On Monday, Merriam-Webster announced it was adding the term “dumpster fire” to its dictionaries. The term, defined as a synonym for “disaster” meaning “an utterly calamitous or mismanaged situation or occurrence” has been increasingly a pundit’s favourite in the past few years.
It arrives, officially dictionary-approved, just in time to describe the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leadership contest just reaching its completion. And yet, it already seems inadequate to describe the toxicity and intensity of the inferno that has overtaken that party, and through it provincial politics on the eve of a general election. Stronger, still more evocative combustion metaphors already seem to be needed.
In a matter of a few short weeks, the Tories have seen their leader exposed as a kind of anthropomorphic tire fire — alleged of sexually harassing or improper behaviour with intoxicated young women, including one of his employees, then accused of financial and management improprieties in his running of the party — who resigned, and then maybe claimed he hadn’t resigned, and then tried to unresign by entering the race to replace himself, and then resigned again.
Since then we’ve seen the party itself, under the stewardship of interim leader Vic Fideli, revealed to be overtaken by “rot” demonstrated by tens of thousands of possibly phony memberships and many more misspent dollars. The party’s computer infrastructure had been hacked just a few months ago, which didn’t prevent them from declaring an online-only election to replace Brown as leader — though problems with that online voting registration process have led to complaints from the leadership candidates and (as of presstime, unheeded) calls for the vote to be extended to a later date.
Then there’s the actual race itself, dominated to a large extent by one Doug Ford, long-serving captain of a flaming garbage barge of disingenuous populist rage.
Another fiery metaphorical neologism I encountered while taking management classes was “burning platform.” In business, it illustrates the need to make uncomfortable choices when your current business model is unsustainable. However, the PC leadership candidates seem to have taken it a bit more literally. Coming into the race to lead the party to re-election in mere months, they had the distinct advantage of inheriting a solid enough platform — endorsed by finance experts, appearing to turn a corner on accepting climate science and the need to do something about it, putting real mainstream moderate proposals forward on a number of fronts. One many traditional Liberals might even feel comfortable voting for.
That’s why, obviously, the party made it a condition of the leadership race that contenders sign up to run based on that platform.
If you’re following along, you’ll know what happens next: the first thing Doug Ford did on entering the race is take a flamethrower to that “People’s Guarantee” document. Carbon tax? Burn it down. And no acceptance of revenue from a federal carbon tax! No plan to replace the revenue it would have generated, meaning no real stability to the other things it promised. And he relit the mostly extinguished dung fire that had been the trumped up debate about sex education.
The other candidates — including previously presumed moderates Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney and the decidedly immoderate Tanya Granic Allen — gathered round this bonfire of inanity and held hands in unison, singing some perverse version of Kumbaya that includes verses swearing off any moderation on environmentalism and frequent, jarring choruses about “anal sex.”
One might think the NDP might be able to take advantage. But while the spark of hope remains among their members, the metaphor that springs to mind about them right away is a question about whether a tree burning in the forest without anyone there to see it generates any light.
Which leaves the governing Liberal party — and the punchline to the whole joke. For it seems, according to a poll conducted by Angus Reid released this week, any of the candidates for the PC leadership who should emerge from this inferno would immediately be in a position to defeat Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals (who, in turn, still lead the NDP, according to that survey). Mulroney and Elliott seem more widely popular than Ford, but whichever of them wins the leadership vote will have a headstart in the general election.
Which suggests, I guess, the Ontario-electorate-tested metaphor for a worse blaze than a dumpster fire: A years-long gas-plant implosion.
A cynic might suggest we burn it all down. But we’re all inside the dumpster; the flames will consume us soon enough. It’s bound to hurt. And the eventual rising-from-the-ashes metaphors are likely a ways into the future.