Sunday, November 16, 2008

Happy Planets (sort of)

Finally, election results to celebrate. Last night, here in Vancouver, residents elected Gregor Robertson as our new mayor, and gave him a sweeping Vision/COPE majority on city council. Peter Ladner and the NPA party were crushed (only one NPA city councillor, Suzanne Anton, was reelected). There are Vision/COPE majorities on the Parks and School Boards as well. 

To explain: as a municipality, Vancouver has no ward system. Instead, voters elect a slate of candidates: up to 10 council candidates of their choice, plus the mayor. Historically, the party of choice has been the Non-Partisan Association, which, despite its name, is pretty partisan, leaning right on most issues, touting lower taxes and more crime fighting as their main issues, and fielding their candidates largely from the monied classes on the west side. The poorer, east side of the city has tended to favour the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE), usually managing to get 2 or 3 candidates elected to council every term (and occasionally as many as 5), but only once a COPE mayor: Larry Campbell, who served one term as mayor from 2002-2005 (Mike Harcourt, who ran and won as an independent candidate for mayor in the 1980s, was endorsed by COPE, but was not a member of the party). And, really, Campbell was elected less on his COPE credentials than as a result of his media charisma, his tenure as Chief Coroner of Vancouver helping to inspire a popular local television crime series called Da Vinci's Inquest. Indeed, Campbell soon found himself with a deadlocked city council when his more centrist views, and those of councillors Jim Green, Tim Stevenson, and Raymond Louie, clashed with the further left positions of the traditional COPE core. When Campbell decided not to run again in November 2005, Green et al formed a new party called Vision Vancouver, but a divided left only succeeded in handing outgoing mayor Sam Sullivan and the NPA the keys to city hall on a platter. However, this time around the left united around a slate of shared candidates, and the strategy proved overwhelmingly successful.

Of course, it helped that they had Robertson as their top-man, with his Ken-doll good looks, his experience as a provincial MP, and his successful environmentally-friendly juice company (hence the title of this post). But really the race was likely decided in the very last week, when news of a secret in-camera meeting at city hall to authorize an emergency $100-million loan to the developers building the 2010 Athletes' Village (and earmarked afterwards for luxury condos) leaked to the press. The fact that it was Ladner's copy of the notes for the meeting that was the source of the leak didn't help his fortunes, nor did his subsequent justifications on why the deal was necessary, and why it was necessary to approve it in secret. Robertson seized on the lack of transparency over taxpayers' money, and on growing fears in the city about possible fiscal shortfalls related to the Olympics in the current slumping economy, and this time the keys to the mayor's office were more or less his for the asking.

So far so good. Now the hard work begins. Like Obama, the real test will be how successfully Robertson can follow through on his promises. Starting with eliminating homelessness in the city. In his victory speech last night, he reiterated this commitment, and I and thousands of others in the city are ready to believe him. But we'll also be watching closely...

Robertson sort of referenced Obama in the opening of his speech, and it is amazing how contagious the magic of November 4th continues to be. Although for me, and many others I'm sure, the magic of that moment was tempered somewhat by the success of anti-queer ballot initiatives in California, Arkansas, and Florida. The passing of Proposition 8, nullifying the California Supreme Court's earlier endorsement of same-sex marriage, was a real blow. Not that I'm particularly in favour of marriage as an institution, gay or straight. However, in this instance, celebrating its post hoc repeal is also to support legislated homophobia. Same-sex marriage has been the law of the land in Canada since 2005, and I've actually recently published an article in Text and Performance Quarterly that compares the politics of same-sex marriage in Canada and the US. It also looks at recent theatre and performance work referencing same-sex marriage, including Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens' ongoing performance art wedding project: check it out at

A revised version of the article also serves as a chapter in the book I'm finishing, the one that lends its subtitle to the title of this blog (see first post). There, I attempt to broaden the comparative national and geopolitical focus of my analysis on Canada and the US, as well as complexify my discussion of same-sex marriage as a civil institution, by turning my attention to the trans-Atlantic routes of dissension within the Anglican Church over the blessing of same-sex unions. Here, I explore the local/global dynamics of both the religious rites and Religious Right that are never far from the same-sex marriage debate, in this case pitting liberal Anglican/Episcopalian congregations and leaders in North America against more traditional members of their own dioceses, the Church hierarchy in Canterbury, as well as Anglican provinces from the global south (Africa, Asia, Latin America), which today comprise the majority of the worldwide Anglican Communion's 77-million members. 

I also attempt to contextualize the whole same-sex marriage debate within the framework of the ongoing war on terror, and Iraq serves as the backdrop here. Indeed, in the final section described above I also return to some of the legal and linguistic parsing of marriage-related performatives undertaken in the first sections of the chapter by analyzing how we might relate the Anglican Church's decision (at Lambeth 2008) to seek a binding covenant on the blessing of same-sex unions to the new obliquity governing personal status laws in Iraq under their new, largely shari'a-codified constitution, and to the incitement toward explanation contained within the act of blessing itself. 

Not sure, exactly, how I got from Vancouver municipal politics to same-sex marriage, but then such convergences are the nature of this blog. I'll return soon with further thoughts on these and other planetary consolations.


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