Ford’s latest democratic farce – Federal cognitive dissonance on foreign policy

Majority rule is, practically speaking, a fiction. Citizens sense this, which is why they aren’t storming the barricades over Doug Ford’s sly anti-democratic plan.


Wait — we used to have democracy at city hall? .

That mensch and former Toronto mayor, David Crombie, expressed outrage at Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s sly offer to let current mayor John Tory pass policies with just 30 per cent of votes on council — and Tory’s willingness to gobble it up: “If there’s one tenet that defines democracy … it’s called majority government,” Crombie steamed. Eliminating it is “bizarre.” Or, what’s bizarre is that he thinks we’ve had majority rule till now.

Anyone can win virtually any election in Canada with, say, 10 per cent of votes — if there are, say, 10 other candidates who get nine per cent each. That’s the norm with our first-past-the-post system. Majority rule is, practically speaking, a fiction. I believe citizens sense this, even if they can’t articulate it, which explains why they aren’t storming the barricades over the latest democratic farce. It’s also why they’re vulnerable to idiotic conspiracy theories about who’s really running things, since they’ve a sense that we already don’t live in a real democracy.

Tory’s response showed him at his wussiest. “Even with the provincial changes,” Tory said in a statement, he’s determined to “always try to reach a council consensus.” So he’ll try to get a majority to vote yes — and if they don’t, he’ll do it anyway.

Does the PM have foreign policy cognitive dissonance?

It’s true Canada has a new policy in Asia, the Indo-Pacific strategy, based on China being an “increasingly disruptive” force not just in Asia but worldwide. So we, as they lovingly say, pivoted — to India. There’s one potential flaw in this: India.

It is, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, effectively racist and fascist, with a long record of violence toward its large Muslim minority. Its citizenship act of 2019 excluded Muslim refugees and was called “fundamentally discriminatory” by a UN rights body. Modi’s record reaches back to 2002 in Gujarat, where he led the provincial government.

There was a year of massacres and attacks which were called pogroms, state terrorism and genocide, and in which he’s been plausibly implicated. The U.S. banned him for years over his role. Booker Prize-winning novelist Arundhati Roy calls his current government a “criminal Hindu-fascist enterprise.”

The NDP recently joined calls for a “boycott of G20 activities in India,” due to its “horrific discriminatory laws.” Modi also declined to join western sanctions against Russia. That’s a credible position, IMO, based on India’s past colonial experience, but it hardly makes for a natural western ally.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly cheerily endorses the new strategy. She says we “had a frigate going through the Taiwan Strait this summer, along with the Americans, [and] we’re looking to have more frigates going through it.” That’s what I mean by cheery. On all this, she says, “we are going to lead,” which can only mean: be the first country in line to do whatever the U.S. dictates.

What I wonder is if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau feels a certain cognitive dissonance on policies like this. Due to his dad, Pierre, having been PM, he carries baggage and knowledge (same thing in his case) that no one else in his government does.

Pierre for instance, as a young man, visited the then-ostracized China and later co-wrote a plucky book called Two Innocents in Red China. As PM, he broke ranks and recognized China, possibly with U.S. concurrence. He befriended and sympathized with former Cuban president Fidel Castro over U.S. attempts to kill Cuba’s revolution. When he died, Fidel attended his funeral; when Fidel died, Justin apparently wanted to go but was more or less locked in his room by his staff and didn’t.

Foreign policy is mostly bullshit all around, but you still have to walk some fine lines. For a place like Canada, it may mean flitting between China and India, colouring them all “good” or all “bad,” while always placating the U.S. — and trying, if futilely, to slip in some independence and even momentary honesty. If you’re not into those contortions, you probably shouldn’t have applied for the job.

This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

is a Canadian novelist, playwright, journalist, and critic and has been writing for more than forty years. Until October 1, 2010, he wrote a regular column in The Globe and Mail; on February 11, 2011, he began a weekly column in the Toronto Star. He currently teaches a half course on Canadian media and culture in University College (CDN221) at the University of Toronto. He is a contributing editor of This Magazine. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Near Eastern and Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and got his Master of Arts degree in religion at Columbia University. He also studied philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City. He was once a trade union organizer in Toronto and participated in the Artistic Woodwork strike.[