After his over-the-top outburst at the end of council’s budgapalooza, I realized I had reached my lifetime dose of Councillor Glenn de Baeremaeker’s self-aggrandizing hypocrisy.
Please, dear voters of Ward 38: either pick a conservative who is consistent in his or her fiscal positions, or choose a centrist whose views contain at least a shred of progressivist principle. Just don’t return de Baeremaeker to city hall because he doesn’t deserve it.
For those who missed the performance (posted on You Tube by Matt Elliott), De Baeremaeker quickly moved past his support for the budget compromise and launched into a remarkable display of self-righteousness, much of it directed at Councillor Josh Matlow and the others who moved motions challenging the first tranche of Scarborough subway dollars.
He set up his little morality tale by recounting how the people of Toronto in the late 1960s rose up to fight a form of transportation — the Spadina Expressway — they “didn’t want.” Then, having established the suck-and-blow dynamic at play, he waved an accusing finger in the direction of Matlow, cast in this case as the personification of elitist arrogance. “You think you know better than us. You think you’re smarter than us. You think you have the facts better than us.”
Finally, with peacock feathers fully displayed, he declared that the downtowners sit in their “perch” and lecture the deserving volk of Scarborough with a bunch of pointy-headed nonsense about transit. “No honour in these motions,” De Baeremaeker thundered. “These motions are a declaration of war on the people of Scarborough. There will be consequences…”
Yes, I know it’s an election year, and that all sorts of inanity masquerading as political speech will fill the airwaves. But no one should be giving this kind of inflammatory rhetoric, especially from a self-styled progressive, a pass.
A few words on De Baeremaeker’s credentials, such as they are. An environmentalist who hogged much of the credit for the Save the Rouge movement, he belongs to the class of 2003, and took his place on David Miller’s council as the environmental czar, with responsibility for major work files like waste management.
In 2005, he joined with a group of other Scarborough pols to agitate for better rapid transit and a subway. But, as The Toronto Star reported on August 23, 2006, De Baeremaeker emerged from a closed door meeting with other Scarborough councillors and TTC officials sporting a changed view.
“After two hours of soul-searching and haggling and discussion, I think there was a consensus that none of us is going to support building the Scarborough subway. A subway would greatly benefit the immediate corridor it runs through, but wouldn’t address transit issues right across Scarborough,” he said. “Instead, what we’re going to do is ask the city to spend roughly the same amount of money building a dedicated streetcar system to every single corner of Scarborough.”
During the 2007 debate over the Spadina subway extension up to Vaughan, De Baeremaeker complained bitterly about how that project would run through “low-density areas, non-transit supportive environments,” according to an April 19, 2007, column by The Globe and Mail’s John Barber. “It’s a travesty,” De Baeremaeker told Barber, “that we could spend $2-billion of taxpayers money and make the same grotesque mistakes we made so many years ago.” Indeed, as the Globe reported, De Baeremaeker tabled a motion during one council session requiring minimum densities along the new subway route; it almost passed.
When Mayor Rob Ford took office in December, 2010, and unilaterally declared Transit City “dead,” a Globe and Mail survey survey of councillors found that De Baeremaker — who would subsequently back the elimination of the vehicle registration tax he voted to establish two years earlier — still counted himself among those who backed the LRT plan.
Of course, we all know what happened subsequently — how the brothers Ford, sensing a potentially vulnerable prey on their turf, targeted his ward for robocalls; and how he, in turn, made common cause with Karen Stintz to promote a Scarborough subway plan as part of their One City initiative. She had her eyes on the chain of office; De Baeremaeker, it appears, simply wanted to hold on to his office.
Political shape-shifting is nothing unusual, and De Baeremaeker is by no means council’s sole practitioner. But his hypocrisy is difficult to swallow, especially when it is adorned by precisely the sort of bellicose us-versus-them yelling that he displayed last week.
De Baeremaeker, perhaps better than most, knows the sheer extent to which he is fibbing about his position, his new-found passion for subways, and the policy rationale that he has declared to be so much elitist clap-trap.
More broadly, though, his threatened declaration of war against the downtown is exactly the type of drum-thumping we need less of this year, and in the difficult years to come.
Even if voters this fall do decide they’ve had enough of Etobicoke’s two ring circus, the next council will be deeply challenged to defuse the antagonism and divisiveness that the brothers Ford have inflicted on the city’s voters. Residents across Toronto will need to discover that they are not, in fact, engaged in some kind of demented civil war, and that it is actually possible to find points of commonality and ways to compromise on a range of municipal policy issues.
So does anyone benefit when an high-profile elected official stands up in the seat of local democracy and threatens some kind of unspoken retribution?
Sure, such huffing-and-puffing may help De Baeremaeker fend off the political challenge in 2014 he is clearly afraid of. But in my view, his tirade proves once and for all that he not a progressive so much as an opportunist.
His speech was a embarrassing footnote in a ridiculous session. The fewer times we are forced to endure a repeat performance, the better.