Responding to the rampant speculation surrounding Mayor Gregor Robertson’s separation from Amy Robertson, his spouse of 30 years, undeclared Non-Partisan Association (Party) mayoralty candidate Kirk LaPointe declared:
“As a journalist, I have had many opportunities to report on the private lives of public figures. I long ago concluded that, unless there is an impact on duties, those matters are irrelevant.”
That’s a principled sentiment, one that both harkens back to a time when the Washington press corps kept schtum on a sitting president’s sincere and open interest in nailing anything in a skirt, yet allows space for the baroque excesses of Our Ford.
But what does LaPointe mean by “duties”?
My youthful civic lessons, “social studies”, imbedded in me the idea that the ultimate duty of elected officials was to balance prevailing and often contradictory forces -economic and civic, private and public, capital and labour, commerce and art, freedom and security etc etc etc- in a manner that yielded the most benefit, for most people, most of the time.
Of course, only a minority was so inclined, and fewer achieved The Delicate Balance -and then not for very long.
Still the expectation –or hope- is there, I hope, that some are still dedicated to the duty of bolstering the public good, that there still remains an ember of the great mid-century liberal consensus.
Local governance suggests that we’ve clearly moved in the direction of a post-democracy.
The governing coalition is heavily funded by development forces and advances their agenda shamelessly. Heritage, parks, social diversity, views, the integrity of neighbourhoods, and the even long-term viability of the local economy combined do not effect a counterbalance –they don’t carry much weight.
At the same time they’ve abdicated their political authority. They’ve bought the old canard that the civil servants can be trusted. To the unelected they’ve handed over the political functions of consultation and the definition of the public agenda. With the city’s Planning & Development ruling the departmental hierarchy, the results are skewed, unrepresentative.
So, for the beholden, the self-neutered-but-still-nominally-in-control, what duties remain? Performance.
The play’s the thing. They’re characters in a spectacle entitled The City of Vancouver, a political soap opera of boosting, spinning, dodging, and –occasionally- damage control –as when the tower mania of the mandarins punches through the façade. Mostly, it’s endless campaigning for audience approval. Ringside are a bunch of guys in expensive suits, smoking cigars and throwing money onto the stage.
Politics as show business for ugly people -and Gregor: Mayor Handsome, the star of the show, and the hero: photogenic, green, and non-threatening. He’s had a long run, but the performance is looking old, tired, unconvincing, not quite so wholesome. And, for better or worse, that’s the issue.
It’s sunny and hot. I’m enjoying lunch on a patio, under the cool of an awning, in the shadow of cranes, by the water, with Inge Finge.
“So, who the Mayor boning?” she asks.
That’s a great question.