The Real Fringe Candidates

September 14, 2010

Yesterday was a decisive day in the 2010 campaign for mayor of Toronto because September 13th will be seen as the moment we finally achieved critical mass for crazy. In taking the battle for the Spadina Expressway underground, Rocco Rossi firmly confirmed his divisive status, going for broke with a full frontal assault on the downtown core in an effort to endear himself to those dwelling both physically and psychologically in Ford Country. We wish Mr. Rossi well in whatever future endeavours he pursues after the election as long as it never includes holding elected office.

We’d been joking around the office last week about the shape of the collective campaign strategy of the 4 front running candidates chasing Rob Ford. It seemed to consist of nothing more than cuddling up closer and closer to him on the right side of the political spectrum in the hopes of forcing Ford to do or say something really, really nuts. Some big hunk of 100% grade-A red meat to his fanatical base which would be a little too Fordian-tastic for those just sampling where to place their angry vote. Like say, a call for the introduction of public executions by tying people to unused streetcar tracks and running over them with a car.

Who knew with his Toronto Tunnel Rossi would actually attempt to leapfrog Ford into the deep end of batshit insane?

Rossi’s announcement came at the same time I was sitting in the auditorium at the Dovercourt Baptist Church at TOVotes — Guaranteed Change at City Hall, a gathering of registered candidates very few people in the mainstream media were paying much attention to. (The Star’s Katie Daubs, the Globe’s Marcus Gee and Global TV’s Jackson Proskow were in attendance covering the gathering.) They were council candidates from a handful of wards around the city and the event was organized by HiMY SYeD, himself an outsider candidate for mayor. An introduction and orientation, if you will, with Mr. SYeD presenting a couple internet sites that he will launch to assist candidates in getting their names and platforms out to a wider audience. The candidates mingled, took turns talking to the press present and then got a chance to introduce themselves and their platforms to the audience.

I wasn’t there wearing rose coloured glasses. These folks seeking elected office were where they were because they lacked money and resources to run a high profile campaign, they didn’t have big name, backroom boys overseeing their operations and the media (Mssrs. Gee and Proskow and Ms. Daubs aside) had not deemed them worthy of serious consideration. Theirs was an uphill battle, to be sure, despite the fact that as HiMY SYeD pointed out, this was a once in a generation election with 20% of wards wide open with no sitting councillors in the race. “City Hall is bleeding incumbents,” as the event invite stated.

For sure, there were a couple cranks present in the Rob Ford mold, railing about out-of-control spending, over-taxation, corruption. How couldn’t there be? It is all the rage this election season.

But mostly what I saw were people galvanized around a concern for making Toronto a better, more accessible city not wild-eyed, pro-business fundamentalists bound on cutting it down to size. There was anger, for sure. Just not at the usual targets the mainstream press and their mayoral candidates are telling us people are angry at.

I had a conversation with Patrick Smyth, a campaign staffer for Terry Mills, a soft spoken but articulate candidate running to unseat Karen Stintz in Ward 16. Neither Smyth nor Mills seemed driven into the political arena for the reasons we are told that the electorate is angry out there. Both men are aware of the changing nature of Toronto, and the need for intensification and increased density. It’s just that their experience has left them feeling that citizens are being dictated not listened to. They are angry, yes, about the top down, exclusive, ad hoc nature of planning in Toronto.

None of which can possibly be addressed in the Rob Ford (and his increasingly evil-minded doppelganger, Rocco Rossi) slash and burn vision of the city under their rule. Our council is not burdened down with over representation. How cutting the number of councillors in half will increase citizen participation is part of both men’s magical mystery arithmetic. Less representation cannot equal more representation anymore than tunneling under the downtown core can alleviate traffic congestion.

These are the fringe ideas running amok in this campaign, and yet they are emanating from the camps of the so-called serious candidates. While we give time, space and credence to Rossi et al as they run around emptily embracing change and promising to take back City Hall with their increasingly bizarre and dangerous assault on democracy, the real grassroots, mainstream movement is happening in gatherings like that at Dovercourt Baptist Church yesterday. Real people with real concerns and real policies about how to make Toronto more livable, more inclusive and more equitable.

With just 6 weeks to go until we elect a new mayor and council, maybe we should start listening to those corners of the democratic process if we really want to make make Toronto into our own image.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr