About 2,000 mayors, city councillors, aldermen and wardens (as they’re called in some places in Canada) were up in Whistler this weekend talking about everything from creating green cities to fighting back against American protectionism to getting the actual dollars rolling that the federal government promised for stimulus spending on infrastructure.
A lot of the official news that came out of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention was related to the last two, with headlines across the country about both. (The Globe had the story Thursday that the prime minister was conferring with premiers on how to create a united front in dealing with the U.S. Buy American clause that is causing grief to a lot of Canadian companies.)
I was filing for Canadian Press on the weekend, so had a couple of stories about the Buy American issue on Saturday (here’s one version) and Sunday, when Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff spoke (a version of my story here.)
Interestingly, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts supported the resolution that was essentially a threat to Americans that they’ll get shut out of Canadian municipal bids if they persist with their Buy American policy. And Vancouver Councillor Raymond Louie, from the centre-left Vision Vancouver, voted against it.
It was kind of cool for me to hear Michael Ignatieff speak in person for the first time (and I got a double dose, since I listened to Eleanor Wachtel’s interview with him about his book True Patriot Love, and his life, on Writers & Company as I drove home from Whistler). He was less harsh sounding than the clips I’ve heard from him on television or radio, but still didn’t sound like the great intellectual I had always imagined him as before he got into politics.
I can’t figure out if it’s his handlers trying to dumb him down so he doesn’t seem so threatening or if it’s his own idea, but he comes across as someone who’s trying just a tiny bit too hard to sound like a regular Doug and Bob Canuck. At one point, he referred to a town in Ontario where he always has his Double Double. Oh, please, as if a Timbit has ever passed his lips. The Wachtel interview was better, more natural, though I still had the sense of someone who’s afraid to come across as too privileged.
Because I’ve been covering housing and homelessness for a decade, I found it interesting that he apologized in his FCM speech, more or less, for the Liberal government’s move to eliminate the country’s social housing program 15 years ago as it was deficit-busting. He said, in quotes, “It was a mistake.” There’s some social-housing advocates across the country will be getting tattoed onto their foreheads and reminding him of if he ever becomes prime minister.
But the most fascinating part of the convention for me was just seeing all these people who represent their communities all across Canada. They got slagged in the local media just as the convention started for whooping it up at a fancy resort like Whistler, which clearly stung since several of them mentioned to me that they were actually working hard. And it was kind of sad that they felt so defensive.
Because there they were, all these people who essentially put in hours and hours of free time to represent their towns — Milton and Weyburn and St. Mary’s and a hundred other places you probably couldn’t find on a map — and they were slogging doggedly between hotel seminar rooms and the convention centre at Whistler in their jeans and golf shirts looking very much like people who really do drink Double Doubles. (“I’ve been to Vancouver before but not Whistler. It’s quite something,” one of them told me, a guy who looked like he runs a small hardware store in the Back of Beyond, Manitoba, clearly agog at the Disneyworld feel of our resort town.)
And they were just trying to figure out the best way to get a new water supply for their town or how to get Canada Post to give them better service or whether any other towns have got their infrastructure money yet. Ask any of them anything and they would pause and think really hard about the right answer to give you and they’d tell you all about what was going on in their towns and then they’d politely ask what I thought of the convention or how things were in Vancouver.
It made me kind of proud to be a Canadian.