Entries from December 2008 ↓

Lost & found

Hopeless: In the end, I was a lousy politician.

Seven hours after losing my seat and my job in the 2008 election I got on a plane for Nashville. Four hours after that I stepped onto a stage in a sweeping ballroom in front of 1,600 people to deliver a lecture on the future of the North American real estate market.

I mention this because it was a seminal moment of the year past, at least for me. The election went badly. The speech went well. The two events marked the stepping off point of a new leg of my journey, hopefully a better one. I’m a fair speaker. I’m a lousy politician.

Losing my dog, Cheka, crushed me in June. Making eye contact with an unwanted stray in the shelter in November restored me. I can’t look at Bandit without feeling thankful.

I’m less bitter now than I was two months ago. It was not an easy thing to give up Parliament since I had a great deal more to do, at a time of need. Equally, it was tough to go through a vicious and personal election campaign punctuated by a legal action that bit deeply into my retirement savings. Experiences like that can make you like dogs a lot more than people.

Finally, it was difficult to be rejected by those voters I had so tried to involve through digital democracy and endless town hall meetings. Most dispiriting is the realization the majority of them apparently don’t care. Vote red. Vote blue. Whatever. I may have just wasted three years baying at the moon.

But no more. This new year will not be one of loss. No matter what I lose.

Thank you again for being here. You’ll never know.

Hopeful: Bandit and wife.


Gareth Bate is a Toronto artist, responsible for a Stephane Dion spoof vid posted here when the guy was about to become prime minister (remember that ancient history, about three weeks ago?). Well, turns out he (Gareth) is an interesting guy. Sent me this. Watch it. Review it. — Garth

Artist’s Note:
The performance video Penance is intended to represent a bizarre act of self-punishment and humiliation for the guilt of environmental destruction. It also captures a sense of helplessness in the face of the overwhelming accumulation of problems facing the world. What can I do? I see this act as half serious and half ridiculous. In November 2007 I crawled on my stomach with a reconstructed field of grass on my back along Toronto’s Queen Street West starting at Soho Street. When I reached the busy intersection of Spadina Avenue I was faced with the dilemma of taking it to the next level and crossing the street, or turning back. Rather than take the risk, like our society I crawled backwards instead. After two painful and tiring hours I had to give up. The Penance video moves back and forth between the agonizing performance, the bewildered response of onlookers, and contemplative scenes of gleaning grass in the countryside. Reconstructing the body piece out of grass gleaned from the countryside was itself a reflective act. Agnès Vardas beautiful film The Gleaners and I was an inspiration for the gleaning process. Penance is my first performance and is best understood within the context of my paintings, installations and videos. — Gareth Bate


He was an institutional pollster, marketer, focus group leader and pundit. He’s served as a strategic advisor to the Greens’ Elizabeth May (after quitting in dismay). He’s a consultant and confidante to major corporate clients, and Dan Baril has been at the end of the phone when I felt in need of some political advice – one of the four people I trust.

A month ago I gave him a review copy of my soon-to-be-released book, After the Crash. He has today given me his response. — Garth

What if Garth Turner is right again?
From Dan Baril’s blog, published Dec. 29

Chapter-after-chapter the crap scares out of you with near indisputable facts. Then, in the final chapter of his new book After the Crash, Garth Turner outlines three economic scenarios; Probable, Possible, and Worst Case. You’ll have to read the book yourself for the details when it’s available in mid-January, but that’s not what most caught my attention when I read my “review copy” of what will surely be another best-seller.

In that same final chapter, warding off the alarmist label some are sure to affix to his leathers, Turner rhetorically poses and answers two critical questions “…should a sensible, non-alarmist person worry about the “possible” or “worst case” scenarios above? Or is this stuff too over the top? The answer lies in the nature of risk. If the possibility of something happening is not 0%, then a prudent person usually does something to protect against it.”

The question I kept asking myself as I was reading, and since, is how much above zero percent probability are the Possible or the Worst Case scenarios, and to whom does one look for the answer?

Should Canadians look to a Prime Minister and his sidekick Minister of Finance who a few months ago told Canadians “our economic fundamentals are as solid as the Canadian Shield” or to the guy about who the Canadian Press says “…more important may be that the former MP’s alarmist book about collapsing housing prices in Canada – “Greater Fool,” which he began writing last December when the sky seemed to be the limit – has turned out scarily bang-on.”

Far from being just another “how to” book – although there is some of that too – reading between the lines of After the Crash, there is a far more fundamental message about taking back that which a few decades ago many of us unwittingly gave up. Control.

Control of what is another question, as is how much and in what denomination.

Garth makes it amply clear the decision about taking control is a very personal decision which ultimately each of us has to make on our own. The book doesn’t make the decision for you but there is certainly no shortage of facts, figures and a historical context to help the reader decide. By the end of the book it’s also clear what decisions and which path Garth has, and is, taking.

Looking back at 2008, I will be kind and generous. I won’t say politicians did what they did on purpose. Instead I will let them get away with saying they didn’t know – read as they proved their incompetence.

Truth is Misters Harper, Flaherty, Ignatieff, Layton, Duccepe, and their Provincial equivalents haven’t a clue what’s truly in store for 2009. I watched Stephen Harper’s year-end interview with the CTV duo, Robertson and Fife, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why the broadcaster needed two questioners of a man with no answers. The interview was about nothing like no show of Seinfeld ever was.

For certain and just as the real estate industry did a year ago and continues today, the government doesn’t see its role as telling the truth so much as it believes in self-servingly creating and maintaining an illusion and working to prevent widespread panic. Fair enough, there is no sense in making matters worse, but at some point – preferably sooner than later – Canadians need to draw the line on blatant deceitfulness driven by greed and power-hungry partisanship.

Politics is the blood sport it’s reputed to be. That much we know. But as of quite some time ago the end-game seems no longer about what political good is done with the winnings, rather it’s all about ensuring no end to the game of politics.

For those on the inside and those just on the outside it’s all good fun and terrific theatre. We get to play directly as strategists or indirectly as colour commentators about who’s right, who’s wrong, anticipated next moves, and an endless stream of differing analysis. But as my father used to say when we kids horsed-around too much, it’s all good fun until somebody gets hurt. And by some measure of account, it appears 2009 is going to hurt plenty.

To minimize the hurt each person has to decide for themselves how much of the Probable scenario they can weather or how much above zero percent is the probability of Garth’s predictions of the Possible Case and Worst Case scenarios. Rationalists may ask why plan for the less likely scenarios, and perhaps that’s a good question so long as you trust the person attaching percentage probabilities to each scenario.

True to form, the best line in After the Crash is a taunt at the end of chapter one; “…after you read the factors which got us here, and the trends now propelling current events, the ultimate decision is yours on how aggressively you prepare, or how much you pray you don’t have to.”

Ahem, Dear God…