On one of those thick and hot August evenings where you sweat standing still the Conservative candidate for Toronto Centre came to our door. I was a little confused at first, as I’ve only recently moved to the riding and was unsure of who the long-shot party candidates were, and initially thought he was getting a jump on the Ontario election. However, it was Mark Warner, doing some early campaigning for the upcoming (date unspecified as of yet) federal by-election to replace outgoing Bill Graham.
Few moments are as satisfying as having a Conservative candidate on your doorstep, looking for your vote and willing to answer questions. My first was “Why would I vote for a party that hates Toronto?” I don’t recall Mr. Warner’s answer verbatim, but it was along the lines of “if there were more Conservative members in caucus from urban areas, urban issues would be voiced more.” Then I recall asking “Why does Stephen Harper hate cities?” Again Mr. Warner was affable, saying that as both an urban MP, and a visible minority, he is pretty much guaranteed a cabinet position and could get urban issues on the table.
At that point I was a bit of dick and said “What was it Stephen once said about putting up a firewall around Alberta?” “That was a long time ago,” said Mr. Warner, continuing to defend his boss and further explaining why I should vote for him. As he was leaving I told him “good luck winning around these parts.” He rightfully pointed out that Toronto Centre had gone Tory many times in the past and, looking me right in the eyes, said with my help it will do just that again.
Mark Warner has been campaigning since February and was to go up against well-known NDP-turned Liberal Bob Rae. Warner’s crime? He kept talking about urban issues — things that mattered to the people of Toronto Centre — like housing, poverty, health and social services.
That, apparently, runs counter to the party’s national strategy, which, tellingly, prefers to pretend those issues don’t exist. In fact, the federal Tories seem to figure that if they don’t acknowledge that cities need serious attention and financial assistance, urban problems will go away. At the least, no one can ask them to contribute to the alleviation of a problem they don’t acknowledge.
The Warner case exposes another willful blind spot of the Harper Conservatives — race and diversity.
Warner arrived in Canada from the land of the steel pan and carnival, Trinidad and Tobago, at a young age. He’s well-spoken, well-educated, and described by Rae as a “very fine, public-spirited person.” He obviously understands what makes cities tick. And — glory be — he’s black.
This man was sweating up a storm walking door to door that hot evening, affably defending the man who would later fire him. His was an impossible job, running for a party that treats this — and all — cities with contempt.
None of this is news to anyone, but when Harper starts turning on his friends, the people working their asses off for him in hostile territory — especially a likable guy like Mr. Warner who could appeal to people in the political centre — something seems terribly rotten. There is no place for a Red Tory like Mark Warner in today’s conservative party, and that is a shame. Some of Toronto’s greatest eras of city-building occurred under Red Tory governments (municipally, provincially and federally), indicating an openness to ideas and programs that work. Our current federal government is run only by ideology. Which is why we are extremely wary of politicians like Karen Stintz, who seem driven by ideology rather than good ideas. A David Crombie/Bill Davis/John Tory conservative she is not.
Now being wooed by Dion’s Liberals, it’s likely Mr. Warner will appear on my doorstep again in the future, and even more likely he won’t have to defend a boss that hates my way of life when he does.