Sometimes democracy's just a zoo. Like Thursday night at Don Mills United Church on O'Connor where nine candidates duked it out in the Toronto Danforth by-election debate.
There's a lot riding on Monday's vote for Jack Layton's old seat; arguably it's a referendum on the strength of the post-Jack orange crush, and a test of the Lib's ability to rebrand to the left. Nonetheless, the gabfest under the church's
vaunted vaulted arches occured in a kind of parallel reality, with little sense of urgency about the looming show-down.
Instead, we were treated to a populist smorgesbord, where deeply minoritarian players took advantage of a rare opportunity to spout. It was entertaining, all right - better than a mediocre movie, anyway.
But I couldn't help feeling sorry for genteel Craig Scott, the frontrunner, sitting there wedged between reps from the Progressive Canadian Party (the "true'' descendents of Sir John A. McDonald), the Maple Party, the Canadian Action Party, the Greens, the Libertarian Party, plus two fire-in-the-belly independents.
Because of the small-party side show - at one point Sir John's rep, Dorian Baxter, broke into a version of Elvis Presley's Its Now or Never - the anticipated face-off between Scott and Lib Grant Gordon in front of the 150-strong crowd, never came to be. Besides that, there was no Tory available to skewer as Andrew Keyes was a no-show.
Gordon, obviously a very smart and decent guy, but burdened by that particularly Grit kind of complacency, argued reasonably that pot should be legalized because his own kids would be teens, and he didn't want their joints laced with PCP. "I want marijuana to be safe,'' he said.
Pumped by a just-completed visit by Justin Trudeau (the Lib's backers say the two were really palsy), Gordon, nonetheless had trouble pulling off any zingers against his opponent.
He tried though. He pointed out that because he had written his own campaign lit and Scott, and Green candidate Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu hadn't, that he could be depended upon to buck his own party if need be. Then he asked the audience to compare his website to Scott's to see who had the "ideas and compassion'' to help the riding.
Not a good move, actually, since Scott's experience on the policy and social action front is so stellar - and Gordon's resume, despite the green ad campaigns, suggests his social action committments are quite limited.
Scott, sporting an orange silk tie was eloquent beyond the requirements of the moment, declaring that protecting the vulnerable is the "lifeblood'' of the NDP going back to the CCF and that "the enablement of the conditions of life is what we owe to each other.''
No doubt the NDP lawyer had better things to do - his team was holding an instructional meeting for e-day canvassers in another location - but he answered with a grace far beyond anything on offer in that room, on the need to prioritize people in poverty over fighter jets and prisons and phase-out nuclear energy, (even though he admitted that the federal party is "still struggling'' with the issue). He also vowed to "take the lumps'' like those doing civil disobedience, if his conscience dictated voting in ways different from his party.
Scott is one remarkable social dem, a "dream candidate'' as Stephen Lewis puts it; now it's over to his crew to make sure Monday's NDP turnout is equally impressive.