A photo of former Toronto politician John Tory holding a microphone.
John Tory on stage at a conference in Toronto. Credit: Stephen McCarthy / Collision Conf / Flickr Credit: Stephen McCarthy / Collision Conf / Flickr

There’s an epidemic of politicians quitting.

Former Toronto City Councillors Joe Cressy and Mike Layton didn’t run last election because they wanted to spend time with their families. Nice to have the choice, which most people don’t, though they too love their kids.

John Tory interrupted many dinners on Friday (like my friend’s birthday party) to say he’d had an affair with a young employee in his office and would resign. Did I mention that was after The Star told him they’d reveal it?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern quit in New Zealand because she didn’t have “enough in the tank.” Scotland’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, said she’s leaving because it’s time though she recently said there’s still “plenty in the tank.” What’s with that? Everyone runs low on gas. What do they do? Go to the station, or charge point, and fill up. They don’t just leave the car by the road and walk away.

Someone said, “no worker other than a politician can retire after 10 years saying they’re tired.”

If they’re intimidated by the explosion of threats, especially at women, then name it. At least that’d spotlight a problem that requires attention.

In Tory’s case, I feel enthusiastically unsympathetic. He even stayed on long enough to pass his mingy budget. It wasn’t because he “loves the city.” If that was so, he’d have stayed, period. Toronto needs more than a budget. Why dally just for it?

Maybe to keep his chits in order with his biz and political buddies in case he wants to cash them — he was once the boss at Rogers and is still on the board.

He could have been a contender. Happily, Bill Davis isn’t around to see it.

Can a country lose its sense of humour?

For those who recall actual TV, there’s still Saturday Night Live. It’s only lost one element, it’s not funny. Even when it is, like Bowen Yang playing the shotdown Chinese balloon, it elicits more a sage nod of recognition than a cackle.

Weekend Update is less about news items than insider interplay between hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che, which titillates more than it amuses, and which they’d avoided in past seasons. Let me confess quickly that this judgment may be generational on my part, which humour is, along with being national.

There are though U.S. precedents for losing one’s funny bone.

Mark Twain was the font of American humour and may, like the Beatles, transcend generations and borders. But he’d clearly exchanged the humour function during his last phase, the early 1900s, for sheer rage. Till then, he was master of funny and indignant. (See Huck Finn.)

Why then?

Those were the first years of unconcealed U.S. imperialism, in Cuba and the Philippines. The U.S. previously hid behind “internal” expansionism as in “Go West, young man.”

There’s something quite American in this turn to rage. America’s young have routinely been so force-fed with pretentious lies about U.S. moral exceptionalism and idealism that, if they do uncover the truth, they don’t just adjust to it with calm wisdom, they sputter and explode at the betrayal.

A sad current case is Jon Stewart, so brilliantly hilarious in the Bush/Obama years, recipient of the Mark Twain Prize. Watch him on The Problem with Jon Stewart, interviewing Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice. He doesn’t even sputter now. He tries challenging them but has forgotten how or why. They drag him along in their platitudinous wake and he quietly succumbs.

Now I’m sputtering. Sorry. You’ll have to look it up yourself.

The reveals and resulting shame over U.S. hypocrisy — race, guns, Trump, etc. — have accelerated bewilderingly in recent decades.

If ever there was a time to lose, or, let’s hope, just misplace, their sense of humour, this’d be it.

This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.