LONDON, ONTARIO – As Labour Day draws nigh, we sigh along with our deflating beach balls and dinghies at another summer’s passing and turn our gaze back to the work-a-day world we must now rejoin. Anything new on the horizon to distract our ennui at the same old routine? Well, any sort of vista is a little hard to make out with all those electoral signs cluttering every intersection and sprouting up on more and more front lawns. So yes, it would seem we’re having ourselves another municipal election on October 22nd.
With the resignation of our incumbent mayor in extramarital disgrace from his unseemly fling of a couple years ago (though his hot cookie from that imbroglio, Maureen Cassidy, is running for re-election in Ward 5) the race for London’s top job will be wide open in a way that we haven’t seen in . . . . oh, gosh . . . four years . . . not since Joe Fontana’s criminal disgrace for the fiddling of funds made smooth the 2014 path for Matt Brown.
While the incumbent won’t be getting back in, whoever replaces him is going to be someone who’s already imprinted themselves on our political consciousness. Only one current councillor, Ward 13’s Tanya Park, is in the running this time. And while that sort of name recognition can be invaluable, we can only hope that her ‘so-PC-you-could-scream’ voting record works against her. She’s the only supposedly ‘credible’ mayoral candidate who’s so far shown that she’s fully on board with the dreaded Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system which will shave a couple of minutes off cross-city commuting time by impoverishing the city for the foreseeable future.
The only other would-be-mayor with any governmental experience is Ed Holder, MP with Stephen Harper’s Conservatives from 2008–15. The most recent of the contenders to enter the race, campaign details are still disconcertingly scarce for Holder. Though it’s unlikely a fiscal conservative like Holder will be on board with BRT, if he does oppose it, then we’ve got ourselves a real problem on the right side of the mayoral roster as the other two most credible candidates, two businessmen named Paul – Cheng and Paolatto – are already gunning to shoot the bloated boondoggle down. If those three gentlemen split the anti-BRT vote amongst themselves, that could well open up the road to victory for the ghastly Ms. Park.
And that then leaves us with ten other mayoral candidates who’ve coughed up the $200 registration but do not have a snowball’s chance in Hades of winning the big prize. The crush of very dark ponies in this race includes: Vahide Bahramporian, Ali Hamadi, Dan Lenart (he’s run a couple times before and seems a really nice chap though it’s hard to discern anything resembling a platform), Nina McCutcheon (an anti-poverty advocate who worrisomely proclaims that “It’s time to pull up our bridges”), David Millie (whose slogan ‘On Pace for One Million’ is all about tripling London’s population though he doesn't explain how he proposes to do that or why it's a good idea), Jordan Minter (as far as I can make out from his promotional materials, he seems to fancy himself as some sort of comedian), Mohammed Moussa, Carlos Murray, Sean M. O’Connell (he unsuccessfully ran for Ward 14 last election and vaguely claims to have three years’ work experience with London, England’s House of Commons which supposedly qualifies him for the job) and Jonas White.
The five candidates for whom I haven’t passed along any bracketed information are represented on the candidates' list at the City of London website with nothing more than their name (in one case) a snail mail address (in another case) and an e-mail address (with the other three). What's the point of it all? The two of these hope-free candidates who've run for office before, were ignored by the media and the electorate last time around and have inexplicably plonked down their fee and set themselves up for another round of indifference. What's in it for any of them? What low level thrill do they get out of signing up for a race which they don't even bother to run? Perhaps one or two of them are on missions from God and the success of their venture cannot be measured by anything so earthly and grubby as a ballot count. And perhaps, I dare to hope, one of them might be taking their marching orders from elsewhere in the cosmos?
That’s right. Whenever I scan these lists of long-prospect mayoral wanna-be’s, I sigh and remember the legendary Agnes Shaw-Cowan-Mehlik (1924-92). It has become de rigueur nowadays for aspiring mayoral politicians to tell us that they have a ‘vision’ for the future of London. But the magnificently ditzy Agnes whose great motivation in running for all of her many campaigns was to attain the authority to build a landing platform for UFOs full of aliens who told her they wanted to come to London . . . well, she was a visionary of the old school. She was a visionary who could take her place at some celestial tavern, knocking back ambrosial brewskies with the like of St. Augustine or William Blake, and would hold her own.
In his lifetime St. Augustine repeatedly responded to the voice of God telling him what had to be done and I’m confident he would recognize a sister-of-the-soul in Agnes, tirelessly working to accommodate the touristic demands of her alien buddies. William Blake was always concerned about the dry letter of the law and its destructive effects on all kinds of human energy and impulse. I’m sure he would’ve taken a keen interest in one of Agnes’ last campaigns when she said (without ever quite explaining what she meant by it) that, “What this town needs is a municipal sex bylaw.”
I first became aware of Agnes Shaw during the provincial election of 1977 when, heading in to my job as dishwasher at the original Auberge du Petit Prince, I couldn’t help but notice that she had stapled Gestetnered, one-page, flyers on every single telephone pole on Maitland Street between Dundas and King – her very own neck of the woods. In a sort of smudgy picture in the top right corner of the page she was wearing an elaborate corsage and an exuberant smile and the headline announced that Agnes Shaw of 345 Maitland Street was going to be “YOUR NEW PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA.”
That was the only time, so far as I know, that Agnes made the mistake of running for an office that wasn’t relevant to an election. But she was doing so, she said in her flyer, on orders from her extra-terrestrial managers:
“The Space Ship I ordered at the 1975 Provincial Election will be here in 1978. I feel we should prepare a welcome for the UFO’s who will bring my Space Ship. Will someone donate the land? It is to be 180 feet. Rooms at the Holiday Inn for as many as will be coming. Dinners at the Holiday Inn at $1,000.00. Is there anything else you can think of for UFO’s to do? The UFO’s would not think of letting someone who wasn’t worthy to be your Prime Minister. So in the 1977 Provincial Election they had me run as your NEW PRIME MINISTER of Canada.”
I wrote Agnes a letter after that election expressing my condolences that she didn’t get in and advising her that her chances would certainly improve next time out if she actually ran for a seat that was being contested. I loved the warp and weft of her mind and wanted to hear more from her and to make sure I did, I inquired to whom I should make out the $1,000.00 cheque for any upcoming dinners with the aliens. She said that I should make out the cheque to her and that the details would be firmed up “when my Saucer comes in.”
From then on in, Agnes always aimed for the Mayor’s chair in civic elections and perhaps I deserve some of the credit for that; maybe a co-managing credit with her aliens. The remarkable thing about it is that up until 1991 when she ran her last mayoral race, she always managed to make it up onto the podium with all the other shall we say, 'serious', candidates during the debates. There was one debate at South Secondary School in the early 80s where her big opponent, the incumbent Al Gleeson – bless his heart – was persuaded to give Agnes a lift because the buses were on strike and she couldn’t afford a taxi. (How one would’ve loved to crouch huddled in the back seat to eavesdrop on their discussion en route.) At one point during that debate, I remember her gesturing over to Al and airily referring to him as, “That man, Dennis.”
For almost twenty enchanted years Agnes Shaw-Cowan-Mehlik - there was a frenzy of marrying in her last decade, and also a charge laid against her for running a bawdy house in contravention of the City’s own ‘municipal sex bylaw’ - was able to work the outer fringes of London politics and was accorded a level of attention and regard by the media and the public which is unthinkable today. Partly, it was a gentler, more accommodating time. But I think it also helped that Agnes was one of a kind and not one of a herd of candidates who didn’t have a hope.
THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
Monday, January 28
St. Peter's Seminary
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