I’m suffering from scandal fatigue. The flood of allegations in the past couple of weeks during the Senate scandal started fascinating but is now numbing; and the bombshell/media circus Rob Ford “Crackgate” scandal which re-ignited this week have all been overwhelming in the Canadian media. I was following it all pretty avidly for a while, but now I’m just going numb.
My official verdict on the Senate: Corruption? Duh. You’ve got an unelected body of appointed-for-life people with zero accountability, and you’re surprised that they’re padding their expense accounts and illegally skimming off their budgets? Frankly, we’re lucky if that’s all they’ve been doing. Senate reform now, folks: At the very least it should be an elected body, not a lifetime-tenure appointment.
And Rob Ford? Turns out that video of the mayor smoking crack and making racist and homophobic comments is real, and the police have it. Rob Ford in disgrace and is being called on to resign… except that the man doesn’t understand that he’s a disgrace and nothing short of a 52 Division SWAT team is going to get him out of that office. Hell, he could go to jail and he wouldn’t resign: the way the laws are written there is literally no way to oust him from office until the next election. (Christopher Bird of the Torontoist wrote an excellent piece on the subject, so I won’t re-hash it here.) Saying “I told you so” is actually losing its appeal; I didn’t think that was possible, but it is.
I had a “why the fuck do we keep electing these assholes?” moment yesterday, and then I remembered why we do: Because they tell us what people want to hear. These people, whether it’s Stephen Harper or Rob Ford, are the perfect examples of demagogues… in fact Ford is such a perfect example he’s damned near a caricature of demagoguery.
A demagogue gets elected by telling people what they want to hear — and the truth is entirely optional. Ford got elected by promising to end the “gravy train” without ever explaining how he was going to end it… or even what the gravy train was. Hell, after a decade of Mike Harris-style conservative rule, there was no gravy train to cut; years of downsizing and downloading and whatever else had eliminated all of the gravy, most of the meat and in some cases even the vegetable option from the trains, buses and bike paths of this province. There was nothing left to cut… so Ford tried cutting essential services instead (and yes I do believe that libraries are essential services) and that blew up in his face. Combine that with his mantra of “subways, subways, subways” and the never-ending cavalcade of embarrassing media moments, and Ford really hasn’t accomplished much beyond irritating the voters. Except, of course, the hard core “Ford Nation” types, who apparently are still believing his lies, even when they’re publicly-verifiable lies.
The answer to the problem of electing demagogues is, as it has always has been, having more educated and informed voters. The problem with our current system is that these scandals are doing the exact opposite: people aren’t trying to become more informed, they’re actually tuning out because it’s become overwhelming. And if I, a hardened political junkie, am getting overwhelmed, the average Canadian who really only cares about politics when the hot water stops has to be fed right up.