Waiting for Superman…

Michael Applebaum, emerging from his ten-hour detention at the Sureté-de-Québec HQ on Fullum. Photo credit to Journal de Montréal.
Michael Applebaum, emerging from his ten-hour detention at the Sureté-de-Québec HQ on Fullum. Photo credit to Journal de Montréal.

If I didn’t know better, I would swear there’s a vast conspiracy on the part of all politicians to become so utterly vile, contemptible, and repugnant to the body politic our society actually turns away from representative democracy altogether, and that such would be desirable for a small group of self-interested elites, be they corporate, fascistic, monarchical or any combination therein. I know it’s a cliched premise – we’ve seen it so many times played out in film it seems impossible, fantastical. And yet, the unbelievable fraud and corruption which has so thoroughly devastated public confidence in Canadian politicians and political parties is severe enough I wonder if it actually is so impossible. It seems these days a lot of our elected officials consider themselves above the law, above accountability and in thorough contempt of the people they’re supposed to represent and the important responsibilities they’ve been given.

I think we’ve had it; polling of late has indicated, somewhat strongly, that Harper and Marois’ days are numbered.

But that’s still a ways off, and until then we’re going to have to slog through a lot of political mud – it’s in our best interest to resist the temptation to be cynical and continue to work towards a return to peace, social responsibility and good government. Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City, Laval, Ottawa – so many poles of attraction for the corruption that grips and extorts our nation, our people. Ottawa is a mess; the Senate is filled with crooks. Harper’s rigid and inconsiderate PR apparatus masquerading as a legitimate government has grown tiresome – the whole party has become a bad joke that has nothing to show for seven years in reluctant power. The Charbonneau Commission continues to reveal the depth and magnitude of corruption in all levels of Quebec’s politics, with the SQ’s on-going Operation Hammer ultimately leading to Montreal’s ‘year of the four mayors’. Laval’s under trusteeship, with new information about Gilles Vaillancourt indicating he and his brother were at the heart of the some really slimy real-estate deals, where they effectively re-zoned land and hiked property taxes to force a farmer to sell his property for far below market value. Applebaum, still proclaiming his innocence mind you, resigned to fight his court case, with former Tory MP and intrepid lawyer Marcel Danis to represent him, and North America’s sixth largest city is once again without a mayor. For a while over the last few months Ontario and Quebec competed for the top-source of political chicanery, corruption charges and mayors-behaving-badly on our nation’s nightly news; our international brand has been taking a sustained beating while we air our dirty laundry, and should be cause for concern. Especially in Quebec. Especially in Toronto. For all we know that video of Rob Ford smoking crack may yet surface (Anonymous thinks they’re closing in on it), or maybe we’ll discover high ranking members of the PQ are themselves involved in real-estate fraud or union influence. Who knows – 2013 is the year of the Canadian political free-for-all; where the rules are ignored and the points don’t matter.

***

This weekend countless Montrealers (and doubtless tens of millions of other North Americans), will go out to the theatre to see the new Superman flick. I’m not sure which reinvention of the franchise we’re presently dealing with, but apparently our psychotic desire to see cities completely destroyed on film is fairly key to the third act as much of Metropolis is destroyed. Someone has calculated what the damage would come out to had the events depicted in the film happened in real life, and the sum is something like $2 trillion.

As an aside, aren’t you glad we live in a day and age in which we can determine the cost of damage caused to an urban environment by acts of terrorism (or their fictional equivalent, superhero duel), so as to be able to offer such a prompt response to such an odd yet telling question?

But unlike the brave denizens of Metropolis, neither Montreal, nor Quebec nor Canada has a superman en route to protect the innocent and defend the just against the rising tide of criminal activity, dishonesty and deception in this city’s halls of power. We don’t just live in a city where the lines between cops and politicians and criminals has blurred almost completely, the province and nation are infested with corruption as well. The problem of corruption is so widespread the people are more likely to give up entirely than try and fix anything. We’re having a hard enough time just understanding all the players and all the lurid details of so many dirty deals, it’s hard to figure out how we’re going to collectively fix this mess, especially since we’re losing faith in all politicians, nearly altogether and simultaneously. Day in and day out we get a clearer and clearer picture of how deep it goes and how bad it gets, and our cynicism rises; reformist politicians are considered suspect, and could very well be in danger – who knows what this criminality might lead to?

On a personal aside, I think part of the problem started more than ten years ago, when in the aftermath of 9/11 Western society casually decided to ignore the true meaning of certain words, and permitted all soldiers to be called heroes, all police officers to be deemed worthy of your undivided respect and admiration, and every politician to crown themselves as leaders, or worse still, visionaries.

What false idols have we created?

The people fell asleep at the switch of democracy, and a sorry bunch of cretins have infected participatory democracy from coast to coast to coast, making it nearly entirely useless. Legislative and executive bodies the nation-over are no longer the driving apparatus of government; it’s the committed yet thoroughly abused civil service that gets the job done (albeit to the best of their restricted abilities – if the people don’t trust government then they vote for the people who say they intend to cut taxes and eliminate services, which in turn has a profoundly negative impact on the quality of subsequent services. In this country, as in the United States, the candidates who vow to cut taxes (particularly for the wealthy) and/or reform government and/or vow to cut government waste, often win relative to the degree of distrust they place in government during their campaign. Imagine that – you could easily win an election by campaigning on a platform of making government (and yourself) less responsible to the people who are electing you. Countless Conservatives and Republicans have already done so.

And in doing so, by lowering our standards, by accepting something second-rate to manage the affairs of the nation, on the macro and micro level, we lose out. Government, nearly across the board in this country, is callously irresponsible and derisive towards the politically motivated citizens critical of their comportment. Those who give a damn are labelled extremists, those who point out what’s wrong are called traitors.

These are bad times for democracy, and so we wait for superheroes to come and make things right, often through an epically violent confrontation.

Cleansing destruction; the people seem to subconsciously desire the escapist fantasy of becoming the uber-mensch to wipe the slate of human corruption clean.

***

I was hopeful my instincts were off about Applebaum, but now we know he’s as crooked as a dog’s hind leg, just like so many other high-profile Canadian politicians. I suppose there was more than enough documentary evidence to suggest something was amiss at CDN-NDG borough hall (if I’m not mistaken Kristian Gravenor has been keeping a close eye on oddball real estate deals Applebaum may have played a role in), but hey, I was hopeful we had a way out of our ongoing political crisis. I wanted to believe Applebaum was going to run a tight ship and steer us out of this fraud shit storm we’ve become entangled in. I was wrong.

Fourteen counts of fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust etc., this is the tally of criminal charges against Michael Applebaum and two associates, one of whom (Saulie Zajdel) was Harper’s pick for Irwin Cotler’s Liberal stronghold in Mount-Royal riding in the deceit-fest that was the 2011 federal election. Zajdel was the guy responsible for those robocalls that suggested Cotler was actually about the resign.

He’s a piece of work, suffice it to say, and has been long involved in local politics and suspect real estate deals.

Perhaps we deserve this mess. Considering less than 40% of Montrealers actually participated in the election which brought in the unmitigated political clusterfuck that is the Tremblay-Applebaum administration, and that Gerald Tremblay was elected by only 159,000 in a city of nearly 1.8 million people, perhaps we should take a hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we can really afford not to get involved in (at very least) casting a single vote once every four years.

We need a government that will institute Australian-styled mandatory voting at the municipal level; at least that way a new minimum standard of political involvement can be established.

What happened to our city is fairly straightforward. We elect mayors on reformist platforms, and we have high expectations for them in the beginning, and then they gradually let us down. This is the shadow cast by Jean Drapeau, a man who ruled over us for nearly 30 years. Everyone who has followed in his footsteps has been progressively less visionary, less organized, less involved in the administration and design of our city. Drapeau was a visionary (albeit a narrow-minded and dictatorial one), who ended his term in office with very low overall approval. As has every mayor since. Doré turned on the civic-mindedness electoral base that brought him to power, became embroiled in the Overdale Scandal, lost key supporters and spent money foolishly (i.e. a $300,000 window). Bourque went down because of how he poorly managed the fundamentally good idea of ‘One Island, One City’ (a position Drapeau won on in 1960), and well, Tremblay and Applebaum were both knocked out of office for their apparent involvement in the thoroughly corrupt Quebec construction industry and Montreal real-estate development market.

And so, by next week Montreal City Council will approve a new interim mayor. And then on November 3rd we’ll go to polls (who am I kidding, most of us will stay home, get stoned and listen to YYZ at half tempo…) and elect one of several ‘vedettes’ candidates we’ll likely judge with all the sincerity and seriousness of a televised serial singing or dancing competition.

2013 – Year of Star Search, Montreal Mayor edition.

We have all the stereotypes lined up: attractive young lawyer, fatso baby boomer, grumpy old man, unpopular old woman, nerd – shit we should sell tickets!

Because we clearly aren’t taking things seriously in this city.

A simple question for you to consider as I close: of the named candidates, can you tell me what sets them apart, what their over-riding vision for the city is?

Can they save us from ourselves?

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