Friday, July 31, 2015

Lutheran Super Computer is Going to Save Your Family's Financial Future

The electronic brain knows if you are Lutheran or not. Don't try to pull a fast one. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The St. Lawrence Market Cookbook & an Asparagus and Tomato Bake -- Vintage Cookbook TBT

Vintage Cookbook: The St. Lawrence Market Cookbook, Anita Stewart
Publication Details: Stoddart 1988

Published in 1988 when Toronto was truly starting to come into its multicultural own, The St. Lawrence Market Cookbook is a delightful small volume of recipes that the author, Anita Stewart, had culled from among the many vendors who operate in the famous, historic Toronto indoor food market.

The book sought to incorporate the different types of cuisine to be found there, as well as the many cheeses, fresh fruits and vegetables, and fine meats into its recipes. It begins with a short history of St. Lawrence Market and a tour of it (as it was in 1988), and is then divided into recipe sections according to the type of dish (vegetable, meat, poultry, etc.). It also features a section looking at the cheeses and fruits/vegetables to be found there. These are still remarkably current!

Some notable highlights among the recipes include Greek Fish Soup with Garlic Almond Mayonnaise, Chevre and Leek Tart, Swordfish Szechuan and Applesauce Honey Muffins. 

Today we are featuring a recipe from the Vegetable Dishes section that is inexpensive and easy, an Asparagus and Tomato Bake.

It was, according to the cookbook, submitted by Alice Boychyn, who was a fruit and vegetable vendor in the market at the time.

Featured Recipe:

Asparagus and Tomato Bake 

The word "Great" is scrawled across the notes I made after testing this recipe.


4 Tbsps/60 mL. butter
1 1/2 lbs./675 g. fresh asparagus spears
5 medium sized tomatoes, diced
3 Tbsps/45 mL minced onion
3 Tbsps/45 mL chopped celery

2 Tbsps/25 mL fresh breadcrumbs
2 Tbsps/25 mL grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 Tbsps/20 mL fresh sweet basil minced
1 1/2 Tbsps/20 mL granulated sugar*
1/2 tsp/2 mL salt
1/4 tsp/1 mL freshly ground pepper
*The amount of sugar could vary, depending on the acidity of the tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180 Celsius). In a 9 by 13 in. (3.5 L) baking pan, melt the butter. Line the bottom of the pan with fresh asparagus and sprinkle with the diced tomatoes, onion, celery, breadcrumbs and cheese. Season with the basil and sugar. (If the tomatoes are quite sweet, reduce the amount of sugar used.) Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, or until the asparagus is tender.

Makes 4-6 servings.

If you can track a copy down, this one is well worth it. The recipes center around the kinds of ingredients that you find at a big city, multicultural food market, and vary from the simple to the gloriously rich and complex.

In addition it is centered around a market that National Geographic deemed to be the best in the world! 

The Reuben Dog!

Behold...the Reuben Dog!

Today I want to share one of my favourite ways to jazz up a grilled hot dog or sausage -- the Reuben Dog.

That's right -- the classic deli sandwich translated to hot dog perfection!

First, grill up your favourite hot dog. This idea works best with traditional ballpark style all-beef hot dogs or similarly tasting sausages.

Meanwhile take a slice or two of Swiss cheese and lay it down like a bed in your hot dog bun.

Put the grilled dog on top of the cheese. Then top the dog with a bed of sauerkraut. Add some fresh ground black pepper (to taste) onto the sauerkraut and then top with some Thousand Islands dressing.

I like a lot of the dressing!

Finally, add whatever fixin's suit your fancy. I try to keep it close to the sandwich so I normally only add some mustard and maybe a few onions. But, of course, the sky is the limit.

Enjoy on the patio with some beer and baseball.

Glorious stuff!

Found Art: The Road to Lake Minitaka

(click on image to enlarge)

Found Art: The Road to Lake Minitaka -- Original Painting
Artist: The name W. Allen appears inscribed on the road
The painting has been named by me based on an inscription on the back

For more art blogs on The Left Chapter check out our Art Page

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tom Mulcair holds a press conference...and, presto, Olivia Chow is the "official" NDP candidate

So a funny thing happened on the march to the New Jerusalem today.

Tom Mulcair and Olivia Chow held a news conference announcing that Chow was going to be the NDP candidate federally in the new riding of Spadina-Fort York and, guess what, she was, then, the candidate!

That is right, Olivia Chow is now -- without any pretense at a democratic nomination process -- the official candidate for the party in the riding.

We know this as she is already listed as such on the party website:

On CBC Radio this was being described as an "official acclimation". 

What it is is an appointment. 

The NDP and its partisans have long prided themselves on their allegedly open and fair nomination process.

This has been, for many years, actually a total joke. The party regularly disallows potential candidates in advance of them even running for a nomination, terminates candidacies like it did with the democratically nominated leader of the Socialist Caucus Barry Weisleder, and then spies on candidates to ensure compliance with party line as they did with the fake Facebook persona Fred Checkers! 

But they at least usually went through the pretense of a nomination meeting.

Not this time.

Likely they want to get on with it quickly. 

Perhaps they saw Trudeau's humiliation a few short days ago with Eve Adams and wanted to make absolutely sure --  though it is very hard to see who could have possibly defeated Chow even in a totally democratic nomination fight.

But now, no worries. There will not be one.

Whether Chow is the best candidate to take on Vaughan or not is not the point -- we can now "officially" put to rest the notion that the NDP always honours the democratic will of the membership and does not appoint candidates. 

Because that is clearly not the case.

Update: After the publication of this piece, on the afternoon of July 30, 2015, the Spadina-Fort York NDP announced a nomination meeting for the riding. The details can be found on their Facebook page. Olivia Chow, of course, remains listed, already, as the official candidate on the party website as stated above! 

A Trip to Whimbrel Point -- One of Toronto's Best (and Least Known) Lake Ontario Nature Gems

At the foot of Kipling Ave and Lake Shore Blvd. W. in the ever busier lakeside South Etobicoke communities of New Toronto and Long Branch lies one of Toronto's most natural and spectacular, and one of its least known, Lake Ontario parks -- Colonel Sam Smith Park.

As you go south from Lake Shore (along Colonel Samuel Smith Drive as Kipling is called here) you pass the Assembly Hall Community Centre, go through the expanding and bustling Humber College campus, past the Father Redmond Catholic High School and eventually come upon a lovely shaded paved trail that cuts through old trees and that runs along the terrific and recently built -- though, of course, closed at this time of year -- outdoor skate trail and emerge at a trail that leads to the Lakeshore Yacht Club marina.

At the very foot of Col. Samuel Smith Blvd (What Kipling is called south of Lake Shore Blvd.)

The Trail to the Marina:

The Yacht Club

Once you arrive at the marina you can start down trails that lead through lush, naturalized areas.

Ultimately, if you keep going south along the many trails that cut through the park's southern end, running along the north and south sides of the marina and along the shores of Lake Ontario, you will come to Whimbrel Point -- the park's southernmost point that juts out into the lake and that provides amazing, panoramic, outlook views, including one of the best views of the downtown of the city itself that one can get anywhere.

Even if I could tell you exactly how to find Whimbrel Point -- which I can' there are many intersecting trails -- I wouldn't! Keep going south or along the lake shore and you will get there.

Through the Trails & Along the Lake South of the Marina

Eventually You Come Upon Whimbrel Point!

Views from Whimbrel Point

Some Trails and Views South of the Point

The area is serene and alive with nature. It is a favourite of bird watchers. 

This incredible park and spot is often almost totally empty on weekdays and this only adds to the feeling that you are in the country while being very much in the city!

In fact, Sam Smith Park is on the 501 Queen St. streetcar line. You get off at the Kipling stop and walk a very short walk south. From downtown you can expect an off-peak ride of about 45 minutes to an hour to get to Kipling.

Alternately you can take the subway to Kipling station and the 44 Kipling South bus to the park. Simply stay on the bus to the very end of its route. You will get off the bus right at the northern end of the first trail pictured!

If you are driving you exit at the Kipling exit of the Gardiner Expressway and go south.

For more information on the park and the winter skate trail see the City of Toronto website

You can also learn more about the history of and efforts to preserve the park at the Friends of Sam Smith Park blog.

Caribbean Style Goat with Potatoes in a Dutch Oven

Jamaican style goat and potato
Recently I looked at doing curried goat in a slow cooker. Today we will take a look at doing a take on a traditional Caribbean spicy goat dish with potatoes.

While this can be made in any heavy saucepan, I like doing it on the stove-top in a Dutch Oven.

First you want to take 2 lbs. of cubed bone-in goat meat and season it thoroughly with the following:

Approx. 2 tablespoons of curry powder ( you want the goat totally coated)
2 tablespoons sea salt (or to taste)
Season goat and let rest in the fridge 3-4 hours min.
2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper
6 minced garlic cloves
2 tablespoons of a Caribbean style hot sauce of your choice. (Or to taste). I used Grace's Scotch Bonnet based Hot Pepper sauce.

Toss the goat to coat with all these ingredients and then put in the fridge for at least 3-4 hours and for as long as 12 hours.

When you are ready to cook the goat first brown it in the dutch oven on the stove-top in olive or vegetable oil.

Simmer in water and stock for one hour
When the goat has been browned add 1 cup of water and 1 cup of chicken stock, 2 bay leaves, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 tablespoon of soya sauce and, if you have it, 1 teaspoon of browning liquid. Also add 1 large chopped onion. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer, uncovered on the stove top for 1 hour.

After an hour taste. At this point you can add salt, more curry powder and more hot sauce to taste if desired.

Add potato and tomato paste to simmer for another 1/2 hour

Then add 4 quartered (cut into four pieces) medium sized uncooked, unpeeled potatoes. Also add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. Bring it all to a boil again, reduce the heat and simmer for approximately another 30 minutes.

The goat should be fall-off-the-bone and the
potatoes truly delicious. The dish will also have a nice, thick gravy.

This is perfect served with rice or rice and peas, a green salad, extra hot sauce on the side and ice cold lagers or a hearty red wine.


See Also: Slow Cooked Curried Goat Stew

See Also: Clay Baked Spicy Curried Goat

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Eve Adams shows that the Trudeau jig is up

One almost has to feel sorry for Eve Adams at the moment of her humiliating and ignominious defeat in her quest for the Liberal nomination in Eglinton-Lawrence -- a defeat that both shows the new weakness of the slowly tanking Liberal leader Trudeau and that would have been unthinkable a few short months ago.

The wheels have come off the Trudeau bus and Adams has paid the price.

Adams defected, under something of a cloud, from the Conservative benches when the Liberals were riding far higher in the polls.

Trudeau, thinking himself poised as both the clear, natural alternative to Harper (despite the parliamentary reality of the NDP holding far more seats) and as cruising to a coronation as Prime Minister was shifting right.

The calculation was obvious. The NDP was supposedly "finished" and the Liberals simply had to show that they were ready to govern and to appeal to soft Conservative voters who felt that Harper had gone too far.

Trudeau thought he could take "progressive" voters for granted.

The NDP had dimmed in the polls, Mulcair was not terribly popular personally and the traditional Ottawa narrative of red vs. blue seemed to have reasserted itself after an interregnum of a couple of years.

In these circumstances it seemed that getting behind candidates like Eve Adams and taking a completely gutless and pandering stance voting for, while also supposedly "opposing", Bill C-51 probably made sense to Trudeau and his "brain trust".

Not so much anymore.

Parachuting in such a grotesquely opportunistic "liberal" and backing her candidacy was profoundly cynical on Trudeau's part and his own party, as his star fades, has now directly repudiated him.

While Trudeau has attempted to shift left lately, it looks to be too little too late.

He has already allowed the mask to fall. There was no principle there -- nor even the flawed though very clear vision of his father. There was simply a desire to take power.

This is a common affliction these days in mainstream bourgeois politics and Trudeau is certainly not the only leader guilty of it.

But in a morally empty art where the execution is the key he has failed spectacularly in something to which he had hitched his name.

It is another indication that, in all likelihood, as with Dion and Ignatieff before, a truly weak supposed  Liberal saviour has been exposed as little more than a sad and tired farce.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The NDP muses about a coalition...and this should be no surprise to anyone

On Wednesday NDP MP and former leadership hopeful Nathan Cullen talked forcefully about what Tom Mulcair has also previously mused about on occasion -- forming a coalition government with the Liberals in the event of a minority parliament after the election in order to oust the Harper government.

As noted in the Toronto Star:

NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena–Bulkley Valley) said that while winning a majority remains his party’s goal, ultimately the number-one priority is toppling the Tories.
“The Liberal voters that I know are as fed up with Stephen Harper as anybody,” Cullen told The Canadian Press in an interview on Wednesday.
“But Justin Trudeau will do himself a great deal of damage with progressive voters if he wants to contemplate more years of this Harper government,” Cullen told the wire service.
This should hardly be a shock from Cullen who based his pitch for the top party job in 2012, at least in part, around exactly this principle and idea. Again as the Star put it at the time:

...he [Cullen] has weathered the leadership battle better than many expected and has championed an idea — cooperation with the Liberals and Greens — that only a few months ago was considered taboo.
It is his pragmatic desire to win, rather than to cast his lot with one flank or the other of the NDP, that has driven him this far.
“There are some who believe that it’s principles or power but you can’t have both. I detest that philosophy,” he says.
Asked about what many NDP supporters have long considered the party’s role in the governing of this country, he replies: “The conscience of the Parliament? Thank you, but no thank you.”
Just in case this hardline repudiation of the historic role of the party -- along with the entirely fictitious and facile notion that people who are committed to an ideologically principled leftist political movement somehow do not think that such a movement can ever win or take power -- was not clear enough Cullen went on to offer this deep insight into political theory and what was wrong with socialist continuity within the NDP "“In my generation, socialism means a different thing,”...To him, he said, it means communism, and he is no communist."


Given this, and given the pronounced right shift under Mulcair, why anyone is surprised to hear Cullen call for a possible coalition is a little difficult to understand.

Despite -- and indeed, in some ways, even because of -- the NDP's lead in the polls, these comments from Cullen and Mulcair make perfect sense. They are intended to appeal to strategic voters (and I have argued previously that reframing the strategic voting narrative is incredibly important for the NDP tactically in the lead up to October), to imprint the NDP as the anti-Harper choice in the minds of Canadians and to put the Liberals on the defensive on this front given that Trudeau has foolishly dug in his heels rejecting the idea -- likely out of fears of alienating right-wing Liberal voters.

They also work to soften up NDP diehards and partisans to the reality that there is a very, very good chance that after voting day we will end up with an NDP-Liberal government of some type. While the hacks pretend to think that the NDP are the only "progressive" party and that the Liberals and Tories "are the same", no one -- and certainly not their leaders -- actually believes this and the thirst among progressive, left-leaning and even most centrist voters to see Harper shown the door in a minority situation will be almost certainly impossible for either the NDP or Liberals to deny -- especially as there is so much less that separates them ideologically than at any other time in our political history.

The Liberals and Conservatives may be "the same" but everyone seems to know that Harper has to go!

While Trudeau continues to throw cold water on the whole notion, though this is much less wise than it once was on his part, were he to in the end enter into any formal arrangement with the Conservatives that kept Harper in power he would be committing political suicide for both himself and what is left of his party.

I think he is well aware of this.

In the jockeying for position and advantage between the bourgeois progressive parties this is simply another predictable and even politically smart maneuver by the NDP that has very little downside for its leadership. The party's left-wing and anti-capitalist supporters are trapped by the logic that they have used to continue to support the party despite its complete repudiation of anything even remotely like a radical or anti-capitalist platform and the NDP leadership knows they have nowhere electorally to go.

They can be, and are, taken entirely for granted, meaning that there is no left flank for Mulcair and his clique to worry about. This is why the NDP can set its sights completely on Liberal, Green and centrist voters which is what its strategy is and which is what it is doing here rather explicitly.

Regardless of whether it would be principled for the NDP to take power through some arrangement with what many of its faithful see as an "old-line" party of Bay St., it is, after all, pragmatic.

See also: The NDP and the strategic voting narrative 

See also: Do we really want to Stop Harper? The year ahead in progressive partisanship

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Red Letter Day Cookbook w. Guacamole, Broccoli Salad, Spiced Linzer Torte & more -- Vintage Cookbook TBT

Vintage Cookbook: The Red Letter Day Cookbook by Lillian Langseth-Christensen & Carol Sturm Smith

Publication Details: Walker and Company, 1968

This week we are looking a cute and quirky miniature cookbook released in 1968, The Red Letter Day Cookbook. This was part of series of miniature cookbooks written by Lillian Langseth-Christensen and Carol Sturm Smith in the late 60's with each one centred around a specific theme such as the "Canned Fish Cookbook" or the "One-Pot Cookbook" etc.

What makes this one so fun is that it is presented as a series of entire menus (as with some other cookbooks we looked at recently) to prepare for special occasions or parties. Hence there is the "First Dinner for New In-Laws" menu, a "Good News Dinner" menu, a "Child's Birthday Dinner" menu and a variety of other menus along similar lines.

These are presented with a full array of courses and options, the number of people the menu is for and an assortment of lovely little black-and-white illustrations.

The book also contains four seasonal menus -- and as it is summer right now we share the summer menu which includes a cold roast beef platter, a potato salad, garlic bread, a variety of salads, a guacamole dip, a torte and more. It is a menu which would, I think, be rather perfect for an afternoon in the backyard or on the porch with friends or family.

(Click on images to enlarge)

On Naheed Nenshi and the Importance of Revitalizing Candid Inquiry on the Left

By Carol-Anne Hudson

On 25 October 2010 Naheed Nenshi was elected Mayor of Calgary. His come-from-behind electoral win was, largely, the result of a populist rejection of the front runner and long-time city councillor Ric McIver who was thought to be out-of-touch with the city’s changing demographic landscape and considered by many as an abrasive, torpid, schismatic, and immovable extreme right-wing conservative. Aware of rising ‘Anyone But McInver’ sentiments, especially among young voters, Nenshi shrewdly crafted a public image of himself as an approachable, energetic, cosmopolitan, progressive social unifier and urban modernizer -- a ‘hero of the common people’ -- the antithesis of McIver.

However, the reality of politics on the ground since the 2010 election suggests that Nenshi has not only failed to demonstrate any of these much vaunted qualities but has shown a complete disregard for the day-to-day economic struggles of the average person -- especially the poor and working class. Further, in his approach to social development and urban innovation Nenshi has revealed himself to be cut from the same cloth as McIver -- that is to say, he has been divisive, inflexible, controlling, exclusive, and a dogmatic champion of free-markets. Consequently, Nenshi has deepened and reinforced social, economic, and political hierarchies within the city as well as undermined grassroots’ efforts to strengthen social solidarity and advance alternatives.

Yet, despite the preponderance of evidence that casts serious doubt on Nenshi’s bona fides as a progressive social unifier and urban modernizer, his Worship continues to attract considerable admiration and support, especially amongst the social democratic left. It is particularly curious, given a dramatic rise in homelessness, poverty, and social exclusion in Calgary during the last five years, that many of Nenshi’s social democratic supporters are prominent Toronto-based community leaders in the areas of social housing, Aboriginal advocacy, women’s rights, public transit, and organized labour. These community activists hold Nenshi aloft as a bold, exciting, and morally responsible political leader. This raises two questions: why have so many (Toronto-based) social democrats bestowed upon Nenshi the mantle of progressive urban superhero when the facts show him to be a blustering, overbearing, authoritarian neo-liberal? And, what is the impact of such support on broader debates about progressive policymaking?


From the outset, Mayor Nenshi was drawn to the media like a moth to a flame. The Korda photo of a beret-wearing Che Guevara has not seen such a challenger for iconic status in Canada. The media darling -- receding chin resolutely tilted towards the heavens -- adorned the front pages of most major newspapers across the country with pithy captions that seem to stir the hopes of even the most cynical and battle weary social activist. One Toronto Star reader commented: “You can’t help but be cheered by him.”

Nenshi traveled the confederation, was a frequent and lauded guest on national evening news broadcasts, and was a much sought after motivational speaker, especially among the non-profit sector in Toronto. His message was simple: we must move our cities into the 21st century!

According to Nenshi, and elaborated in his 2010 Purple Revolution campaign manifesto, this included: modernizing public infrastructure (roads, transportation, and energy supplies), addressing inner city development (revitalization of decaying neighbourhoods), adopting strong environmental regulations and ethical procurement practices, and above all, eliminating poverty and social inequalities. Nenshi’s prescribed method to deliver these public goods -- inclusive policy inputs, development, and implementation, that is to say, the grassroots will lead the way forward.

For his proselytizing, in 2013 Nenshi was named by Maclean’s Magazine as the second most powerful man in Canada (after Stephen Harper) and in 2014 awarded the somewhat obscure prize of World’s Best Mayor. Where Nenshi was concerned, Torontonians, under siege by the petulant and drug-addled Rob Ford, seemed to have only one question, “when is he coming to save us?” Had MacLean’s, the WBM jury, or Torontonians done their due diligence they may have taken quite a different attitude.

Virtuous Champion of the Poor and Working Class or Tyrannical Profiteer?

Nenshi’s 2010 Purple Revolution campaign manifesto included, among other things, promises for sweeping changes to public transportation, inner-city neighbourhoods, and the promotion of social cohesion. However, once elected and despite the fact that a majority of Calgarians were strongly opposed to the construction of an airport tunnel (a 600 metre underpass from Calgary’s International Airport along the Deerfoot Trail to the downtown core at a cost of $300 million primarily to serve the needs of foreign oil executives), Nenshi adamantly refused to consider the less costly and more environmentally friendly alternative -- a dedicated HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lane with an estimated price tag of between $20 and $40 million. He also back-tracked on promised LRT expansion into the city’s densely populated and underserved (and largely low-income) southeast quadrant. He failed to adopt a low-fare transit plan for low-income residents and has been a laggard in developing bike infrastructure in the downtown core as well as converting the LRT to a renewable energy source (wind power). Where positive changes have occurred (e.g., ethical procurement policies), they have been minimal, not open to public audit, and, for the most part, can be attributed to policies initiated by his predecessors.

Likewise, Nenshi’s approach to inner-city development -- namely, creating affordable housing and addressing poverty and social cohesion in the most diverse and poorest section of the city -- has privileged the interests of profit-seeking land developers, investment capital, and a small group of middle-class (largely white) professionals over the needs of the majority -- poor and working-class inner-city residents (comprised mostly of newcomers, Aboriginal, and racialized populations). For example, during the last five years Nenshi has smoothed the way for an explosion of high-end, low-density condos along the river-front through the use of a multi-pronged social cleansing policy which includes: revising Good Neighbour agreements to prohibit social service providers from feeding the homeless in the downtown core; relocating the city’s largest inner-city homeless shelter (situated on a prime river-front site) to an industrial area outside the downtown core; and, failing to adopt a secondary suites policy which would greatly expand the number of affordable living spaces in the downtown core.

Perhaps the strongest evidence for Nenshi’s draconian social cleansing program was his unique approach to developing Calgary’s first poverty reduction strategy. Unlike poverty reduction strategies developed in major urban centres elsewhere in Canada, Nenshi shut-out the bureaucracy, major stakeholders, and especially the poor during all phases of development. At great odds with the bureaucracy, who were advocating for a comprehensive progressive strategy, Nenshi personally selected two people to design the policy with clear instructions on what the strategy should look like. On this, Nenshi set limits to who would be consulted (e.g., small church-based groups) and policy parameters that excluded a focus on women (among the poorest and most underpaid in Canada), Aboriginals, income support recipients, and newcomers. The result was a marginal technical fix on existing service delivery aimed at the working poor (largely unskilled men) through the creation of community-based ‘hubs’. Implementation was out-sourced to a small business non-profit that emphasizes micro-credit programs and entrepreneurialization of the poor. To be certain that the focus of his anti-poverty policy remained exclusively on service delivery Nenshi came out strongly against adopting a living wage and refused to discuss job creation.

Clearly, Nenshi is a loyal agent of private accumulation and the propertied class. And according to Philip Sayton in his new book “Mayors Gone Bad”, Nenshi has not accomplished anything, is unpopular with city residents, has the record for losing the most votes on council (ever), and is ‘overbearing, arrogant, authoritarian, and bumptious’, in a word – a bully. So, how is it that Nenshi has acquired such a popular following among the Left, especially in Toronto often considered a bastion of progressiveness?

Presentation over Substance?

Philip Sayton offers some insight into this question. He suggests that the need for optimism in these dark times may blind some to the reality of politics on the ground. This seems to play out where social democratic community leaders in Toronto are concerned. When pressed on why they support Nenshi their responses often go something like this: he (Nenshi) is friendly, likeable, a good speaker, clever, nice, light-hearted and so on.

These progressive civic leaders do not give us legitimate reasons for supporting a right-wing anti-democratic tyrant. They are, in fact, arguing for improved civility in the public square. That is, they are making an appeal to social utility – it would be better for society if we were nicer.  Such an appeal (rewarding niceness) makes these people seem more open-minded than they really are. Nowhere in their defence of Nenshi (and other political leaders like him) is there the faintest attempt to provide evidence to prove the truth of their claims. They are proposing, in effect, that our political representatives do not have to be effective progressive leaders, we just have to believe it is so – blind faith. We cannot take these people seriously.

The objections to this kind of argumentation from progressives are so many that it is difficult to know where to begin. Foremost, perhaps, is that progressive such as these are introducing or creating taboos around what constitutes legitimate debate. This not only minimizes the importance of rigorous and candid inquiry, but ostracizes free thinkers – those who take decidedly different (progressive) positions. In many ways, it is an act of self-preservation, that is, these community leaders seek to preserve a position (social democratic) by looking past those parts which do not serve their ends. What is needed to counter this growing trend on the left is an attitude of scientific inquiry.

Conclusion: Can An Appeal to ‘Niceness’ Cure Our Troubles?

Canada is in considerable peril. The country is on the brink of environmental, economic, and social collapse. Some Canadians have responded to these crises by denying the gravity of the situation while others recognize the immediacy of our troubles yet look past our political leaders’ inability to respond effectively to them. To this end, any appeal to civility from the left rather than vigorously confronting those mandated to take action discourages candid inquiry and impairs intellectual rigour.

Put otherwise, if we focus on a social utility approach (niceness and a non-confrontational disposition) to policy-making our problems would not be solved. Rather, it would be a dangerous delusion because it misleads people whose thinking might otherwise be fruitful and this stands in the way of developing valid policy solutions. The question, therefore, does not concern civility but intellectual integrity. By this is meant, we must decide the difficult questions in accordance with the evidence. Reasoned and informed debate is far more likely to benefit the country than any emotional plea to social virtues (niceness) which has no basis in reality and, at the end of the day, offers little actual social utility.

In the end, indifference to the truth in favour of an appeal to social virtue is extremely dangerous and cannot save us from disaster. It is opposition to prevailing consensus that effects improvements and will move us forward. That is, genuine social progress depends upon dissent, reasoned debate, and intellectual inquiry. Responding to the issues of the day on the basis of niceness may protect us from crude contact with reality, but it will ensure that as little as possible shall be known about the subject. In the best case, an appeal to civility prevents the facts from coming out. In the worse case, people will be duped into becoming the unpaid hirelings of weak and self-serving politicians by policing the boundaries of what is considered acceptable political discourse. This of course, silences free thinking and flattens the political landscape. Getting at the facts is often very difficult, messy, and may lead to even greater anxieties and uncertainties. We may not find the answers to these difficult questions and solutions, therefore, will be delayed until more can be known, but ignorance is never the answer, however nicely it is framed.

Carol-Anne Hudson is completing a PhD in political science at McMaster University. Her research focuses on comparative social policy, specifically poverty reduction, living wages, and business participation in social policy renewal. She is from Calgary and now resides in Toronto.

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See Also: 42-2: John Tory, Toronto City Council and the austerity consensus

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"What is more important to you and your family" -- A look back at NDP 2000

In the federal election of 2000 I ran for the NDP in the riding of Scarborough-Agincourt. 

As it was held by entrenched Liberal incumbent Jim Karygiannis (notable for his very illiberal views about abortion and gay marriage) I was a totally sacrificial candidate, but it was my first time running for office and it was a learning experience. 

This was the main leaflet that was given to me for distribution.

A few things worth noting here. 

First, the "middle-class" is mentioned nowhere. Though far from perfect (the constant refrain about "families" makes me gag...and did at the time) there is an obviously greater "us vs. them" and workers vs. Bay St. aspect.

Second, the "leader" is nowhere. This leaflet is about party and policy and not a tribute to Alexa McDonough. This is impossible to imagine now when the party has become entirely about its leader -- a disgraceful transition begun under Layton. 

To those who would suggest it was because McDonough was a "bad" leader...think again. While the dynamic of the 2000 election played out very badly for the party, over the course of her stewardship she took the party from near oblivion to being a part of the political scene again and when she handed the reigns to Layton she did so at a level of support in the polls that was back in the mid-teens -- a fact largely forgotten now.  

The irony is that McDonough was seen as a leader pushing the party to the centre -- which she was. 

But the distance traveled there under the widely celebrated leaderships of first Layton and now Mulcair has been much greater. 

At any rate -- here is one look at NDP 2000. 

(Click on images to enlarge)