The Company He Keeps

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

9 thoughts on “The Company He Keeps

  1. “There are other choices available to us, folks. Don’t close the book on this race yet”

    Choices plural? Really? 13 days from the start of advance polling? After Rossi’s blunder on the Allen and his Goodfellas posters, he is done so what you really imply is “oh god please vote Joe”. I respect that position, but at least be honest and say it out loud.

    And Lean is right on Porter. The people of Toronto have spoken – especially the ones who work downtown and bring in those massive sums in commercial property tax revenue (not to mention the ones who know that as long as City Centre bleeds from Pearson, the business case to plough under that farmland in Pickering to expand the GTAA empire is that much weaker). If John Tory had won in 2003 maybe we’d have streetcars to the Island across that bridge it cost federal taxpayers 30 million to cancel and Toronto taxpayers a hell of a lot more than Miller’s toonie, not a lineup of taxis back to Queens Quay.

    • Dear Mr. Dowling,

      We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke would like to welcome you. Clearly this must be your first visit since you so readily assume that we ♥ Joe and we ♥ Joe only. Take a peek here if you want to know why we pluralized ‘choices’.

      Yes, you’re right about Porter. We can’t think of any other city, anywhere else in the world, that forces the denizens of its downtown core on an arduous 1/2 hour – hour trip to catch a plane.

      Yes too, re: John Tory. If we only knew then what we know now about him as a candidate, we’d all be sitting our asses in mashed potatoes and smelling like roses. Look at everything he did for the people of Ontario and the Progressive Conservative party.

      • I apologise for not having read your entire oeuvre first when following a link from twitter. Being a proponent of the doughty Mr. Syed was cute in June but bizarre in October. Hell even I tweeted something about getting more left-field candidates into debates in the early months, retweeted by the same Mr. Syed. If he had managed to get on the Artsvote debate it might have led to him getting the CityTV debate slot that Thomson had, but you can’t be mayor of Toronto unless people see you as credible – or see you at all.

        Yes, this is all the fault of the media machines which brought us Stephen LeDrew in 2006 (not to mention Ben Mulroney this time) plus the FPTP system. If you wish to vote for Mr Syed much as people voted for Nader in 2000, go for it – it’s your democratic right. But let’s not pretend it will make a difference to how Toronto is governed in the next four years.

        As for YTZ – it’s about built infrastructure. It’s not paving over park land – the park land disappeared in the 1930s. It serves a social purpose (air ambulance) rather than merely corporate. I’d rather a 350km/h rail link to Ottawa and Montreal (more use for my VIA Privilege status) but we won’t see that for decades because there is no will for that outside this area code, not least in overrepresented rural seats who won’t get a stop.

        As for John Tory, yeah, I know Toronto wouldn’t have been hugs and puppies if he were elected, way to make blithe assumptions of the sort you criticised me for. I was referring to his stance on the bridge. Would it have been better if I said Barbara Hall, who was also pro-bridge?

      • Dear Mr. Dowling,

        Our apologies to you for making blithe assumptions about your choice of using John Tory as an example and nothing more. But we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke just really, really, really wanted to somehow fit the phrase ‘asses in mashed potatoes’ someplace and that was the best we could do. It is a Monday after a long, tiring weekend. We’re not at our best.

        We no longer tend to get overly excited one way or another about the island airport aside from feeling it’s never really been dealt with in a completely transparent manner, and frankly just resent the unnecessary federal presence in the form of the TPA mucking around in the city’s affairs for not entirely noble reasons. Besides, anything that might dampen demand for high speed rail links bothers us as well. Porter Air or not, I think we’re in agreement that we’d much rather hop a fast train ride to get quickly to short haul locations.

        As for voting, well, we just feel that if you give in to the notion of having to vote for candidate A just to stop candidate B, it simply justifies to the media that they were right all along. We wind up voting for whoever they give us. Now there’s a push to say it’s just a two person race, so any vote outside of those two could arguably be viewed as wasting your ballot. Leaving those with no affinity whatsoever with either of the 2 leading candidates faced with the prospect of highly unsatisfying strategic voting or throwing away our vote.

        So maybe voting for the candidate closest to your political beliefs is a way of looking past the next 4 years and starting a movement to bring in true electoral reform. One could hope anyway. Isn’t that what a fully functioning democracy should be about, hope?

  2. What Mark Dowling said, with this addition: at some point, we have to admit that over the last ten years, the Left hollowed ourselves out morally. Too many of us adopted a “quality of life” platform that stopped at the borders of Toronto. In one public meeting in the 2006 election, David Miller admitted that he couldn’t work with other local councils to coordinate transportation policy, and also that he wanted to make Toronto a world capital of mining finance. People who reacted with pained surprise at the failure of city council to protest the abuses at the G-20 summit (or worse, blamed them on Bill Blair) merely demonstrated that Miller and company knew where the money for Nuit Blanche and Luminato comes from, and to many “progressives” don’t.

    • Dear Mr. Spragge,

      Now, you have visited us enough times here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke to know that we are hardly blanket apologists for the Miller administration. Mistakes we’re made, certainly. Perhaps none bigger than falling behind the thin blue line after the G20 debacle. But ‘hollowed ourselves out morally’? Slightly overwrought, don’t you think?

      So, David Miller’s admission that ‘he couldn’t work with other local councils to coordinate transportation policy’ is his fault and his only? Every other level of government within the GTA was ready and willing to get down to business and sort out a regional transportation policy if only our outgoing mayor could’ve learned to play better with others?

      And do tell where the money for Nuit Blanch and Luminato comes from. Clearly the progressives here haven’t a clue.

      • A lot of the money that drives this city comes from exactly what Mayor Miller wanted to promote – mining finance. That means uranium mining– ask the Algonquins of Ardoch or the Lakota of Pine Ridge what that means. Or ask artisanal miners of Colombia about major Canadian gold producers, who pump a lot of money into Toronto’s economy. I happen to know those three examples personally, through friends of mine. Canada does not have a good record on these matters, Toronto makes a lot of money out of financing it, and in my experience much of Toronto’s “progressive” community has blinders about it.

      • Dear Mr. Spragge,

        You are right. Toronto, along with much of the developed world benefits immensely from finances made from unethical, unsustainable, exploitive and sometimes illegal sources of revenue. Many people, “progressive” or not, are probably unaware of that. As with many of your comments, it leads us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke to ask, “and so?”

        Do we demand some sort of forensic audit of the city’s revenues in the hopes jettisoning anything that comes from undesirable sources? Failing that, should progressives, because they are against such dirty money, figure out what percentage pays for Toronto’s well being and set out to only partake in the portion that’s derived from appropriate means, leaving others who are less concerned about such matters to enjoy that which comes from ill-gotten gains? And as a left-leaning, progressive mayor, should David Miller have shunned such industries, opening himself up to being dubbed anti-business?

        We’re not contesting your statement here, Mr. Spragge. Just curious if you chime in merely to chastise us or to provoke a conservation about solving such injustices.

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