Just a few days to go until the content of newspapers shifts again. Just a few days until the complexion of city council changes —or not. In many Ottawa elections, not much changes; in the last civic election, all incumbent councillors and the mayor were returned. Yawn.
So, are you going to vote for Alex Munter for mayor? Before I tell you a little parable, I want to share something with those of you who were not at the Oct 27 Mayoralty Debate sponsored by Capital Xtra, Egale Canada and Ottawa-Gatineau Pride Committee. The debate was at 6pm; at 3:30 we got a phone call from Larry O’Brien’s office saying they couldn’t attend. Something about being triple booked, blah, blah, blah. And that’s the same week that he took major flack for not attending the women’s debate.
So, O’Brien chose not to come to the first-ever mayoralty debate on gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans issues. Says a lot. We should hear what he’s saying to us. But it gets worse, for O’Brien himself did not call. He had someone call for him, and that someone was former mayor Jackie Holzman, the same Jackie Holzman who, as mayor, wouldn’t declare Pride Week in the way she was asked to. A human-rights complaint against her dragged on for four years. Yes, this is the Jackie Holzman that Larry O’Brien sent to tell us he wasn’t willing to come and engage in a discussion with the queer community. You couldn’t have been any clearer than that, could you Larry?
I want to note that there’s been a lot of coded talk in this election. Alex Munter’s sexual orientation has been referred to often, and rarely directly. O’Brien has visited mosques, telling worshippers that he shares their values and that they know who else is running. At his official campaign launch, Bob Chiarelli obliquely pointed to his father status as a qualification for being mayor. Puh-leese! Stalin had kids.
So, you may be someone who thinks Alex Munter is too smooth by half. Or you may admire his courage, intelligence and political skills. After all, he has a good sense of what’s possible today combined with a vision of where he’d like us all to be the day after tomorrow’s tomorrow. What I like about him is that he appears to genuinely like cities and has a willingness to face up to what needs doing to nurture Ottawa into a place both more urban and more urbane.
So, now my little parable.
Sometimes, in a container full of crabs, one crab manages to climb up the side of the bucket and begin hauling himself over the top and off to freedom. Do the other crabs cheer him on, wave their rainbow flags in support, and ask him to come back with a rope to help them? No, they do not. They reach up with their pincers, grab the crab on the verge of freedom, and drag him back into the squirming mass of the bucket.
Sound familiar? It’s a behaviour not limited to our community. It’s also common among other communities of traditionally oppressed people. Perhaps it’s even a trait of any cultural group. But it’s a cruel and self-defeating behaviour nonetheless.
Back to Munter. Sure, we know we’re going to have to be in this guy’s face if he becomes mayor if we want progress on our issues. You don’t elect a politician and then just expect them to deliver on their world view and promises to our community. Democracy is about an on-going process of resistance and pressure, of compromise and gradual change. Munter is an expert at this at the municipal election, but change only comes with external forces applying pressure – and that’s you.
Still, he’s a crab that we should be cheering on, and reminding him to bring us that rope.
Before we leave city politics, have you noticed how all local corporate media are endorsing only rightwing candidates? Left out of virtually all endorsements and positive coverage are the following progressive downtown politicians who have proved themselves friends of the queer community: Diane Holmes, George Bédard, Clive Doucet and Alex Cullen. They don’t like our friends. Makes you wonder what the editorial writers and TV producers really think of us.
An almost universally rightwing council is a real possibility after this election. Your vote counts in this civic election more than it has in two decades. Vote for the city you want to see on Nov 13.