In the last couple of days, there has been much press about the Twitter spat between Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Sun News personality Ezra Levant. This began with a column Levant wrote about questioning the spending of taxpayers money by the City of Calgary to hire the Pembina Institute at the University of Alberta. The truth is, this dispute goes back 25 years or so.
I remember Levant and Nenshi as politically active students at the University of Calgary (where I was also a student – although my education kept me a little too busy to be so politically involved outside my own school). They were usually on the opposite side of issues there – not surprising as Nenshi has been a “feel good socialist” his entire adult life, and Levant a “conservative capitalist”. However, this latest spat reminded me that not much has changed. Levant and Nenshi are both creations of our political culture – not just in Canada but throughout the democratic world.
Nenshi, as a feel-good socialist, believes that the state can and should do more to make people’s lives better. However, he has learned that getting into hard facts and details about numbers / costs is detrimental to the cause because. So, like much of the “smart left”, they appeal to feelings and emotions to get people to support their cause due to guilt, feeling satisfied, or some odd “social justice” motive.
Levant, as a conservative capitalist, believes that the state should get out of the way and let business increase economic growth and make us all richer (as it has done in the Western world for the last 200 years or so). However, while hard facts and details about numbers are supportive of this cause, the answers are often unpalatable and unpleasant – no one likes the feeling of “austerity”. The positions of the right are easily attacked because such policies – at first blush – may appear to be unfeeling or hurtful to the less fortunate. Therefore, like other Conservative commentators – especially those in the United States – Levant has taken to trying to pick out the ridiculous or obviously contradictory statements of leftists.
With regard to the twitter spat, I suspect that Levant baited Nenshi into some ill-placed statements. Having known him for more than 20 years, he could guess at his reaction and probably expected some piece of well-known rhetoric. The problem is that many of the followers on Twitter are not experienced rhetoricians and, as occurred, overreacted to Nenshi’s statement. The danger of the undereducated audience and a 140 character limit.
I don’t blame Twitter’s format – for decades politicians and commentators have sought short “sound-bites”, and more importantly “silver bullet phrases” to shift public sentiment. Whether it be Nixon sweating during the debate with JFK in 1960, or Mulroney telling Turner “you had an option, sir!” in the 1984 Canadian federal leaders debates – this is what debaters dream of. The only problem is that they are like Hail Mary passes in football – a successful one is very rare.
I do blame Nenshi and Levant, and all others like them. They should be trying to raise the level of political discourse. Educate the people so we can make better choices. Be honest and explain situations fully and fairly.
I also blame the people. We have become like sheep, willing to be led down garden paths by leaders promising us easy solutions. We are also lazy – many of us are too lazy to seek our the knowledge necessary to take part in intelligent discourse on many of the challenges facing our society. Nearly everyday, I cringe when I hear a politician on the radio talking about issues that are small and easy and shouldn’t be wasting the time of the public when there are significant issues that lie undisturbed because they are politically dangerous. We ALL need to be more brave and accept that as citizens we need to take on the difficult challenges we face.
To close, I will return to the original cause of the Nenshi / Levant spat. Should Nenshi’s city council have hired the Pembina Institute, ostensibly to consult on “energy efficiency”, and does Pembina have any relation to Nenshi’s campaign or other activities?
Levant gets it wrong by asking whether Nenshi would hire the Fraser Institute, a “conservative capitalist” think tank, instead of Pembina, a “feel-good socialist” think tank. WRONG QUESTION. First, no politically active “think tank” should be granted contracts by the state for advice. Pick any one of the think tanks in Canada and an issue and I can tell you, with nearly 100% accuracy, what their conclusions will be on that topic. It is a waste of money – used by politicians of all stripes to provide ammunition in the low-brow arguments that pass for political discourse in the 21st century. If you wanted to hire a “third party” to study or provide advice on energy efficiency, you should have hired an Engineering Consultant. They are the only ones who actually understand energy efficiency – I doubt any of the people at the Pembina Institute who billed the City of Calgary on this contract could answer the question “What fundamental limit is there to energy efficiency?” But any mechanical or chemical engineer could.