Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Bull in a china shop

It's embarrassing to admit it sometimes, but I'm from Ottawa. Larry O'Brien country.

For those who don't know, this self-made millionaire businessman is the Mayor of Ottawa. He won a crushing victory over rival Alex Munter last Fall. We have another three years of this guy to put up with. Three more years.

Watching him fumble and blunder his way from gaffe to gaffe has aroused a certain Schadenfreude in progressive quarters. But his unsavoury combination of staggering ineptitude, unruffled self-confidence and adolescent tough talk is little short of a tragedy for Ottawa.

We supported Munter; the majority did not. Munter was and is a thinker, a progressive, intelligent man who managed to attract the support of smart, curmudgeonly Ottawa Citizen commentator Randall Denley because he was hard-working, bright, did his homework, and had a workable vision for the city's future. He was also gay, and we shouldn't underestimate the subterranean electoral effects of that. A local Citizen columnist wondered aloud if a person who drinks out of a juice box had the, er, stuff to be a leader. You don't need a decoder ring for that sort of thing.

Be all that as it may, vox populi vox dei, although God does indeed work in mysterious ways. We could have had Alex Munter. Instead we ended up with a buffoon, not to put too fine a point upon it. O'Brien is a man with no judgement, no tact, no leadership ability, no political smarts, in short no talent for the job: a man given to wild flailing and thrashing on a nearly weekly basis, with a trademark smile that's starting to look a little fixed these days--it reminds me a bit of Mr. Sardonicus. One can almost see the bubbles rising through the roiling murk. Throw the man a rope! On second thought, don't.

We often bemoan politicians who are all form and no substance--and the list is a long one--but Larry O'Brien sets a new benchmark. From the very start, he has been little more than a large, bald, smiling image. A successful businessman! A friendly and folksy sort! A hard-headed, no-nonsense, take-charge guy! He'll give us a "city with swagger," just like Larry himself!

And what did we get? A hefty self-awarded salary increase, right off the bat. The light rail project up in the air, with a huge lawsuit coming from the builder, to be settled, of course, by the taxpayers. A hemorrhage of staff, including the bright and talented Walter Robinson. A Council revolt that even has political co-religionists openly talking about sidelining him for the good of the city, after he decided to take over some of the duties of the city manager. Wild flip-flops, as on a 2% capital levy, first dismissed as "frivolous" and then supported after somebody explained it to him. A comparison of homeless people to pigeons. Gleefully voting to abolish the crack pipe program, thinking that a few hypothetical bucks from the province for a 48-bed treatment facility would solve the problem.
A dumb promise (the one that probably got him elected) to hold taxes to 0%, now abandoned after he got mugged by reality--and that takes a heap of mugging, by all accounts.

No one can work with the guy. He shoots from the lip, acts completely on impulse, alienates colleagues on sight, couldn't build political bridges to save his life. The man can't even achieve consensus with himself. He's a blowhard, a braggart and a bully. He won by a landslide. Three more years. Good grief.

Andrew Coyne was spot on the other day, offering us a cri de coeur about the sheer stupidity of Canadian politics. Vacuous, he says. Shallow. Boorish. Moronic. The only thing he forgot to mention was that this oozes right down to the municipal level. And Larry O'Brien is here to prove it.

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