Discover more from Charlie Don't Tweet -- Charlie Demers's Newsletter
And you sir are no Stewart, Kennedy
Vancouver's ex-mayor takes the Clintonian road
In the wake of Hillary Clinton’s shocking 2016 loss to presidential rival Donald Trump, two explanations were routinely put forward by her supporters despite the fact that they contradicted each other. On the one hand, the results of the vote were inevitable, because the United States of America was a hellhole of misogyny and racism. On the other, they could only be explained by appeal to an interfering foreign agent, in this case Russia and its invincible army of internet assets, because Trump could never have won over the real America without international meddling.
Former Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart is not Hillary Clinton; for starters, no one was surprised when he lost.
Lest there be any confusion: I (somewhat begrudgingly) voted for the guy. But anyone who’d spent even half as much time in Vancouver as the English Bay barge knew that he was going to lose last fall’s municipal contest. After almost twenty years in the wilderness Vancouver’s powerful civic supra-partisan West Side right-wing had finally coalesced again around a single candidate and a single electoral vehicle, Ken Sim and A Better City (ABC). Once one of the country’s most successful political machines, the paradoxically-named Non-Partisan Association (NPA — so named that it might house Liberals and Tories with equal comfort in order to block any East Side socialists) had only won the mayoralty once this century, by seemingly less-than-fair-play (in a race against Vision Vancouver’s Jim Green, a surprise candidate named James Green had appeared to sop up votes at polls where Jim performed well).
But all that was behind them now, and the NPA had been shed like a snakeskin to make way for an even stupider set of initials along with a law-and-order campaign that went down easy with a public who could see, feel, and had possibly even experienced the post-pandemic shift on the city’s streets.
It didn’t help that Stewart was not an especially strategic candidate. He up-ended attempts to build a coalition of left and progressive civic parties by unilaterally deciding to run a slate of his own candidates — and when I say “his own” candidates, I mean a slate literally consisting in part of persons on his staff as well as of one candidate to whom he is betrothed in holy matrimony.
Nor was Kennedy an especially galvanizing candidate, with much of a popular touch. There was a time when I thought that, after three Big Personality mayors — Larry Campbell, Sam Sullivan, Gregor Robertson — Stewart’s slightly rumpled, understated style would be a good thing for the city. But it doesn’t help on the campaign trail. A few weeks before the election I saw Stewart address an audience of nearly two-thousand people at a Vancouver International Film Festival gala. Brimming with enthusiasm, the then-mayor told the crowd that when asked to describe Vancouver to outsiders or visitors, he explains that it’s “Egypt without the pyramids.” The moment was indeed Sphinxian, as I’d never heard the sound of 1,836 people all trying to process a riddle before. The takeaway from this almost wholly inscrutable description is still at least partially lost on me. The nearest I can tell, he was making the salutary point that civilization is just as ancient and established here as it is in the Nile Delta? In any event, #EgyptWithoutThePyramids is unlikely to trend as part of any viral Vancouver tourism or film & television promo campaigns on the horizon.
All of which to say, there’s no need to call in Vancouver private investigator Dave Wakeland to unravel the mystery of how Kennedy Stewart lost the election last fall. Newly reunited right + disarray on left + charismatic intangibles favouring the other guys = what happened. Which is why it was so cynical, a few weeks ago, when Stewart jumped whole hog on the Chinese Interference theory for recent Canadian electoral outcomes.
The Globe and Mail noted, in their reporting, that “Mr. Stewart would not go so far as to say he lost the election because of Beijing interference efforts” — a fact that the reader would never have made it two-thirds of the way through the story having guessed on their own. Instead, Stewart stinks up the election of the first Chinese-Canadian mayor in a city with a long and sometimes violent history of anti-Chinese racism with credulous parroting of CSIS briefings and vague suspicions about how invitations and donations started drying up in the final weeks of his campaign (i.e. when it was obvious to everyone besides, apparently, him that he was no longer going to be mayor).
So does Kennedy Stewart think that Vancouver voted the wrong way because of the dastardly Chinese? Not necessarily. Because when he isn’t citing CSIS as a snow white source of value-neutral information, he is denouncing the genocidal reach of Canadian law enforcement.
Last week, the former mayor sent a recriminating tweet to the voters who cost him the election that made “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” look like a dignified exit by comparison. In reference to the generally heartbreaking decampment carried out by police in the Downtown Eastside, Stewart tweeted:
On October 12, 2022, 85,732 of you voted to elect a new mayor and council who today abandoned our attempts to reconcile with Indigenous people and resume traditional genocidal practices. Welcome to Cruel Vancouver. #Vanpoli #UNDRIP
The tweet is practically a capsule clinic in the ways social media is stupefying our civil discourse. Stewart’s unhinged and obscene deflation of the term ‘genocidal’ is beneath comment. And as at least one other person has observed, the reduction without remainder of a homelessness and street camp issue into an Indigenous one is at the very least bizarre, and otherwise problematic from a number of angles.
But most striking of all is that, barely three weeks after alleging that one of the most powerful governments in the world was at work throwing off the results of the Vancouver civic election, here’s Stewart holding Sim voters responsible down to the very last one — 85,732 of you — for having explicitly chosen this barbarous path.
Vladimir Putin tricked you into voting against a woman, you sexist cretins!
Xi Jinping blocked Vancouver’s hateful settler-colonialists from voting for Reconciliation!
There were many ugly things about the gentlemanly non-partisan bourgeois political decorum of the years from the end of WWI to 9/11. It was used to cover up all manner of ugly collusion. And as we’re seeing right now in Tennessee, its spirit can be invoked as alibi for the most grotesque racism on offer.
But maybe one of the norms of that era which was worth holding onto was the one that frowned upon sore losers lashing out at the results of democratic contests using whatever tool handy, with whatever degree of cynicism convenient.