The Company He Keeps

October 3, 2010

Before everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that at least a Rob Ford mayoralty is not assured at this point, we might be well served to pause and look more closely at the man who is shaping up to be the only viable alternative. George Smitherman.

Ignoring the distasteful aspect of feeling obligated to vote for a candidate in order to stop another one from winning – the ‘Do I Have To?’ factor – and the inevitable disenchantment with the political process that follows, we should be alert to the tone Smitherman’s taken on the campaign trail recently. Instead of trying to distance himself from Ford’s ultra-right platform and embracing the wide open centrist territory, Smitherman’s been mouthing increasingly conservative platitudes. He’s stepping onto his rival’s turf and attempting to engage him in a knockdown, brawling neo-con slugfest.

Tax freezes (and cuts), hiring freezes except for police, privatization and outsourcing. All of which can be found on Rob Ford’s campaign website. Yes, Smitherman’s pledged to increase things like arts funding but it’s difficult to see how those kind of ‘special interest’ targets will get much priority amidst the fiscal restraint he’s vowing to bring to City Hall.

Moreover, look at the people backing Smitherman and working in his camp. While his fellow rivals on the right, Ford and Rocco Rossi and the media organs that stand in opposition to him, namely the Toronto Sun, try pinning the tax-and-spend, Liberal label on Furious George – he was part of the Dalton McGuinty government after all – Smitheman For Mayor is actually eye deep in Tory blue. And not just the soft and squishy Progressive Conservative brand of yore, either. Jamie Watt, senior campaign strategist for Smitherman, was a communications advisor for Mike Harris in 1995 and 1999 where he helped introduce good ol’ American style neo-conservatism into these parts.

Further Harris ties gained front page news last month with an open letter of support for George Smitherman signed by some 38 conservative voices. Some prominent, others forgettable but most having had something to do with the Mike Harris government.

In amongst those names was one Ralph Lean. Lean is part of the Smitherman fundraising team and signed on early to the campaign in that capacity. Along with being a highly placed figure on the conservative scene, Lean made waves last year when he publicly broke with David Miller after having turned heads by helping Miller get re-elected in 2006. It was a public excoriation in the pages of the National Post that came out mere weeks before Miller announced he would not seek a 3rd term.

Among the mistakes that Miller had made as mayor that cheesed Lean off were “… overspending, for failing to freeze councillors’ salaries, for narrowing Jarvis Street, for fighting with Porter Airlines (“I’m a big supporter of Porter”) and for refusing to examine outsourcing some city functions.” Hmmm. Sound familiar? Oh right, Smitherman’s mouthed the same complaints, all of which he’s vowing to alleviate if we elect him mayor.

None of this is at all new or groundbreaking. The dividing line between Conservative and Liberal politics is often times slippery and blurry. It’s just that as the endgame of our mayoral race is being forcibly shaped into a two man race, between the far right and the not-as-far right, progressive voices and views have been squeezed out. The accepted narrative being spun has it that Toronto is a city on the brink of financial and social ruin, its citizens over-taxed and under-serviced. Pure hyperbole mixed in with a soupçon of outright bullshit.

Not only are those of us who range on the political spectrum from centre to left being asked – nay, told – that in order to avoid a calamitous victory by Rob Ford we must vote for a candidate who is displaying no affinity for our political views. We are being instructed to cast a ballot for a candidate who is campaigning further on the right than anyone has seen here in a long, long time, if ever. We are being neo-conned by stealth.

There are other choices available to us, folks. Don’t close the book on this race yet. To give in to the two man race narrative is to hand over the keys to someone – either Rob Ford or George Smitherman — who is determined to reshape Toronto in ways that will benefit few and be harmful to many. Let’s not be a part of that.

defiantly submitted by Cityslikr