Every December, I like to name a “Person of the Year” – the individual who left their mark on Canadian politics over the past year. The only rules are that the PM is too obvious a choice, and that lame picks (“You!”) are strictly verboten. The Person of the Year doesn’t need to be someone who used the force for the powers of good, or someone I like – just someone who made a difference. So, yeah, crack smoking mayors and disgraced senators are certainly eligible. Below is a list of recent choices:
2012: Allison Redford
2011: Jack Layton
2010: Rob Ford and Naheed Nenshi
2009: Jim Flaherty
2008: Stephane Dion
2007: Jean Charest
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2005: Belinda Stronach
2004: Ralph Klein
2013 was not a banner year for Canadian politics. There were some positives, including an overdue free trade deal with the EU, and an overdue debate on Prime Ministerial influence. But for every good news story there was Rob Anders being Rob Anders, Dean Del Mastro and Peter Penashue breaking election laws, and Paul Calandra turning Question Period into a joke.
However all stories, good and bad, were overshadowed by a year-long senate scandal (with a little Robocon thrown in for seasoning). This certainly leaves Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy as candidates for “person of the year”, but I’m less convinced than some about the long-term damage this controversy will inflict on Harper.
As is often the case in the midst of majority mandates in Ottawa, the was more action at the provincial level – but it was equally depressing. In Ontario, Kathleen Wynne’s win was inspiring, but she spent the year answering questions about the gas plant cancelation. Christy Clark pulled off a small miracle in BC, but the moral of that story was that going negative works. The most repugnant development of the year was Pauline Marois’ Values Charter which took direct aim at minorities. More troubling than the Charter is that Marois sees it as a path to re-election.
However it was municipal politicians than rose to the top of the cesspool than was Canadian politics in 2013. London Mayor Joe Fontana is going to trial on fraud charges. Somehow, both Montreal and Laval saw their interim mayors resign, both appointed after corruption scandals destroyed their predecessors. And the mayor of Huntingdon Quebec told a radio station he enjoyed killing cats. You can’t make this stuff up.
Of course, one man became the face of controversy, not just in Canada – but around the world. That doesn’t neccesarily make him the person of the year. While many Torontonians will disagree, Toronto is just a city, and it’s not like Ford’s Prime Ministerial ambitions were ever going to materialize, scandal or not. But people spent so much time talking about “Toronto’s crack smoking mayor” this year that it would be foolish to assume the entire fiasco won’t have some impact, however subtle, on the way voters look at politicians.
So, yes, Rob Ford is once again my Person of the Year, as the politician who came to represent all that is wrong with Canadian politics. However, after being visited by the ghost of elections past last night, I’ve realized there is still some good in the world, so Ford will only share the title:
Rob Ford and Naheed Nenshi will always be linked. They were elected within a week of each other, both running as anti-establishment outsiders against more polished, but overly cautious opponents. Yes, the kinds of people who voted for them may have been different, but a vote for Nenshi or a vote for Ford was a vote for change regardless of whether you were a commuter from Etobicoke or a student in downtown Calgary.
What made their elections so remarkable was that it looked like they had been body switched as some sort of Canadian Freaky Friday rip-off. Here were the liberal elites in Toronto voting for a foul mouthed football coach with a DUI who had been kicked out of a Leafs game for unruly behaviour. Meanwhile, the redneck yokels in Calgary were going with the Harvard-educated Muslim professor, who blogged about urban sprawl in his spare time. Never have two politicians been so similar and yet so different.
Since then, the caricatures have only grown more pronounced. There’s no need to recap Ford’s hijinx here, because I know you’ve had more than enough Rob Ford news to eat this year – he has been the subject of daily Daily Show coverage, viral parodies, and an entire gag gift industry. The man is now so well known in the US that he is not just the joke on late night talk shows, but the punch line. He tackles councillors, calls reporter pedophiles, and gives children the finger. And that’s just a typical Tuesday.
While not as infamous, Nenshi has built a reputation of his own. He is a Twitter sensation, has his face glued on “superman” posters, makes it onto Ontarians’ Christmas lists, and, somehow, was named the sexiest Calgarian. His leadership in the wake of the Alberta floods was textbook, at one point staying awake for 43 hours in a row, prompting a #nap4nenshi campaign. Even in the midst of the turmoil, Nenshi landed zingers, most memorably invoking Darwin’s Law as he warned Calgarians not to raft on the crested Bow river. When Toronto was hit with a flash flood a few weeks later, it’s no wonder Torontonians asked if they could borrow Nenshi.
Indeed, one of the most remarkable side-effects of the Ford and Nenshi phenomena is a genuine sense of “Calgary envy” in downtown Toronto. No longer can Torontonians look down on Calgary as an uncouth conservative outpost. If they do, Calgarians have the ultimate comeback – the equivalent of pointing out the Leafs’ 46-year Stanley Cup drought to win hockey arguments.
In fairness, both Nenshi and Ford can point to legislative victories and defeats. Nenshi has had trouble moving much of his agenda through City Council, and raised taxes by as much as 30%, depending how you do the math. While he was handily re-elected this fall, many of the developer-friendly councillors he anti-endorsed will be joining him at City Hall.
But image is everything in politics and, in 2013, Nenshi was the angel of Canadian politics and Ford was the demon. For that, they once again share the title of Persons of the Year.