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Head of TD Bank offers advice to Occupy Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / October 21, 2011

Occupy Toronto AdviceOn Wednesday evening, around about the time that rain and high winds were making life at St. James Park miserable for participants in the Occupy Toronto movement, Ed Clark, the head of TD Bank, was awarded with the Ivey Business Leader Award at the Four Seasons Hotel in Yorkville. Prior to the ceremony, a Toronto Star reporter conducted a brief interview with the CEO, the last question of which asked what advice he might give to the protesters. Here's his answer:

"My main advice is stick to your guns. When people say, 'You don't have a solution,' say, 'Of course we don't. If there was a solution, don't you think people would be doing it?' To ask the people who occupy Wall Street or Bay Street to have a full answer is absurd. They're doing their job which is to say, 'If you think this [system] is working for everyone, it's not.' Now they have to figure out how not to get captured by special interest and keep the pressure on. We need people to talk about these problems and how we're going to solve them."

What's interesting about this response — beyond its overall positiveness, which a cynic might chalk up to good PR skills — is that Clark takes to task the common criticism that the protestors aren't offering alternative solutions to the economics they disagree with. This was a common refrain in the comments section of our guest contribution from an member of the Occupy Toronto movement on Wednesday, but perhaps it's not a particularly good knock against their actions. Or, could it be that Clark is offering advice that, if taken, will only further rob the protesters of credibility?


Photo by Tom Ryaboi



Marlon / October 21, 2011 at 11:13 am
What he said is exactly right.

Rob them of credibility? you are trying to make news. He said what he believes.
Derek replying to a comment from Marlon / October 21, 2011 at 11:21 am
The question is more about the nature of the advice rather than whether or not Clark believes it. I can't imagine that everyone thinks this is the best course of action for the occupiers.
Neil / October 21, 2011 at 11:30 am
Very interesting perspective, Derek.

Credibility in whose eyes is my question:
The democratic system that relies on elected representatives?

Look at our voter participation, I think it clearly demonstrates the lack of confidence the majority of Canadians have towards those elected.

The Occupy movement is credible. Credibility is the quality of being convincing or believable, and the fact that Occupy Wall Street has had such a global effect should speak for itself. People everywhere in the world are standing up to say that something isn't right. Toronto is such a place.

The Head of TD put it adequately, the system is not working for everyone. Of course, it is impossible for it to operate for 'everyone', however, it should for the greatest number.

Simon / October 21, 2011 at 11:41 am
The Occupy movement is only credible insofar as it has a strong showing of support. What it lacks - and thus what robs it of any *real* credibility - is a succinct message. Not only are no solutions being offered (understandable) but no discernible "problem" has been identified. The only thing coming through loud and clear is that the protesters are pissed off. About something. A something that they think is connected to capitalism. Is it too much to ask that the movement find amongst its membership someone to stand up as a leader and deliver a concrete message so the rest of us can say "Yes! We agree!" or "No, we don't agree" ?
scott / October 21, 2011 at 12:04 pm
The issue of leadership is also one that's been treated very simplistically by those criticizing the movement. And, I suspect, it's being treated simplistically inside the movement as well.

Is the leader the one who stands up and tells everyone what they should do, or is it the one who operates backstage, quietly convincing people, via charisma and persuasive ability, to move in a certain direction? Some people are extremely good leaders. They can get results by having other people say their ideas for them. I don't mean this cynically. "Special interests," the way Ed Clark uses the term, is a loaded term, and even though I think his advice is sound, the movement would be well to be wary of its implication. Yet the movement absolutely should be asking itself: when we disclaim the idea of leadership, are we really correct in believing that our movement is leaderless. From my perspective, that would be a naive conclusion. I don't think the movement is naive in this regard, but I suspect it's not fully facing how easy it is to fill a leadership vacuum.

Anyway, Ed Clark's speech is patronizing. Lots of people are patronizing this movement. The police, the politicians. Most leftist thinkers and leaders. If the movement grows up, it might very well find itself guided by these people. The leadership vacuum will be filled somehow. A lot of the criticism from people who generally agree with the ideals of this movement probably has to do with this issue: if you don't focus your arguments, and if you don't come up with a credible way to deal with leadership, you are opening yourself up to a hostile takeover. Saying your ideas work doesn't mean they in fact do.

Apparently I'm really interested in this whole thing and keep wanting to discuss it, but I'm still quite critical of it all.
choppery replying to a comment from Simon / October 21, 2011 at 12:25 pm
To me, it's quite obvious that their overall sentiment is that the economic system is deeply unjust. If you need it broken down any more simply than that, we'll just end up in Toronto municipal politics territory; where all dialogue happens in the form of simplistic sweeping statements and two sides knocking down each other's straw-men.

Besides, in my experience, as soon as they say something like "We want X" everyone will either say X is too specific or not enough, or they should have a "realistic" plan to bring about X (in which realistic = magically changes everything without really changing anything), or they'll start nitpicking about the particulars of X instead of engaging with the great problem in all of its complexity.

Economic justice is a complicated issue with diverse effects and diverse experiences, and trying to wrap it up into a single punchline (if "we are the 99%" isn't good enough for you, that is) will reduce their efforts to yet another "cause" instead of the movement they want to be. Not to mention that I think they are disinclined to beg for help from the social structure they're hoping to dismantle, and recognize they will not be helped unless there's a massive economic imperative to do so...

In any case, in my experience, there are so few protests that people are willing to call "credible" that diluting one's work to earn the title of "credible" is a waste of everyone's time. I'm pretty sure that if we polled the nation to determine what a "credible" protest might look like, it would be white soccer moms and men in business suits with short hair writing dignified letters to government officials about property taxes.

In any case, I'm not one of the protestors and never will be - it's really not my thing - but frankly, I respect activists more when they are neither shamelessly catering to, nor shamelessly reacting against, people like you. It's a waste of their time if their goal is a movement (i.e., more than just getting higher-ups to implement a cosmetic change).
Simon replying to a comment from choppery / October 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm
"People like you" Ouch. Was it a waste of time for the anti-war movement in the 60's to say "bring our troops home" ? Did the leadership shown by Abbie Hoffman and others (despite their fanatic tendencies) fail to generate support outside of the protesters? BTW, I don't think you can dismantle a social structure. That's a quixotic endeavour. All you can do is work tirelessly to change it from the inside.
choppery replying to a comment from Simon / October 21, 2011 at 01:11 pm
I don't mean "people like you" in a particularly negative way. I just mean if you (or anyone) aren't receptive to the economic justice issue unless it's presented in one-sentence gift box, you probably weren't destined to become much of an ally anyway.

As to saying "bring our troops home", they had a simple, singular goal and they pursued it accordingly. This is not the same issue and can't be dealt with the same way.

Also, leaders are overrated. Sure, they can be effective, as any PR tactic can be, but there are considerable downsides to having a leader as well - it can create hero worship, if the leader fucks up or dies it can capsize the greater movement, it can create hierarchy within the movement, it can wipe out or silence diversity within the movement, the leader is usually whoever is most palatable to the mainstream instead of whoever truly deserves to lead, and so forth. A lot of modern activist methods call for collective action or cooperative "cells" instead of the conventional leader/followers set-up. As we saw with Anonymous vs. Scientology, you can still get press without a posterboy.

As to dismantling from the outside versus (or in tandem with) tirelessly changing it from inside, that's a matter of opinion. I'm sure it takes a bit of both.
Jason replying to a comment from Simon / October 21, 2011 at 01:34 pm
I think the problem has been quite adequately identified. Wall Street Banks and their executives are making hundreds of millions of dollars by selling exotic products (derivatives, CDS, ABS) to the general public and then betting against those securities with their internal proprietary trading operations. These executives have committed fraud and should be prosecuted accordingly.

The solution, to me, seems to be around the rules and regulations of the capital markets. Can we make it 'fool proof'? Do elected officials have the balls and the brains to stand up to the most powerful companies in the world? Time will only tell.
Michael / October 21, 2011 at 02:08 pm
All I have to say is that while these bozos have been occupying Bay Street, I've been brushing up on my day trading. ;-)
Shawn / October 21, 2011 at 02:21 pm
Id like to see this movement as an awakening in people to start questioning our governments, being critical of their actions and working together to come up with solutions that benefit more than just the privileged. Debt in this world is ridiculous... Distribution of wealth is skewed... Cost of living is skyrocketing... Environment is being destroyed... Population is growing...
We have some pretty big issues to deal with and i commend the actions of those that take part in the occupy movement, who are trying to make people stop and think. Perhaps i do not agree with aspects of their occupation, but the fact that they are doing something is a start. Your really either a part of the problem or part of the solution... Id like to see everyone become part of the solution.
Perhaps something will come from all this that will reshape things as we know it for the better?
Simon replying to a comment from Jason / October 21, 2011 at 02:24 pm
You've identified one problem - quite well I might add - but it's not at all clear to me or anyone else I've spoken to that this is the crux of the Occupy movement. I wish it was though. Better regulation of large organizations regardless of their particular business is something I can definitely support.
Wynn Godley replying to a comment from Jason / October 21, 2011 at 04:56 pm
I'd recommend that you brush up on your finance, although you are correct in some respects. Certain CDOs are quite impenetrable, and can indeed be classified as exotic. However, ABSs, CDSs, and plain-vanilla derivatives are not the rocket science the media portrays them to be. The are relatively simple concepts to understand, but more complicated to price. They are simply useful tools, that if applied correctly, increase liquidity and hedge against financial risk. CDSs cannot be sold to the public. They are only traded between institutions that have accounts with ISDA. ABSs are a staple in the credit markets, and certainly do reduce risk (if packaged and rated properly). The ABACUS CDO is the epitome of unethical, and illegal, investment practice. Goldman settled with the SEC for over 550M. We did not encounter the same degree of shenanigans in Canada. If you are truly interested in financial markets reform, spend some time in the library, or even wikipedia. It would certainly behoove your movement to know your enemy. Railing blindly against puts, calls, futures, and swaps will not draw the attention of policy-makers.
Wynn Godley / October 21, 2011 at 04:57 pm
That was a reply to Jason's earlier comment.
D A / October 21, 2011 at 06:54 pm
There is a very good reason to Occupy Canada. It's only a matter of time before the American problem reaches here.
w-hat / October 21, 2011 at 07:52 pm
He's probably saying exactly what he believes. This is the sort of confidence that stems from "It doesn't matter what change comes or how the rules are modified - I'll always be smart, hard working, and successful as a result ".

There's nothing wrong with that at all - I applaud it.
Is that 'all you have to say'? replying to a comment from Michael / October 21, 2011 at 09:33 pm
Shut it troll
gadfly replying to a comment from Shawn / October 22, 2011 at 09:31 am
Shawn, not to be inflammatory, but do you seriously think any of this is new? You've listed several of society's 'problems,' but none of this is new. The population boom? I drew posters in grade 2 about it - in 1968. Our teachers spoke about litter being a threat to the future. (I remember the famous posters of the 'weeping Indian.') Inflation was the scourge of the '70s. People were losing their homes over double digit mortgages. The oil embargo and odd-even days to get gas.
IT'S ALL BEEN DONE BEFORE. But we're still here. The banks are greedy. This is hardly news.
If these occupiers are looking for a message, how about they target voter apathy? For a democracy, that is the biggest challenge. Politicians do what they want because people don't care anymore. Politicians lie and we let them.
(Or we don't have enough imagination and we vote for the status quo, like Wong-Tam.)
Garry Tutte / October 23, 2011 at 02:07 pm
In a our modern, Capitalist society, you don't vote at the polls, you vote with your dollars. If you don't like the Banks, pull your money out. If you don't like big corporations, don't buy their products. Every dollar you spend in the direction you want to see your economy and country go in is another ballot in that electoral box. The results of these actions would be revolutionary if people were truly willing to put their money where their mouth is.
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