Civic evolution, in retrograde: @thekeenanwire tries to help me understand

Background to this: an except from one of Edward Keenan’s pieces in The Eye, excerpted in this week’s final issue before they go rebranding themselves as The Grid. Writing on Sept 25, 2009, Keenan observed:

Looking at a stop-motion reel of Toronto and its city government after Miller’s six years at the head of City Council, I see a city that has grown up from a promising but troubled, insecure and often bad-tempered teenager into a confident, bold, mature world leader. And I think it is difficult to imagine that emergence into civic adulthood happening without Miller.

Twitter exchange follows.



In fairness to both Ed Keenan and David Miller, one can’t seriously expect a coherent and comprehensive explanation in a context like this. But it’s been nagging at me for some time — since Rob Ford’s accession to the mayor’s office, obviously, but nudged once again by the outcome of Monday’s federal election.

Was David Miller a perfect mayor? Of course not. But compared to his predecessor, and now his successor … well, do I need to complete the sentence? It’s easy, at this point, to just sneer like a condescending downtown snooty urban elitist, and then start tossing around clichés like suburban zombies, pissed-off taxpayers, brainwashed disengaged morons, etc., and then retreat into well-defined but tired rhetorical and ideological foxholes.

How is it that, in the face of all the evidence, people vote for leaders so obviously lacking in civic virtue? It’s a question that goes beyond the bounds of municipal, provincial or federal jurisdiction, beyond partisanship, and beyond contemporary discursive terrain. But it’s one that progressives sorely need to address, and in the process, to find new ways of engaging our fellow citizens.

Denise Balkissoon was discussing similar issues, at least the way I read it, in a blog post a few months ago. I hesitate to reproduce only a bit of it, because I don’t want to reduce it to a caricature, but in part:

… if you resort to despair couched in hipster irony, you’re succumbing to his bully pulpit. A hockey broadcaster tries to pick a fight with you, and so you give him what he wants?

Those kinds of divisions have become so ingrained that they’re almost instinctive. And there’s a lot invested, at several levels, in keeping us divided and in exploiting those divisions. One of the most important tasks facing us over the next few years is bridging those divisions. Reducing complex questions of governance and public policy to simplistic clichés like “gravy train” isn’t a sign of thoughtful reflective leadership. But wanking on about citizenship and hectoring people about civic duty isn’t working either.

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One Comment

  1. MisterSafetytoe
    September 14, 2011

    There is sufficient evidence that DM was like Robin Hood, but he and his merry men squandered the spoils of their efforts. And, that’s what got people pissed-off. You, and all the other elites should spend some time interviewing the pissed-off taxpayers (or pissed-off citizens, as you prefer to call them).

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