Thursday, September 20, 2018

Worth Reading - September 20, 2018

Apologies for the concentration of stories on a series of topics, but I found myself focused on this issue above all other this week.

In an episode of TVO's the Agenda this week Steve Paikin assembled a panel to examine the reduction of Toronto's City Council by the Ford government. 

John Michael McGrath writes that many things could be done to help fix Toronto's municipal government, but Bill 5/31 is not it

Andrew Coyne has been strongly critical of Ford's move to cut Toronto's council. However, he points out Ford is not solely responsible

Strong Towns is putting out a series of articles looking at why Austin, Texas' attempt to redesign their code failed

If you think Ford's fight with Toronto was not your concern, it appears that the provincial government will be looking at other municipalities later

In Vice, they give their own take on Ford's governing style

Martin Regg Cohn looks at the treatment of our democracy during this 'debate'. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Worth Reading - September 13, 2018

Lindsay Ellis made a video essay about selling authenticity and YouTube. 

Emmett Macfarlane is a respected academic and is one of the few intellectual voices I trust who supports Doug Ford against the judge's striking down of Bill 5

Former Conservative MP and former PC MLA Steven Fletcher has become leader of theManitoba Party.
Paul Wells takes a look at Doug Ford's governing style

For more background, John Michael McGrath writes about the notwithstanding clause

Patrick Brown reveals a plan to make Brampton safer. Sigh. 

Quebec votes on October 1st, currently the CAQ leads but the incumbent Liberals are not far behind

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

TV Review: Ozark - Season 2

Warning: The following will contain spoilers for season one and may contain spoilers for season two of Ozark.

I had some very good luck in August. I was talking up Ozark's first season with a friend and decided to rewatch it. When I was coming to the end of that I heard the news that season two was returning on the Friday before Labour Day. I'm not sure I could have been more perfectly prepared to enjoy Ozark's second season.

The second season begins with where the first season ends. There is no jump in time, the narrative just keeps rolling. At the end of the first season Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) manages to convince the Snells to work with the Mexican cartel to build a casino and go into business together. Things seem to be going well in general and the agreement will defuse many of the barriers that have impeded Marty, but then Del Rio makes a comment and Darlene Snell kills him.

Marty's beautifully constructed plan is left bleeding on the floor, except the Snells argue this changes nothing. Marty has to do his best to salvage this agreement and avoid consequences with the cartel. In some ways that could be the entire synopsis for the seasons. The Byrdes ended up in the Ozarks in a desperate attempt to escape execution in Chicago and Marty does the same by proposing the casino. Now he has to make it happen.

The Snells and the Cartel offer two contrasting forms of violence. The Navarro Cartel presents an ominous, looming sense of danger. They are ruthless and calculating and heartless. They don't let sentiment or emotion impede their business in anyway. The Snells are quite the opposite. They operate close to home and are a constant presence for the Byrdes. They act on passion and emotion to a great degree. Marty often has to act as the interpreter and middle man between these two factions.

Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) grows further into an active part of Byrde Enterprises. In the first season there was definitely an element of detachment and plausible deniability that Wendy relied upon. That is entirely gone in the second season. Wendy rarely hesitates to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dirty. Wendy displays a certain ruthlessness that Marty doesn't have. Her checkered past is no doubt a part of that.

One of the major ways the season excels and Wendy plays a greater role is the part of politics. Very early on the focus shifts to the legal process of how to get the casino approved. The path is rife with a kind of corruption that seems all too believable in 'small government' states. The first state senator Marty meets with his hauling lumber because being a senator is only a part time job. It gives tremendous incentive for bribery and corruption. The Byrdes do not corrupt good people, instead they find a world already deeply rotten and try to manipulate it to their own ends. They do so partially with the help of a big-time financier that seems to control a significant part of the Missouri Republican Party.

An idea that was present early on in Ozark is the decay or consequences of the money laundering that Marty does for the cartel. There are some, I am sure, who could look at Marty's work and say that his crime is relatively minor. Washing the money and getting back to the cartel in a useable form may not in and of itself being 'bad' but the presence of the drug trade and the temptation the money creates contaminates all around them. In the second season we see these consequences impact a variety of characters, including the children of the Byrdes. Such vast sums of wealth inspire crime, fraud, bribery, and theft. In addition we see how drugs poison and hurt people in the story.

That said, as an audience member I could not help but watch the series with a perverse desire to see Marty, Wendy, Charlotte and Jonah pull it all off with the help of their allies and friends. I felt for the innocent people hurt along the way, but those are awfully few and far between. Ozark tends to paint with a dark or gray brush. That said, I do not find the show overly serious or depressing to consume, not does it seem to luxuriate in violence in horror. Violence seems to disgust and disturb the Byrdes. The show has a few delightful moments. Wendy and Marty will update someone on their recent activities and amusedly comment, "I just made a deal with the Kansas City mob." The characters laugh because it seems so surreal. In some ways the Byrdes have not shaken that suburban, upper-middle-class sensibility that makes them seem so out of place.

Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) is once again a tremendous force in the show. Her character journey from the first season to the end of season two is a fascinating thing to watch. Ruth brings something to the show which I think is incredibly powerful. She had a variety of impulses and motivations that keep her going. She is the guardian to her cousins and must navigate dangerous domestic relationships. Season two explores her relationship with her father a great deal. There is different subtext about her trying to find her place and the idea of the stain her Langmore reputation gives her. It's hard to put clearly, but it is clear that the opportunities to be respected the Marty's criminal enterprises gives her by appearing legitimate on the surface is very tempting. She hungers to work in an office, to live in a house instead of a trailer and guide Wyatt on to college. Ruth is both a child and an adult and struggles to navigate both worlds, as well of the worlds of poverty, thuggery, and white-collar crime.

I also briefly wish to add that Jimmy "Buddy" Smalls Dieker (Harris Yulin) has a tremendous arc over the season. He definitely becomes a member of the Byrde family and a critical member of it. He does a great deal to bring levity and humour to the series. The cartel in season two is represented by a lawyer, Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) who brings a cold, calculating menace to the scenes the appears in. Perhaps she offers a window on another direction for the Byrdes, a white-collar worker whose choices led her down a more vicious path.

Ozark is great television. It is about a desperate family doing their best to navigate a complicated web to save themselves. Constantly actions have unforeseen and perhaps unforeseeable consequences which require new interventions and responses, which in turn cause their own problems to solve. Unlike similar programs in the last few years I feel Ozark actually wrestles with the questions it poses and the characters carry the weight of their choices. More importantly, the characters, a huge swath of them, are fascinated to watch and as a viewer I pull for them to find their own successful resolution. I eagerly await a third season.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Worth Reading - September 7, 2018

An explosive op-ed appeared in the New York Times stating that federal officials work around and block the President of the United States

Jen Gerson writes a piece examining the federal parties' position on supply management

Why did Americans give up on mass transit

Eric Grenier looks at the state of the NDP after their 2017 financial numbers came in. 

Justin Ling asks if Andrew Scheer has what it takes to become PM. 

John Ivison reports that the NDP caucus is unhappy with Jagmeet Singh's leadership

Chuck Marohn and Strong Towns takes a look at crony capitalism

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Reconsidering John Tory

In the 2014 Toronto mayoral election the people of Toronto were faced with a pretty start and alarming choice. After four years of chaotic mismanagement by the Rob Ford administration they were offered three practical options for who should become the next mayor: Olivia Chow, Doug Ford and John Tory.

Though voters don't collectively make a decision I think it is possible to look at the outcome and see some of the mood in the public. Chow came third. In public polling she never exceeded 30%. She in many ways represented the very justified anger on the left side of the spectrum at the Ford term. Decision after decision rankled and so many policy choices just plain seemed wrong. As Chow faded the race for mayor became more of a two-person race between Ford and Tory.

With Ford it was definitely an endorsement of the way things had gone in the first term. For right-wing residents of the city and especially those who wanted suburban, car-oriented, low tax government this promised more of the same. That said, one could easily argue about the low tax given the levy needed to fund the disastrous Scarborough subway.

However, I think a huge chunk of Toronto fell somewhere in the middle. I think it is a common misconception that Toronto is a left-wing city. I think certain areas are quite left-leaning, but the success the Progressive Conservatives, Conservatives and difficulties of the ONDP and NDP have had should be a lesson, as is the popularity of Rob Ford and the composition of Toronto City Council. John Tory came forward as a centrist option, though in truth centre-right would probably be more accurate. However, Tory offered something else for Torontonians - he's boring and safe.

Four years of Rob Ford I think turned many people's stomach. While there are those who will cheer the deceased mayor for decades to come it is also clear that he brought a deep sense of embarrassment for regular Torontonians who just wanted a quiet, well-functioning city government. I once observed that Canadians sometimes seem to hire (elect) prime ministers and premiers like they might hire an accountant. I think that's what allowed Stephen Harper to do well, in part.

Tory delivered for the most part. After being elected he has provided Toronto with stable and sober government. There have been no major scandals and he seems from the quiet business of city hall to be a competent administrator. However, this stability has come at the cost of an innate conservatism. By conservatism here I mean it quite literally - the desire to preserve things or keep them the same. This might not be a problem, except that Toronto is going through a period of intense change and requires leadership to guide it, shape it and make it happen.

There are a number of portfolios where Tory has stuck with the status quo despite public pressure and a great deal of evidence that change is required. I think the clearest example of this is on the question of policing and carding in the city of Toronto. Vocal critics such as Desmond Cole have made the case time and time again that the policing service requires reform and change especially in order to better serve people of colour. Tory has reflexively supported the police.

John Tory had a close relationship with Premier Kathleen Wynne. Politically the two seemed quite aligned, but also Wynne was interested in keeping Toronto happy on a number of fronts being a Toronto politician. However, as Ford moves into office I wonder if Tory merely wishes to get along with Queen's Park and the Premier and will not be a passionate defender of the city when it needs it against Doug Ford.

At the moment John Tory seems like he will return to office. He is polling 65% to 35% against his rival Jennifer Keesmaat. However, the vote is seven weeks away, and a lot can change. Tory has moved to the right for the sake of the campaign and this could harm him among the centrists who elected him in the first place. Keesmaat got off to a poor start, but she may be just the type of candidate to galvanize the centre and the left around a different more activist vision of Toronto. In 2014 Tory was the better of a bad choice, in 2018 he is going to have to do more than that.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Worth Reading - August 31, 2018

A video essayist named Contrapoints produced a fascinating examination of the Incel'community'

Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto mayoral candidate, released her transit plan

Seven NDP MPs are not running in 2019, which may weaken the party going into the election. 

Strong Towns takes a look to see how fast American cities are actually changing

Eric Grenier writes about the possible impact of the Bernier-led right-wing party. 

Much hope is being pinned to retrofitting suburbia, but that path is not simple. 

Chuck Marohn writes about how grow can strangle and kill a community

Andrew Coyne looks at the disturbing turn the immigration debate in this country

Martin Regg Cohn looks at the Ontario government's hysteria over refugees

John Michael McGrath writes that to govern well the Tories in Ontario will have to admit that some problems don't have simple solutions

Paul Wells writes that the next federal election will be about the heart of Canada

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Bernier Party

First, I'd like to apologize for the missing posts over the last couple of weeks. During August I went on a brief trip to southwestern Ontario and then followed that up be a few days out of town at a wedding and some social functions at work. Long story short, it has made it so I've been both busy and disconnected from current events.

It was a bit of a shock when I learned the dispute between Maxime Bernier and Andrew Scheer within the Conservative Party of Canada ended with Bernier quitting the party and vowing to start his own as an alternative.

From reports this break-up was brewing for a long time. Bernier and Scheer had been quietly and not-so-quietly disagreeing in public. Earlier in the year he was removed from his critic portfolio. When Scheer reorganized the caucus he put Bernier in charge of developing policy, a bold move that seemed to endorse his more libertarian ideals. Clearly this was a consistent source of friction between the two men.

Bernier's exit from the party is a grave concern. Let it be remembered that Bernier lost to Scheer for the leadership of the party 49-51%. Bernier built a base of support within the party and across the country, as well as significant fundraising capacity. Now, to be fair, that does not necessarily translate into backing for his own alternative party, but no doubt a few will follow him.

Assuming Bernier is sincere in his promise to start a party the real question is the impact that will have on the 2019 federal election. There are already those who fear (or gleefully hope) that this may fracture the Conservative Party the way the Reform/Alliance split the right from the Progressive Conservatives from 1993-2003.

I think there are a few generally safe assumptions to make. First, with a little more than a year to go until the election it is unlikely that Bernier will get a full party off the ground to run the 338 candidates across the country. It seems a tall order. Second, I think it is likely that if Bernier sticks with it that it will result in him being re-elected in his riding under a new party banner. The question becomes how much of a tail, or how broad will his support be. Will the Bernier Party mirror Elizabeth May's Greens and simply elect the leader and no one else? Or, will it manifest into the seat of a truly national party and have competitive candidates and multiple MPs from across the country. Or, will it become a local phenomenon in Quebec?

I see a real possibility for Bernier's Party to perform better than the Greens, though I will not guarantee it. Bernier, from the leadership race, gained a lot of traction in Alberta. It is possible that his more libertarian vision may catch on in Alberta the same places that the Wildrose Party did.

Overall, I don't think this will much impact what I think will happen in October 2019. I tend to believe Canadians are inclined to give governments two terms. Even if Trudeau is less popular than he was, I think he is on track to win a second term. Weakness in the NDP's numbers secures the Liberals' left flank with the Tories united or divided.

Frankly, I am all for more parties with representation in the House of Commons. It's a sad truth that our electoral system penalizes that, but I think a greater diversity of voices should be welcome, even if I strongly disagree with Maxime Bernier's position. I'm sure it'll be interesting to see what happens next.