Ford versus Atwood, raccoon versus dog

 Barbara Kay, National Post · Aug. 4, 2011 | Last Updated: Aug. 4, 2011 3:06 AM ET

When my son was a boy, he and a friend used to have the kind of idle conversations that made me wonder if we were incubating a monster.

One hot August day, while sitting on the screen-enclosed back porch of our country house, they followed the clumsy trajectory of a fat, slow raccoon ambling across the lawn, and I overheard them arguing aloud about which would be torn to bits in a fight - the rotund, though wild and wily omnivore; or our graceful, gentle, athletic, Labrador retriever, Pluto - who was looking out the screen at the raccoon, perhaps wondering the same thing in his doggy brain. As the two boys' conversation reached a stalemate, and the obese raccoon still struggled in plain view, I saw both boys' eyes look toward the door, knowing that there was only one way to settle the matter definitively. Fortunately, they didn't open it, and Pluto's death match with the ovoid creature never transpired.

My son turned out not to be a monster at all, merely curious, which occasionally leads to a career in journalism.

But the image of the waddling raccoon and the sleek purebred dog sprang to mind when Canada's cultural doyenne, Margaret Atwood, informed of a marathon executive committee meeting in which library closings were proposed as a means to furthering Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's cost-cutting agenda, pushed open her own porch door, so to speak, to defend her cultural turf against a rapacious interloper.

She barked at Mayor Ford and his brother Doug, a close advisor. She growled and she batted the air with her wellgroomed nails: "You start with tossing off latte drinkers, gay pride and bicycle riders and me, what's the message? The message is 'We don't want you people here'"; and "My question to the council would be: 'Are people like me welcome in this city?' "

But her burly would-be prey merely stared at her with uncomprehending eyes. Why was this yappy neurasthenic obstacle in his path trying to impede his progress? What was a "latte" or a "gay pride"? The raccoon had places to go and commitments to meet. So he just shoved her aside with his well-upholstered and insensitive shoulder. "Well, good luck to Margaret Atwood. I don't even know her. If she walked by me, I wouldn't have a clue who she is." Waddle. Waddle. Waddle.

At such a display of lèsemajesté, The Annex, home to Toronto's professional creative class, was temporarily deprived of oxygen as thousands of residents collectively gasped in horror. Who is this fat, mindless creature that lives in our city as a hostile intruder from the 905, only interested in stuffing his face, and oblivious to the finer things in life? Someone should teach this uppity critter a lesson.

And so, this being August and the silly season, Margaret Atwood was urged on by Toronto Star readers and Atwood's Facebook and Twitter fans to run for the mayoralty herself. And that really is a silly idea.

For no one is demanding that the entire library system be shut down. When you can't even suggest rethinking how a cultural service is provided without being branded a caveman and becoming the target of a celebrity campaign, that's sad. It would be poor governance if all services didn't come under scrutiny when costs must be cut.

Atwood knows a lot about culture, but - not for the first time - she has done little more with her disproportionate and patronizing denunciation than demonstrate that she knows very little about city governance and budgets. Margaret Atwood would be as successful a mayor as Rob and Doug Ford would be as writers of feminist-themed novels.

Doug Ford's remark was rude, but what else could Atwood expect in answer to such a patronizing taunt? It's not always a pretty encounter when over-domesticated city pets, used to being stroked and fawned over, put themselves in the path of wary, self-sustaining, survival-seeking creatures with real claws, and expect to tear them to bits.