Friday, August 29, 2014

Olivia Chow's Bobo March to Certain Defeat

Olivia's costume did not produce the desired flock of voters.  No one
in the photo wants to tell her that enthusiastic Tweets don't count as votes.
If you're intelligent, have experience in politics, possess a university degree, have never been charged with any crimes and have a pulse, you should be a front runner in any race against Rob Ford for mayor of Toronto. Olivia Chow is more than qualified to bury Ford at the polls, and for most of the year she's been leading Ford by a healthy margin, but the most recent poll has shown her slipping badly. Her main opponent, John Tory, has taken the lead, which is a bit of miracle given that he's duller than a Velveeta and iceberg lettuce sandwich. He does, however, have the advantage of having hosted a local radio show for the past five years. But what's really doomed Chow is the curse of being a bourgeois bohemian, or bobo, a term coined by writer David Brooks.

Rob's lack of a costume produced at least two voters. And
possibly the next Mrs. Ford.
Here in Canada, the politicians we used to call socialists (aka members of the New Democratic Party) have morphed into bobos. Their bohemian side comes out in their enthusiastic embrace of the arts, the tamer elements of the counter-culture, multiculturalism, and anything eco-friendly. That would all be well and good but then we get to the bourgeois side of the ledger. The bourgeois politician is "sensitive" to the needs of big business and celebrates the "entrepenurial spirit". Olivia Chow is bobo to the core. She turned up at the Caribbean Carnival parade wearing a discreet, but unexpected, carnival costume that sent the message that she embraces the city's cultural mix, she's hip, and she knows how to let her hair down. Her fans on Twitter and elsewhere were giddy with delight at her bohemian sartorial choice, and scorn and sarcasm was directed at Tory and Stintz for their more boring attire. But as with most bobos, the colorful plumage hides a more conservative soul.

A quick look at Chow's campaign website shows her bourgeois backbone. The introductory page gives us her CV and mentions that she "was elected an MP in 2006." And which party was she a member of? Conservative? Liberal? Bloc Quebecois? Green? We're left in the dark because Chow is apparently frightened of reminding people that she was once one of those scary NDP socialists. Dig a little deeper in her website and you'll find her speech to the Economic Club of Canada, where she once again mentions her time in Parliament without identifying the party she belonged to. What's even more interesting about the speech is the fact that it took place at all. How many votes does Olivia think the Economic Club of Canada is worth? Does she actually believe currying favour with the one percent resonates with the average voter? It's the sharpest example of Canada's left-wing following the misguided path blazed by Tony Blair with his rebranding of Britain's Labour Party into "New Labour." This strategy involves abandoning the core values of socialism in favour of what could charitably be called capitalism with a human face. The Ontario NDP tried this strategy in the last provincial election and saw it blow up in their face.

In Olivia Chow's case her drift to the political centre has left her fighting for the same middle-class votes as John Tory, and the result is that Rob Ford, despite being the human version of Slimer from Ghostbusters, is slowly crawling back into the race for mayor. And the reason why is that a big chunk of his base support--the poor, the marginalized, the working poor, and penny-pinching retirees--have been quietly ignored by Chow. These people should be her base if she had a socialist bone left in her body. Instead of speaking to the Economic Club and its dozens of potential votes, Olivia would have been wiser to have made an appeal for support from the City of Toronto's thousands of unionized workers, who would have loved to hear her say she won't be launching a pogrom against them (as Ford tried to do and as Tory would probably attempt) and that she values what they do for the city. But "union" is a dirty word in the lexicon of New Labour and bobos. To these people unions are too old school, too contentious, too confrontational, and so very, very unhipster. Ford may be an evil muppet, but when he holds press conferences in Toronto Community Housing complexes, his crocodile tears in full flow as he describes the terrible living conditions therein, he's actually acquiring votes. It's all mendacious political theatre, but it gets the job done for Ford. Chow needs to be chasing those Ford voters, not wrestling with John Tory for votes in Rosedale, the Kingsway, Riverdale and North Toronto. Chow will get haute bourgeois votes simply because she's an alternative to Ford, but she'll have to work different, bleaker neighborhoods in order to win the election.

Sadly, I don't think Chow is going to be able to manage a change in strategy. Her 27-member advisory committee shows only one bona fide unionist, no leaders of grassroots community groups or anti-poverty organizations, but lots of people who've been living with six-figure salaries for a very long time. This isn't the brain trust to show her how to grab votes in Thorncliffe Park, Dixon Road, Flemingdon Park and Lawrence Heights. Another problem, and one that may have no solution, is Olivia herself. If you bother to read her speech to the Economic Club of Canada (I wouldn't recommend it) you'll probably be astonished by it's sheer awfulness, and I'm not talking about its political content. A speech this badly written wouldn't pass muster in a high school debating club. It's flat, the syntax is awkward, there are mistakes in grammar, and it has no personality or spirit. It's possible it was written by a SpeechBot 3000. Whether it was Olivia or one of her people who wrote the speech, it speaks of a campaign that's sloppy, unimaginative, lacking in vision, and careless about the details. I think Olivia always figured that Ford's ganglion cyst of scandals was her golden ticket to the mayor's office. But it appears that her overconfidence has created a mushy, feel-good, bobo campaign that's helping Ford stage a comeback that, if successful, will be one for the history books. That's not the way you want to go down in history, Olivia.