Alberta Politics
Ontario Premier Doug Ford – give the man credit for his boldness (Photo: Andrew Lewis, Creative Commons).

Surely it’s time for us in the reality based community to act on our convictions as decisively as conservatives do

Posted on July 30, 2018, 12:44 am
10 mins

Surely it’s time for the reality based community – that’s us, my progressive friends – to start making some new democratic realities!

In 2015, as you will recall, many of us overcame our reservations and voted for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals on the basis of his firm, clear, unequivocal promise to introduce democratic electoral reform to Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Call me naïve, but I for one believed him. It didn’t hurt at all, of course, that Thomas Mulcair, the former Liberal who led the federal New Democratic Party after Jack Layton’s death, had gone full neoliberal and was trying to campaign to the right of the Liberals and as close to the Conservatives as he dared come.

Like many progressive voters, I imagine, I have been watching the thuggish Doug Ford’s performance since his election as premier of Ontario on June 7 and grinding my teeth.

Progressive Canadian journalist and commentator Nora Loretto (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This is not because he is swiftly enacting terrible policies that were never mentioned in his campaign. That was a safe bet for what would happen from the instant he captured the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives in the party coup that removed the hapless Patrick Brown.

Rather, it is because he has the boldness, to act on his beliefs, no matter how destructive and anti-democratic they are. Audentes fortuna iuvat.

Why are our leaders, time after time, so cautious, so timid, in their defence of Canadian democracy?

Even when they promise to fix things to ensure the prevailing consensus in Canada can, you know, prevail … first they appoint a minister of democratic reform, then they consult their civil servants, then they strike committees, then they listen to conservatives who can only grasp power by exploiting our flawed and undemocratic first-past-the-post system demanding referenda and other stalling tactics, then they feel their feet go cold, and then they back away.

Mr. Trudeau has already done this. In British Columbia, meanwhile, this fall there is supposed to be a plebiscite on electoral reform – which seems clearly designed to fail. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t … yadda-yadda.

George W. Bush Era Republican strategist Karl Rove (Photo: Jay Goodwin, Wikimedia Commons).

Meanwhile, Mr. Ford acts to hobble his enemies and cripple democracy in Toronto, where any group associated with the Ford family would have trouble winning a fair election after the rolling gong show that was his brother Rob’s city administration.

Well, Rob has gone to his reward, and so has Doug, in a manner of speaking, and more’s the pity.

As my friend, the brave and acerbic Nora Loretto observed in a Tweet the other day: “… progressives need to take note at the speed at which Tories make transformative policy change.

Indeed we do. Do you remember the anonymous George W. Bush Administration official who mockingly portrayed the majority of progressive Americans as “the reality based community”?

“When we act,” said the official, widely thought to be Republican strategist Karl Rove, “we create our own reality.”

Canadian-born U.S. conservative author and speechwriter David Frum (Photo: Creative Commons).

He went on: “And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’.”

Well, whoever he was, he spoke the truth.

Here in Alberta, meanwhile, the United Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper acolyte Jason Kenney has paused in its screechy and misleading complaining that the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley didn’t campaign on a carbon tax – although it was implicit in the NDP platform – to bob their heads in agreement with the Ford Government’s efforts to hand civic democracy over to the development industry in Metro Toronto.

Former federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Not a word of that – not a single word – was heard in Mr. Ford’s campaign, which may also explain why Mr. Kenney has so little to say about his own plans. After all, if we have the misfortune of finding out what they are, you have to know a lot of Albertans aren’t going to like them either.

If Mr. Kenney’s party manages to win power in next year’s expected election – as seems quite likely, given recent polls and the way the Alberta electoral map has been left much as it was under the Progressive Conservatives – you can count on it they will make similar moves to undermine the persistent tendency of urban Canadians to vote for progressive policies.   

Moreover, as the Toronto-born American conservative commentator David Frum recently observed, also rightly, “when highly committed parties strongly believe things that they cannot achieve democratically, they don’t give up on their beliefs — they give up on democracy.”

He was explaining the activities of the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which makes the appalling Bush Administration Mr. Frum worked for as a speechwriter look good. But he could as well have been describing Mr. Ford’s government or, one strongly suspects, Mr. Kenney’s plans.

Well, it’s not too late for Mr. Trudeau to turn about, keep his electoral reform promise, damn the Tory torpedoes, and save Canadian democracy. But I think we all understand how remote the chances of that actually happening are.

Surely it’s time for us to start choosing genuinely progressive leaders whose boldness matches that of the unrepresentative right.

What Edmonton would look like under the Ford plan

I hope it isn’t necessary to provide a primer on why municipalities, the level of government that most affects our lives, need a higher percentage of elected representatives by population than do provincial or federal governments.

Here are some rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations suggesting what civic government would look like in Edmonton under a plan like Premier Ford’s.

Premier Ford intends to reduce Toronto City Council from 47 members, which he claims is expensive and inefficient, to 25. With a city population of 2.8 million, that’s one councillor for every 112,000 citizens. Mr. Ford’s meme-makers say the city has 25 MPs and 25 MPPs, the Ontario equivalent of an MLA. I count 24 each, but whatever.

By comparison, the Edmonton Metropolitan Region (which has not yet suffered a forced amalgamation by a Conservative government, as Metro Toronto did in 1998) has a population of 1.3 million, 11 MPs and 27 MLAs.

If you count only the councils of the five cities and four immediately adjacent counties, including one that is really a city, in the EMR, there are 71 municipal councillors. Add the 11 towns and three villages in the EMR and you will find there are 157 elected councillors. That comes to an elected councillor for every 8,280 people. And I have left out First Nations band councils and summer village councils because they tend to be on the rural fringes of the area.

It would be interesting to see how Albertans who think what Mr. Ford is proposing in Toronto makes sense would react to a forced amalgamation that would leave a new mega city with only about 11 councillors, roughly the ratio Mr. Ford proposes, and the number of MPs in the Edmonton area. I can guarantee you most of them – conservative and progressive alike – would not like the idea.

What Alberta political parties think of it might be a good question to raise with all parties in the expected 2019 provincial election campaign.

16 Comments to: Surely it’s time for us in the reality based community to act on our convictions as decisively as conservatives do

  1. Sam Gunsch

    July 30th, 2018

    Regarding this: ‘“When we act,” said the official, widely thought to be Republican strategist Karl Rove, “we create our own reality.”;

    It’s wacky but true: ‘create our own reality’ is the standard operating procedure for Kenney, Gunter, the entire op-ed of Postmedia’s Calgary herald and Farmer B.

    There are lots of explanations/theories about how the right became unhinged from reality… I think David Roberts has some insight that applies to AB Republican wannabe’s

  2. Bob Raynard

    July 30th, 2018

    Thanks for the post, David, and the research. I was curious how many MPPs Toronto had, relative to its MPs, and what Jason Kenney’s thoughts about Doug Ford’s plan are.

    I have long felt we have a serious discrepancy here in Alberta, too.

    Alberta’s population of 4.1 million is represented by 34 MPs, so each MP represents 120,000 people. This makes sense, because it should be the same number as Toronto and the rest of the country.

    Calgary’s population of 1.3 million is represented by 14 councillors, so each councillor represents about 92,000 people. Likewise, Edmonton’s 980,000 people are represented by 12 councillors, for an average of about 82,000.

    It looks like there is a bit of a trend – it appears one politician can represent about 100,000 people.

    Why, then, does each Alberta MLA only represent 47,000 people? After years and years of waste eliminating governments telling us to do more with less, none of them considered reducing their own numbers.

    • Jerrymacgp

      August 1st, 2018

      Well, Mr Raynard, on that note, smaller Alberta cities, like Lethbridge, St Albert & Grande Prairie, have far fewer residents per city council member than big cities. For instance, in Grande Prairie, where I live, there are seven City Councillors, plus the Mayor, for about 66,000 residents. There is no ward system, so all 7 are elected at large, just like the Mayor.

  3. Geoffrey Pounder

    July 30th, 2018

    “Mr. Kenney has so little to say about his own plans.”

    The UCP have only to zip their lips, and they can coast to victory. Everytime they open their mouths and reveal what they are actually thinking, they drop 10% in the polls.

    “Surely it’s time for us to start choosing genuinely progressive leaders whose boldness matches that of the unrepresentative right.”

    It’s bad enough when right-wing govts betray the public interest. When self-styled progressive govts do so, it’s even worse! The progressive option for voters disappears!
    When “progressive” politicians break their promises and betray their principles, don’t endorse them with your vote. That’s just asking for more abuse.
    Bad progressive govt is worse than bad conservative govt. Bad conservative govt gives conservatism a bad name. The UCP cannot damage the progressive brand in AB. Only the NDP can do that.
    The AB NDP are blowing up progressive principles, with progressive voters’ endorsement.

    In 2019, AB progressives can either vote for Big Oil, further entrenching petro-politics in AB, or stand up for what we believe in.
    Progressives can either endorse Notley’s vision for oilsands expansion, pipelines, and climate mayhem — or send the NDP a strong message:
    Abandon progressive values at your peril. Abandon progressive voters, and lose our votes.

    The only way progressive voters can get “genuinely progressive leaders” is to hold progressive leaders and parties accountable. Don’t reward betrayal. Don’t endorse failure.Voting for the lesser evil (Trudeau, Notley) out of fear will never work. Vote for the progressive, sustainable future you believe in.

    • Maggie

      July 30th, 2018

      What will your demand for “progressive purity” get us? A UCP government in Alberta for the foreseeable future.

      As a person with long held progressive leanings I find a less than perfect NDP government is far better than the alternative.

      • Geoffrey Pounder

        July 31st, 2018

        Purity is not the point. Democracy is.
        Don’t embrace the politics of fear.
        Democracy doesn’t work unless voters hold politicians accountable. Letting Notley off the hook and absolving the NDP of their sins out of fear of Jason Kenney harms the progressive cause.

        First, a dose of realism. A NDP win in 2019 isn’t on the menu.
        There is NO EVIDENCE that Notley has any hope of re-election in 2019 against a united conservative party. Mathematically no such possibility exists. Even the NDP’s unprecedented 2015 numbers would not yield such a result.

        The world does not end in 2019. Look down the road. Progressives’ next chance comes in 2023.
        In 2019, progressives can either endorse Notley’s vision (or revision) of progressive values or repudiate it. If you endorse it, don’t expect better in the future. You will have no right to complain about NDP betrayal of progressive values in future — BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU VOTED FOR!

        The only hope for the change you want is to vote for it. Send Notley packing in 2019. Send the NDP a message they won’t forget. Demand real progressive leadership. Demand the government Alberta needs and deserves.

        • Jerrymacgp

          August 1st, 2018

          You, Sir, are the reason NDP governments fail. You want the unachievable, the ideologically perfect, and would rather see a neo-fascist extremist elected than a less than perfect NDP government. Politics is the art of the possible, and I for one would rather have half a loaf than starve to death.

          • Geoffrey Pounder

            August 2nd, 2018

            As previously suggested, it’s the voters who stick with the NDP no matter what who damage the progressive movement.
            Voters who fail to hold politicians accountable, enable leaders who repudiate their mandate, betray their voters, and abandon progressive principles are to blame for the erosion of democracy.

            “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
            This argument is proffered repeatedly, and I for one am heartily sick of it.
            The AB NDP is responsible for its own demise. (Not that it had much chance against a united conservative party. To repeat, a NDP win in 2019 isn’t on the menu.) The AB NDP are responsible for their departure from progressive values, not voters. The AB NDP abandoned (a sizable segment of) its voters, not the other way around.

            “Politics is the art of the possible”? It was perfectly possible for Notley to honour her mandate on royalties and climate change and against export pipelines. She chose not to. A gross miscalculation. Don’t blame voters for not following Notley off the cliff.

            You ignore key parts of my argument. Need I repeat them?

            “Letting Notley off the hook and absolving the NDP of their sins out of fear of Jason Kenney harms the progressive cause.
            The world does not end in 2019. Look down the road. Progressives’ next chance comes in 2023.
            In 2019, progressives can either endorse Notley’s vision (or revision) of progressive values or repudiate it. If you endorse it, don’t expect better in the future. You will have no right to complain about NDP betrayal of progressive values in future — BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU VOTED FOR!”

            The characterization of AB’s NDP govt as “less than perfect” is false.
            Rapid man-made global warming is a disaster.
            And so are govts that fail to address it.
            And so are leaders who make it worse.
            Climate change is not one issue among many. Energy, environment, and economy is THE issue. Underlying all that we do.

            Naomi Klein (06-Feb-18): “AB has a left-wing political party in power, one that has somehow convinced itself it can beat the right by being a better suck up to Big Oil.”

            “If history is any guide in this matter, Notley will eventually take care of herself. It will not be Jason Kenney that necessarily brings her down. If anything, she has out-Kenneyed Kenney. It is her own provincial base that will be her undoing. NDP supporters are not kind to leaders who talk progressivism on the campaign trail and then become corporate cheerleaders in office.” (Michael Harris)

            “Almost as soon as she rocked the nation by winning a majority government, Rachel Notley underwent a political sea change.
            “She quickly morphed into someone the president of Suncor could take to the prom.
            “In fact, she was as tar sands-friendly as Stephen Harper, and much more successful than he was in pressing the dubious cause of this resource. (Michael Harris)

            Notley was always a one-term premier. The only issue is whether progressives continue to support a losing cause — and a politician and party that betray progressive policies. Do we hold politicians accountable or don’t we?

      • Geoffrey Pounder

        July 31st, 2018

        The characterization of AB’s NDP govt as “less than perfect” is false.

        Rapid man-made global warming is a disaster.
        And so are govts that fail to address it.
        And so are leaders who make it worse.

      • Kang the barbarian

        July 31st, 2018

        The NDP are decent, inclusive, and well meaning. Unfortunately they took office within a system, the civil service included, which is the exact opposite of those values. They were sabotaged from the start with Bill 6 and were foolishly “inclusive” with energy issues. They can’t say they were not warned on both.

        Will the disappointment of the NDP’s base be overcome by the fear of a neo-Trump administration? All I can say for sure is that while the NDP took office, the UCP certainly knows how to take power. Fortune does indeed favour the bold.

  4. D. Bruce Turton

    July 30th, 2018

    The timidity of the NDP in Alberta means that the UCP will have little trouble “resetting” the goal posts in 2019. With the Premier shilling for big oil (just as many former PC Premiers have done), the lowest royalty rates in the world, the continuing complicity with neoliberalism, no approach at all toward getting beyond ‘first past the post’ elections; the mild reforms in the social realm will be devastated and destroyed in the coming pillage – to the all-consuming vanquishing of debt.

  5. David

    July 30th, 2018

    I wasn’t one of those who supported Trudeau because of his electoral reform promise. In fact, I rather hoped he would come to his senses and ditch it. It seemed to me a rather half baked idea – he acknowledged there was a problem, but offered no clear cut solution that was acceptable to a wide number of people. It was sort of foolish promise that inexperienced opposition politicians make all the time – they are going to “get rid of” something, without saying or having any clear idea of what it will be replaced with. There was a previous Federal Government that promised to get rid of the GST and found that a hard one to keep and now we have politicians promising to get rid of carbon taxes. Perhaps the get rid of promises play to populist sentiment, but I think voters should be especially skeptical of any promises that have the words get rid of in them. Think of it as a big flashing warning sign – this is a promise that is not likely to be kept and if it is, it may not be a good thing.

    In my opinion, electoral reform was about problem #20 on our list of the 10 most urgent problems we were facing and a rather arcane one that did not have much relationship to real peoples practical every day lives. Voters for the most part are concerned about things like taxes, government services, affordable housing, employment and being able to make a decent living. I do agree the current system electoral is not perfect, but any proposed system (and there was no political agreement on that key issue) also has strengths and weaknesses. I suppose if an important factor is to put in place a system that elects fewer conservatives, some other electoral systems might work better, but don’t be surprised if selling it that way gets very little partisan support. Perhaps one day the issue of electoral reform will come up again and the public debate will be better executed and the public might be more willing to change the system, but until then we have to work with what we got and the current system has produced a number of NDP governments provincially as well as conservative ones so we should keep that in mind. I suppose BC is having that debate now and they may lead the way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they just stick with the current system.

    I think Doug Ford is falling into the same trap here, but even worse – an inexperienced politician doing things to appeal to the base, without considering how practical they are or how well that will go. Fiddling with the municipal electoral system when a municipal election is about to be held seems especially foolish, timing wise. I don’t think anyone in Ontario considered the number of local representatives Toronto had to be a pressing issue, except for maybe former Councillor Doug Ford and he seemed to even forget to mention it in his campaign, so to claim a mandate for it is a weak argument. Perhaps a la Trump it will prove to be a useful distraction, although it also has the potential to mobilize and harden opposition to him, so much for his political honeymoon. I also object to it as it treats Toronto as a colony of the province. It is possible fewer local representatives might make the local government function better, but isn’t that something for Toronto voters to debate and decide in their local elections? I don’t know a great deal about how well Toronto’s local government system functions, but if there are problems I suspect it is due to the amalgamation of communities with somewhat different interests into one Frankenstein mega city. It was an earlier example of unnecessary provincial meddling on the basis of cost saving and efficiencies that never really materialized.

    I think that Mr. Ford makes a serious mistake if he thinks he has this sweeping mandate to implement all kinds of radical change. Really he was elected because voters were tired of the previous very long serving government. He was able to convince some previous Liberal voters he was the most viable alternative and its never hard to sell paying less tax, but if he plunges Ontario into too much chaos or the benefits of his radical change do not materialize as promised, those voters will be quick to rethink that.

  6. Andy M.

    July 30th, 2018

    Yes, the so-called Left is too inclined to make compromises and try to seem reasonable. My bias tells me the Left invariably maintains a broader tent than the Right. Squabbles and worse are inevitable inside it. Some of this blog’s respondents seem so bitter, for example, about the Notley government’s pragmatism. Are they going to help boot her out? So, we can look south and see where aggressive progressives are heading. Alexandria Casio Cortez, Democratic candidate for one of New York’s electoral districts, is an exciting face for an ongoing, no-holds-barred movement within the Democratic Party, that Bernie S. first tapped into. A nomination election in Kansas on Aug. 7 will tell us more about how viable this movement is. Apart from providing fresh hopes for progressives (younger ones, at least), it does continue the real dilemma for the Democratic Party and who should lead it. Do they play it safe or go for the bolder, edgier leadership? Canadians still generally seem to stick to the middle-of-the-road course. Is David suggesting something else?

  7. Jerrymacgp

    July 30th, 2018

    You, along with a number of commenters here, are being far more charitable to Mr Trudeau than is justifiable. He didn’t abandon electoral reform because it was too hard or too complex. He did it because of his cynical preference for the single transferable, or ranked, ballot, which—since no matter their preferred political inclinations, both Conservative and NDP voters’ second choices tend to be Liberals—would have virtually guaranteed Liberal majorities forever into the mists of time.

    As for taking bold action early in a mandate, with minimal consultation, the Alberta NDP tried that with Bill 6, and we all know how that turned out. It was reasonable, long overdue public policy, poorly communicated and implemented, and the backlash is still reverberating.

  8. Scotty on Denman

    August 3rd, 2018

    While Rob and Doug butted heads in TO city hall, they both became buttheads and the butts of derision by their colleagues, many of their constituents and a whole continent of observers. Doug still resents that. His resentment is the only thing that makes sense out of his plan to half city council: decimation times five.

    With stealth having been the longstanding modus operandi for neo-right saboteurs of pubic apparatuses, enterprises and democracies, we see Ford’s election in Ontario as the neo-right in such desperation as to elevate someone with no stealth instincts whatsoever. As neo-right polities age past shelf-life their base attrits and renders to a more concentrated dose of hatred. Given the neo-right’s critical electoral need for this crystallization of desperation, it spends much on supplying it red meat.

  9. Doug Brown

    August 5th, 2018

    Fourteen councillors seem to serve Calgary well enough. Perhaps amalgamating Calgary with Cochrane, Rockyview, Airdrie, Conrich, Chestermere and Langdon could be achieved by adding one or two more. The biggest failing of the Toronto amalgamation was the pledge to preserve jobs. What is the point of pursuing a mega-city without economies of scale? The Province of Ontario at the time should have reduced municipal transfers by 10-15% to force job rationalization. Alberta should do the same with the Edmonton (combine St. Albert, Sturgeon, Ft. Sask, Gibbons, Bon Accord, Strathcona, Sherwood Park, Beaumont, Leduc, Leduc County, Devon, Parkland, Spruce Grove and Stony Plain) and Red Deer (Red Deer, Red Deer County, Lacombe, Blackfalds, Penhold, Sylvan Lake) regions and reduce grants accordingly.


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