Politics and its Discontents: A Tale of Two Cities

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

Yesterday, while my wife was in the store, I, the ever-dutiful chauffeur, waited patiently in the car, first listening to my favorite station, Jazz FM, and then tuning into the CBC news. A story about the impending closure of bookseller Nicholas Hoare's Ottawa store caught my attention.

According to the story, the National Capital Commission, the Crown Corporation that administers federally-owned land and buildings in Ottawa, told Hoare that it was raising his rent 72%, from $84,000 to nearly $145,000 annually, the reason being that it had received complaints from private landowners that its rents were too low. I'll return to this in a moment.

The news from Toronto, under the inept leadership of its bumptious mayor, is even more grim. The city's library workers are out on strike, last-minute talks having failed to secure an agreement to afford some job security for the 50% of library workers who have only part-time hours.

So what does this tale of two cities have in common? In my febrile mind, they both bespeak the often pernicious influence of the right-wing mentality that pervades these times. For example, the NCC is allowing its decisions on rentals to be influenced by the demands of private landowners, while in Toronto, two things occur to me: first, the library situation would likely not have escalated into a strike were the city not led by people with palpable contempt for the social contract, the one that stipulates the primacy of the collective good over individual wants. Indeed, my 'gut' tells me that Toronto civic 'leaders' have little appreciation of the importance libraries have for so many people; secondly, I have a strong suspicion, judging by the rightward drift we are all aware of in the world today, that if public libraries did not exist and were just being proposed now, the concept would be dismissed as too expensive and unfair competition to bookstores.

Without question, our world would be far poorer. Costs cannot always be measured in simple dollars and cents.

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