to fix his image with the party.
The split here between the party high command and the grassroots is partly cultural. The guys running the party are typically university graduates in public policy or political science, they view issues in an often highly technical manner. Some are policy wonks, others are polling geeks and a few are natural intriguers. They live a world somewhat removed from their natural supporters. That leads to bits of cognitive dissonance.
In the lead up to 2011 the High Command developed a platform plank that called for using convicts to clean city streets. The idea was impractical and a fairly craven attempt to appeal to the base. The thing was that in addition to being dumb, the idea also sounded insincere. Like a white suburban kid attempting to pass himself off as a young black ghetto hood.
With the cultural disconnect comes the strategic misapprehension. Those running the party confuse polling with elections, just as they confuse their little world with the wider electorate. In an age when most people voted paying attention to the polls mattered. But in 2011 less than half the electorate showed up to vote in Ontario. In other words the pollsters are asking a somewhat random sampling of the adult population, but only the most motivated are actually voting. That means that the polls aren't telling party strategists what they need to know. It's also why pollsters have screwed up recent election predictions in Alberta and British Columbia. In Alberta the turnout was 57%. In B.C. it was about 50%.
Pollster have attempted to deal with this problem by asking for "likely voters." That doesn't mean much. Someone being polled might very well feel likely when asked, and then feel lethargic on election day. Put it another way: Among likely dieters how many will not buy that bag of cookies? There are too many variables at play. That doesn't even get us into the issue of pollsters calling landlines in an age when many people have only have cell phones.
Modern Canadian political strategists are faced with a shrinking electorate. In the years ahead only the most motivated will bother showing up. This is a phenomenon that has been happening in the US for decades. The implications haven't really been absorbed yet by the political class here. A shrunken electorate means more polarized campaigning. Real attack ads as opposed to the timid ones we've seen so far. It means that getting out your base is as important, or more important, than reaching out to the middle. Wondering what the Globe and Mail thinks is a poor strategy. Their editorial board couldn't even swing Toronto-Centre, much less the 905.
Tim Hudak will likely survive this bout of rebellion. The Ontario Tories are many things but they lack the suicidal instincts of the federal party back in Dalton Camp's day. The problem for Timmy isn't today's revolt, it's that an embittered base will sit on its hands come the next election.
“Did I have a couple of beers? Absolutely I had a couple of beers. But you know what, I had a good time,” Ford said on his Sunday radio show on Newstalk 1010. “I think things are getting blown out of proportion.”
Good mayor or no, Rob Ford has plunged Toronto into an episode of the Trailer Park Boys.
I'll let our gentle readers decide which of this motley cast of characters most closely resembles Bubbles.
Despite his repeated poor behaviour the Mayor's popularity actually seems to be increasing. This is puzzling because Torontonians are, by their nature, a fairly uptight lot. Their primary civic obsession is with rivalling New York as a world class city. While the Capital of the World has certainly had its cast of colourful characters in Gracie Mansion, none quite rival Rob Ford in a raw expression of the human condition. So in a sense we have completely surpassed New York City. Something the tourist bureau should keep in mind for their next campaign.
Rob Ford may, in a odd sense, share the same kind of Teflon coating that Dalton McGuinty displayed in his long and lamentable stint at Queen's Park. Both men, one too gregarious for his own good and the other so wooden he could be suffering from Dutch Elm disease, benefited from the very low expectations of the public. They get away with being who they are because the public doesn't think much of them or the political class.
The Dalt's sheer dullness as a public figured rendered him immune from a great deal of public censure. A large swath of the electorate simply concluded that a) most politicians are crooks so replacing the Dalt with another crook would not be an improvement b) McGuinty didn't seem villainous enough to do any real damage. One could imagine Mike Harris as a Bond villain sending henchmen to piranha driven deaths. The Dalt? He resembled your shifty brother-in-law who sells insurance from a company you've never heard of before.
Hizzoner Rob benefits from his fat blond louse persona. David Miller might have squandered the public fisc on transit lines to nowhere and over priced chianti. Rob Ford, by contrast, is a millionaire with beer budget tastes and white trash vices. He doesn't seem clever enough to get into that much trouble. If things go very wrong the city might wind up paying for some magic beans, but that's the nature of politics. The people lobbying politicians are typically much more intelligent than the politicians themselves. That's why they're lobbyists and not politicians.
The concern here is for when exactly the public's patience wears out. With the Dalt it was the cancellation of the Oakville and Mississauga power plants. The scandal, which is still unravelling, showed the public that their wooden toy soldier was a bit more clever and deceitful than they had hitherto assumed. They could no longer trust his mediocrity.
Rob Ford's problem is a lack of self control. While the public drunkenness has had an oddly humanizing impact on the Mayor's persona, assuming your fond of enabling drunks, no one is quite sure where this ends. Given his track record there is a fair chance that between now and the next election Mayor Ford, his posh Escalade and some portion of Toronto's physical infrastructure are going to have a nasty run in. Staggering drunk along the Danforth is one thing, a lot of people do that, driving drunk is something else entirely.
There are many conservatives in this city, exhausted by the council's pronounced left limp, who will excuse any behaviour on the part of the Mayor, so long as he keeps taxes low. Rob Ford has been the driving force behind several important, though overall modest reforms of municipal government. Many would like to see the Mayor complete the job he started. The greatest barrier, however, to the reform agenda in Toronto is Rob Ford himself. When Rob Ford is the issue, then the thousand other concerns of local government stop being the issue.
We need to talk about the Gardiner. About public sector union pay and benefits. About expanding the subway. About crumbling infrastructure. About social housing. About the homeless. We're not talking about these issues, nor will we anytime soon. The MSM is many things but above all it suffers from ADD. It will chase the bright shiny thing over the boring substantive thing. Partly that's because the viewership and readership wants bright shiny things, and partly because it's less work for the hacks. Explaining the infrastructure deficit is trickier and less compelling than posting pictures of a fat drunk guy.
Rob Ford's biggest enemy, however, isn't the MSM, it's Rob Ford.
The briefing notes from unnamed diplomatic staff also warn her of Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s “complex personality,” and his “unsound personal views on east/west problems and strategic balance.” Thatcher was also told that then-prime minister Trudeau’s desire to accompany her on her Canadian tour would “affect the nature” of her stops in Toronto and Edmonton, two provincial capitals of particular interest to the British leader because their premiers were conservatives.
After letting his support in the province sink to new lows, Stephen Harper seems to be on a mission to improve his party's standing in Quebec. It speaks volumes about the trouble he is in.
The prime minister was in Quebec City last week, flanked by a crowd of caucus members, to make an announcement that hardly seemed worthy of such a visit: an investment of little more than $8 million to help ease traffic in the provincial capital during the winter. It was the first step in the Conservative plan to reconquer the hearts and minds of Quebecers.
Tossing the odd slab of pork to Quebec is actually routine. While the Tories have only the slenderest of hopes in La Belle Province, they cannot be seen as alienating a quarter of the country. Pauline Marois is holding onto power by her manicured finger tips, this makes her more desperate than the average Quebec politician. It is part and parcel of modern inter-governmental politics that the premiers are expected to beat the Prime Minister over the head with their begging bowls. As with so many things in that fabled province, Quebeckers have raised this sordid behaviour into a grand art form.
Whether a Quebec Premier is a member of the federalist tribe or the nationalist tribe, they are both insistent that the good taxpayers of the province are being fleeced by Ottawa. It's a lie and a fairly spectacular one at that. Repeated so often and over so many decades it has acquired the sheen of common sense along the St. Lawrence. Many a federalist will repeat this truism with great earnestness. Since Madame Marois has nothing else to offer the electorate, she plays the wounded bankrupt to excess.
Stephen Harper, who is many thing except a fool, knows that unless a modest amount of Danegeld is sprinkled about Quebec, the Pequistes will use his parsimony against him and Canada. So he pays a modest bribe and then goes about the business of securing a fourth term. A victory to be won with the fresh new Ontario, Alberta and B.C. seats being added to the Commons in 2015. Electorally Quebec is no longer arbiter of the national destiny. The PM has, rather logically, decided to humour the old girl and focus his energies elsewhere to better effect.
If things work according to plan by the time Jason Kenney secures his second majority government, Quebec will be at about 20% of the population. At about that time Alberta - British Columbia should be hovering at about 25% of the electorate, possibly higher. That means the West will matter far more than Quebec. At that point the Quebecois nationalist blackmail scheme will be as faded as boomer memories of Expo '67.
Patience is a virtue. Just let the demographic stream solve the problem.