In the Old Testament, God gives man the privilege of naming every animal of the field and every bird of the air after He has given man dominion over them. (“Sorry, ladies, wait 6000 years” -God) We give things names because names have power. They give us power over the things we name, but they also give the things we name power over us. Strangers become our family, animals become our pets, and buildings become our homes.
Sometimes, we name things to give ourselves power over our grief, like when Toronto renamed the Toronto Island Ferry Terminal after Jack Layton. It remains the classiest thing Rob Ford has done as mayor, and is likely to go unchallenged in that respect. I interviewed Olivia Chow the day the change was announced, and she was generous with her praise for the Ford that day, and thanked him for his courtesy. That seems like a very long time ago.
I couldn’t help but wonder what Chow would think about a very different idea to rename Union Station after John A. Macdonald, as councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong proposed yesterday. Sir John A., like most dead white men who’ve had books written about them, held some horrifyingly racist views, particularly about First Nations and the Chinese, and implemented some horrifyingly racist policies, the legacy of which the country is still dealing with today.
And yet, that’s already the second thing that has happened this week that made me wonder about how Chow might react. The first was John Tory—like Chow, a possible but unannounced contender to sit on the throne of not-Ford—saying that pay inequality is due to women not asking for enough money, and advising young women to learn how to play golf.
Tory’s defenders note (correctly) that he isn’t a caveman, and that his advice isn’t that different in intent from Sheryl Sandberg’s in Lean In. This, of course, ignores both the fact that a) Sandberg is hardly uncontroversial in her own right, and b) the messenger matters. Tory doesn’t get to have his words treated as if they came from a woman’s mouth.
All I can do, however, is wonder what Chow will say about these issues, because she is still, as she has been for the last four years, absent from the municipal argument this city is having. We are already well into the election campaign. We have declared candidates, at least a couple of policy positions (though only from one candidate, David Soknacki), and even some pretty slick attack ads.
What we don’t have enough of are candidates, because Chow and Tory both insist on playing coy. (Unless, of course, people connected to them are behind the slick attack ads.) What’s the hold-up? Chow has even less of an excuse than Tory, having sucked up all the oxygen on the left side of the political spectrum and forestalled even the possibility of a separate progressive challenge to Ford. Now, maybe we don’t need two left-wing challengers to the mayor, but I’d like to have even a single data point about the policies Chow is going to espouse before it gets too late in the campaign cycle to choose.
In the absence of an actually existing candidate, I’ll just say this: Rob Ford is wrong on a lot of things, a list of which would exhaust all the pixels we have to spare, but he’s right about Union Station. The name is fine. Leave it alone and find some other thing to name after our awful, historic, important, drunken, racist, nation-building politicians.