“A Gay Premier!” in Ontario

When the parents of Maclean’s contributor Adam Goldenberg texted him “A gay premier!” they were not only referring to the sexual orientation of the premier-designate of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, but were also, inadvertently, pointing towards still persistent and symptomatic aversion to the non-straight personalities at the top public-affairs slots.

It needs to be mentioned that the homosexual conduct was deemed responsible for the travails and subsequent untimely death of the brilliant British mathematician Alan Turing. The harassment, which he suffered over his sexuality and which is generally credited as the cause of his death, was unleashed upon him during the so-called post-war & liberal 1950s. The point is that harassment over somebody’s sexuality is hopefully now an anachronism, yet the related repression does not belong to the distant past, and that its residue still lingers in the popular prejudices.

The fact that Kathleen Wynne would be the sixth actual female premier of the Canadian provinces is in itself worthy of celebrations, especially given the history of political enlightenment and participation of women in Canada; yet Adam Goldenberg, who received the brief text message from his parents, is jubilant for an altogether unprecedented reason. For him Wynne will be the first openly gay person ever to take the helm of a government anywhere in the Americas, the Commonwealth, or the English-speaking world.

Once at Queen’s Park, Kathleen Wynne would have to foster political consensus, for she would still be leading a minority government. As the Globe & Mail has noted, she would have to back up her fresh authentic style with a genuinely renewed offering for Ontarians.

It is my feeling that all political stakeholders in Ontario, including the political parties and general voters, are wary of another early elections. This particularly chary political mood in Ontario could, in the short-run, provide sustenance to Wynne’s premiership. Still, she cannot claim any reprieve from confronting the onerous Ontarian challenges.

Andrea Horwath, the provincial parliamentary head of the New Democratic Party (NDP) is adamant in demanding a public inquiry into the politically motivated scrapping of gas-fired power plants in Mississauga and Oakville that has costed the Ontarian taxpayers at least $230 million. Wynne has to mend the Liberal Party’s relationship with the provincial public school teachers. Ontario’s provincial government is in a heated labour dispute with the public school teachers since last fall, and it has alienated them when it introduced Bill 115, which froze wages, limited teachers’ right to strike and, at the end of December 2012, imposed contracts. It is her responsibility to restore the confidence of Ontario’s teachers. Then, Wynne is not expected to shirk from the provincial welfare reforms. For this purpose, she has the required research & analysis available in various timely reports & studies. Wynne cannot feign ignorance to the fact of frozen social assistance rates since the middle of 1990s; the cost of living, on the other side, has soared unabated. Would she send a powerful message that she is a woman of action and a leader with heart? Following the future proceedings at the Queen’s Park would yield some clues.

Adam Goldenberg’s article in Maclean’s is here.

A Deep Italian Vomit?

“I don’t know what other name I could give it. It’s a thing that looks dangerously like a human, a thing that throws parties, that organises orgies and rules a country called Italy. This thing, this illness, this virus threatens to become the cause of the moral death of Verdi’s country.” In his then published English version of the Notebook, the celebrated Portuguese Novelist José Saramago was on the onset of his reflections on the present day Italy.

Today, the country of Verdi, while going to polls, sports those colorful political acrobatics, which are perhaps reserved for the South Asian electoral politics. Elections in European countries are dull affairs; Italy is an exciting exception. The Economist magazine, which is conservative yet influential, has termed the coming Italian elections, on Feb 24-25, as a heart-stopper.

Apparently, the excitement and colorfulness lingers on as Silvio Berlusconi is still very much part of the heart-stopping show. In his lifestyle, Berlusconi is not afraid of exhibiting a dionysian streak, and so his rivals make fun of him when Berlusconi talks of family values. He owns an ace European football club, and given the sensibilities of educated & middle class Italian youth – an important voting chunk in the coming election – he assumes an anti-racism posture. Yet, in the recent past, Berlusconi was criticized for making jokes at the expense of US President Barack Obama’s race.

But there is more to the excitement around coming Italian elections. As some of the entertainment stars of India have also made to the local political stardom, Italy in Europe has its own personalities that synthesize entertainment & politics.Think of Indian chief ministers like M.G. Ramachandran & M. Karunanidhi – both effortlessly transcending the cinematic & political as well as religious illusions; in a somewhat similar vein, Italy presents us with Beppe Grillo.  

But, it appears that Beppe Grillo, though coming from the Italian entertainment sector, has more to offer, politically, than just being a mere MGR or Karunanidhi of Italy. He is a comic actor, but he has also technologized the Italian politics by anchoring his five star movement on the internet as opposed to making use of the Italian television. In this change of possibly important consequences for the Italian politics, Beppe Grillo is being aided by his web-guru associate Roberto Casaleggio.

Casaleggio describing Silvio Berlusconi’s control of six of Italy’s seven main television channels tells, “it was like living inside the Matrix.” He says, Grillo has offered information and comments that are free of self-censorship. He adds, “And when people saw that what he said was true, they began to doubt the other information they were getting.”

The five star political movement of Beppe Grillo is aspiring for a unique objective in Europe – the erosion by the internet of all other forms of political mediation. Technologist Casaleggio asserts that as newspapers, according to him, are doomed to extinction because they stand between journalists and readers, so political parties are heading for annihilation because they stand between the electorate and the authorities. Thus, he is confident that their internet based popular movement, with entertainer Grillo as its figurehead, is pioneering “a new, direct democracy that will see the elimination of all barriers between the citizen and the state.”

The coming Italian elections are certainly not a drab affair. However, it would be an oversight to not to mention that Italian economy is in serious recession, and that the Italian youth faces severe unemployment. Reverting back to José Saramago’s notebook, he had cautioned while referring to the Italian political malaise, “If a deep vomit doesn’t succeed in ejecting it from the consciousness of Italians, the poison will end up corroding the veins and destroying the heart of one of Europe’s richest cultures.”

Would the dates of February 24 & 25 be providing cathartic release to the Italian politics? In the land of Verdi, the coming weeks keep a secret.

Asimov Arifov is a political scientist/researcher with The École des hautes études en sciences sociales, (EHESS) Paris, France. Follow him on twitter @asimovarifov for all the latest analysis from him.