Indifference is the new intolerance

Rob Ford, Danielle Smith, and the grave danger of saying nothing instead of saying the right thing

by Emma Teitel

Jeff McIntosh/CP Images

Forget Ottawa when it comes to political turpitude. The action is in two provincial capitals, one east, one west, where two very different villains are stirring up trouble. Both are suspected of harbouring, or at least enabling, backward beliefs. The eastern villain is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who raised the ire of the ever-uppity gay community when he announced that he’s once again going to skip the annual Gay Pride Parade in favour of a weekend at his family cottage. The western bad guy (girl) is Danielle Smith, the leader of Alberta’s Wildrose party (now the official Opposition to the 41-year-old PC majority), who during the recent election campaign refused to chastise a party member and former pastor for his interpretation of the gay afterlife. (Hint: it involves a lake of fire and a lot of pain.) For these sins, Ford is branded a bigot, and Smith a willing defender of them.

However, they aren’t under attack because they’ve expressed an interest in revoking gay rights—but because they’ve expressed nothing at all; it appears that indifference is the new intolerance in Canada. Ford won’t attend Pride and Smith won’t apologize for her colleague’s remarks. Neither has really done anything yet. And consequently both, it seems, are equally benign—albeit distasteful to some.

There is, though, a critical distinction between the two. Take Ford first; the gift that keeps on giving. He has snubbed his city’s gay community, flipped off a Toronto mom who chided him for talking on his cellphone while driving, and all but abandoned his public weight-loss challenge with a very public display of Kentucky Fried Chicken. He is a man his people love to hate—so much so that they seem to get more pleasure deriding him than displeasure from his failed policies. Which makes all the outrage (or “barely contained glee” as National Post columnist Chris Selley called it) about his Pride snub, more than a little bit phony. (Like Whitney Houston’s obituary, the newspapers probably wrote their “Ford is wrong to skip the Pride parade” editorials months in advance.)

Nobody actually wants Ford to realize the error of his ways and attend the parade, because that’s not what villains do. It would be like the Penguin organizing a green initiative in Gotham City, or Cruella De Vil posing nude for PETA. There is no fun in a gay-friendly, health-conscious Ford. But there’s lots of fun in Ford as he is: the buffoon we love to hate, with very little power to introduce retrograde social policy when it comes to gay rights. He’s the perfect foil: cardboard bluster, no real danger.

Not so Danielle Smith. In her own subtle way, she’s substantially scarier than her eastern counterpart. A lot of people, even those who aren’t keen on the Wildrose party, regard her as a breath of fresh air, commending her “refreshing” refusal to give the knee-jerk politically correct response when the “lake of fire” comments came to light. But how refreshing would her restraint seem if the comments in question had been about Jews or Muslims? (Groups that are just as susceptible to the wrath of Christian hell as homosexuals.) There’s a kind of false relativism here that informs Smith’s Wild West morality in general—which could very well be why she wasn’t (as the majority of pollsters and pundits had us believe she would be) a shoo-in for premier after all. As for the fact that she’s come out publicly in favour of gay rights, and has recently been seen donning traditional garb at a Sikh temple, better an allegedly closeted homophobe like Rob Ford than a refreshing social progressive who would escort homophobes out of the closet.

For the moment, with the PC victory in Alberta, the halls of power have dodged the doublespeak (think conscience rights) of the Wildrose Party. But those who would be scandalized by Rob Ford in Toronto would do well to remember how good they have it when it comes to demagogues. All villains are not equal. Lake Muskoka (or wherever Ford does his cottage bellyflopping) is not a lake of fire. Both politicians are indifferent, but one is more dangerous. The reality for Ford and Smith—and any other Canadian politician who favours avoidance in the face of an ethical conundrum—is a highly unpleasant one. There is simply too much room for thought in silence and restraint, too much time and space for constituents to assume the very worst of you. Canadian leaders can no longer afford to take moral passes, because in a tolerant age, saying nothing may be the very worst thing you can say.




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Indifference is the new intolerance

  1. Well Rob Ford is pretty well harmless, except financially to the people of Toronto, because he has no party and no power. He has one vote, the same as everyone else on council. If he had more powerful allies….like Harper, or a premier similar to Smith, that can change a province or a country….that would be different.

    So mostly he just comes across as a clod, and is a poor image for Toronto…but he likely won’t be around for long, and will have no lasting effect.

    But to denounce being ‘politically correct’ and insist on ‘free speech’ is quite another matter. There is a difference between an open discussion of something, and a bunch of crazies who are looking for someone to hate.

    We know how dangerous anti-semitism can become, so we don’t tolerate it. That doesn’t mean we can just pick another victim, and that somehow it will be alright. Hate speech is hate speech no matter who the victim-of-the-week is.

    And we have to keep hate speech in check.

  2. What does indifference is the new intolerance even mean, Teitel? Maybe that sounds better in your mind than it does on the page.

    I am curious if you are Jewish or your ancestors are. You are much more likely to targeted by haters for being female or Jewish than you are for being a lesbian. You don’t worry about Jew bashing or battered women so I guess that makes you just as intolerant as the people you are complaining about. Two peas in pod as far as I can tell.

    More than 80% of hate crimes are due to ethnicity or religion while hate crimes against homosexuals account for less than 15% of reported incidents and yet you only ever focus on your own neurosis.

    • It means that refusing to acknowledge the existence or legitimacy of a person or group can be just as harmful as actively promoting hatred. As is casual discrimination that’s no less discrimination because it’s not part of a larger plan – see, for example, your bizarre random homophobia and antisemitism here.

      • Wow. AVR I must applaud your reasoned thinking and open mind. I’m not used to doing that with your comments.

        Bravo.

      • A racist is somebody who is winning an argument with a liberal

  3. The issue with Ford is that there is concern his studied indifference is a sop to intolerance. The issue in Alberta is that these crazies have policy influence, and even if they swear up and down they’re not about to start lynching minorities, well, as we’ve seen at the Federal level, conservatives lie often, reflexively, and with pathological glee.

  4. But… but … how could someone who looks so good on a horse possibly
    be dangerous ? The Petroleum Club wouldn’t stand for it.

  5. The fact that the PCs in Alberta have managed to sucker Albertan progressives into jumping ship to extend their 41-year grip on power doesn’t seem to be an issue to the media, but instead they continue this fixation on a couple of benign bumpkins who helped derail an upstart party trying to challenge a corrupt and (for many years) socially conservative party.

    But while we’re on this subject, does anyone even know who Ted Morton is? He’s in a position of power I could guarantee neither of the Wildrose fanatics will ever get into, and yet people like him get a free ride. A couple of backbench Liberal MPs tried on separate occasions to re-open the abortion debate a few years back with nary a peep from the press gallery.

  6. The Conservatives have struck on a new plan to ensure they are elected over the next dozen years or more.

    The Conservative Financiers dumped large cash into the almost invisible Wild Rose Party to put a second party of their choosing and control on the voting agenda. Either vote Conservatives or for their Ugly Sister, the Wild Rose Party.

    They hope for a close contest and they don’t really care which one wins. Vote Strategically to beat one or the other will be the call, time and again!

    This is in Line with Harper’s majority win. At the 11th hour they came up with “THE NDP WILL BE YOUR NEXT FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: VOTE STRATEGICALLY!

    It seems to work.

    What we need to overcome this great piece of logistical planning is for the NDP and the Liberals to make a new party. In levity I suggest “The Northern Democratic Party” it may be enough for that Turkey Jack Layton to think of someone other than himself.
    If we can do this in the next two years, Vote Strategically will do away with the Conservatives.

    If we can’t; I fear we will in for reruns.

    • I have to believe you are aware that Jack Layton has passed away. I’m hoping that was just a mental hiccup or finger-brain disconnect (happens to me all the time) that typed J-a-c-k L-a-y-t-o-n instead of T-o-m M-u-l-c-a-i-r.

      Otherwise, with the strong caveat of cooperating ahead of an election rather than merging altogether, I think you are right.

  7. What GFMD said. Ford and Smith aren’t indifferent–they’re afraid of appearing tolerant to their intolerant constituencies.

  8. As a Torontonian I take exception to the author’s assumptions about the motives for my position on Rob Ford’s decisions about attendance at Pride. I would be much happier if Ford suddenly changed into a rational and reasonable mayor representing all Torontonians, even though that would mean losing a source of comedic entertainment. Despite the jokes we make about Ford, we are ashamed to have a joke for mayor in the first place.

    All he has to do is schedule 30 minutes of attendance at any event during the 10 day Pride celebrations, and this whole issue would be over, but he refuses.

    Not attending an even that he has not been invited to may be construed as indifference. Refusing to attend an event (any event) that he has been invited to and implored to attend is an action that sends a message.

  9. To expound on a theme, imagine someone referred tot he Jewish community as ‘ever uppity’.

  10. “Canadian leaders can no longer afford to take moral passes, because in a tolerant age, saying nothing may be the very worst thing you can say.”

    This comment embodies what is happening – a changing of the definition of tolerance. One does not need to endorse a behavior in order to tolerate it. I can believe that homosexuals are destined to a lake of fire, without actively taking efforts to stop them. In other words, I think there is a very real distinction between Hunsperger and Larry Spencer.

    Demanding acceptance of a group (as opposed to merely tolerance) as a prerequisite for participation in the public sphere is dangerous for civil society. It is dangerous because, by definition, it implies intolerance of disapproved attitudes. This is polarizing, particularly when said behaviors are widely held (and Hunsperger’s are). Tolerance, in contrast, is an easy and unifying standard, that allows for vastly more combinations and alliances among groups. It is no coincidence that Locke’s letter concerning toleration came after Europe was riven by religious and civil strife. The fate of these kinds of codes of conduct (whether de facto or de jure) will probably be similar to those of state-run religions.

    What is more, political correctness is a good example of how the imposition of norms can fail to impact underlying attitudes. People are still plenty racist today, they just don’t talk about it. If anything, the result is worse. When people no longer have to engage with racist attitudes openly, they stop thinking about why racism is bad.

    When you restrict the access of people to the public sphere, they will find other ways to express their values – ways that we may not like.

  11. Emma, you are very attractive and I have a really hard time disagreeing with attractive women but you’re way off. You come from the school of thought that says, ‘unless you become a cheerleader for my cause, you’re against my cause.’ Bully! Maybe Rob Ford and Danielle Smith hate gay people. I don’t know but I doubt it. You can’t say for sure either. What I do know is, in this society where if I don’t agree with something or subscribe to that way of thinking and I can’t overtly disagree with it because of mob rule/pressure to conform, my only option is to act indifferent. Ignoring a thing is better than embracing a thing just because someone pressures you into it. For the record, I support equal rights for everyone under the constitution. Including LGBT folks. But f*** it! I don’t want to fly a rainbow flag. I therefore don’t care if I appear to be indifferent and I’m not going to be bullied into acting differently.

    • Normally, I’d tend to agree with you, but the plain truth is that sitting idly by, or sitting idly by while bitching that “nobody else is fixing anything” is the pasttime in the whole of North America.

      You need only look to our last election to see the evidence.

      Only 40% of Canadians voted, so we have a “majority government” which doesn’t reflect anything near to the true values of Canadians gained by the votes of only 17 of the population?

      Of course, now the 60% who didn’t vote can suffer with everyone else, while complaining “I didn’t even vote..it’s not MY fault that I’m paying higher taxes/losing my rights/et cetera.”

      I’m amazed this public antipathy towards the country and it’s direction weren’t stoked into a national inferno in Toronto in 2010…but hey…that’s only a billion dollars in a test run of what the stupid people are going to put up with in the future…”I don’t live in Toronto…it doesn’t affect me.”

      It’s time for Canadians to stop being led by our worst politicians, kick them the hell out of office, and get some genuinely decent human beings running things OUT of the ground for a change.

      Well, if it can somehow fit into the commercial breaks…

    • The huge difference between Ford and Smith is that Smith is a party leader. the word leader kind of gives it away. If your party platform involves advocating that white folk are more capable of representing all components of a community and insisting that fiery eternal lakes of lava await those whose sexuality makes you uncomfortable then say so. If it doesn’t then as an organisation your leader needs to lead; that does include maintaining discipline. The fact she said nothing when asked about it illustrates that either she can’t lead or she thinks that those views are indeed the views of her party membership.

      Also why do you have a hard time disagreeing with attractive women? If what they say is wrong, then disagree with them. One wonders if you disagree with unattractive women even when they are right?

  12. “Nobody actually wants Ford to realize the error of his ways and attend the parade, because that’s not what villains do.”

    Who wants a villain as mayor? If Ford had decided to attend one of Toronto’s largest festivals–not necessarily march, but just give a speech say, instead of disappearing months ahead of time–his critics would be happy. I’d be happy.

  13. I’m glad I don’t spend any money supporting this bird cage liner of a rag “magazine”.

  14. “the ever-uppity gay community?” wtf?

    • I was going to make the same comment. Does the content on this website bypass the magazine’s editors?

    • I believe she was using sarcasm. In fact I’m sure of it. She was parodying Ford’s attitude to Pride Week.

  15. To assume that the mayor of Canada’s largest city (which has a population greater than several provinces and territories) has less public, social or political influence than a provincial party leader is incredibly naive.

    I take no satisfaction in having a ridiculed buffoun for a mayor. I and many other gay Toronto residents would heartily congratulate him for expanding his narrow minded view of the citizens,which he represents to the world.

  16. Could an apology from Danielle Smith, in regard to her party member’s comments, be viewed as demeaning him for his ‘beliefs’. Then she would need to apologize for criticizing his personal beliefs and so on and so on. Are we not tired of hearing disingenuous apologies from people? I may not agree with their indifference but I will fight for their right to exercise it.

  17. The gay Christian-haters DON’T EVEN BELIEVE IN HELL! So why don’t. They just laugh it off? Because they want to; because they can. This reveals plainly their utter contempt for those that think different from them; it reveals the gay lobby as the epitomy of intolerance!!

    • Obvious clear thinking! If they believe in a heaven and hell, they would certainly know the rules for entry into each. No government can change the rules.

    • First of all, one can believe gays are not going to burn in an eternal lake of fire and NOT hate Christians at the same time. In fact many gay people are Christian believers. Secondly, the whole “your intolerance of my intolerance means I’m discriminated against!” is the most lame, tired, clapped-out argument. It’s like you’re not even trying anymore.

  18. Tolerance is allowing someone you disagree with to have their own opinion. That would include opinions about the afterlife, even if they are distasteful to you. Name calling and bullying in response to opinions you disagree with is unhelpful at best. As far as the afterlife goes I think we can only be certain of our own future. Jesus said that we will be judged by the measure we use to judge others. I’m working for as much favour and grace as I can get.

    Behold, the Kingdom comes!

  19. I find you are remarkably willing to display your own intolerance Miss Page. It is amazing that this land’s media is so willing to give you a soap box to vent your bigotry. This supposed “intolerance” is an example tolerating things one deeply disagrees with, that is what tolerance is, not liking something but tolerating it anyway. You are the one who is intolerant, and I find it remarkable that such intolerance finds such a prominent place in our supposedly neutral media, whereas your foes (actually far more tolerant than you) are being placed beyond the pale. It is not good to force ideas and world views underground, particularily not ones so widespread, for they will endure and as social science has shown, when once public trancripts are forced to become private, they have a nasty tendency to endure, and grow darker and more vengeful. It is precisely to avoid that that true tolerance was so encouraged.

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