Whither You Progressives

October 18, 2010

Here’s where the numbers don’t add up for me. (Nice cold start. No mucking about with wordy intro.)

In the 2006 municipal election, incumbent mayor David Miller was re-elected with nearly 57% of the vote. According to the latest poll from Nanos, the outgoing mayor’s endorsed candidate, Joe Pantalone, is pulling in 15%. My very unscientific reading of that suggests over 40% of a supposed left of centre, progressive voting bloc has dissipated somewhere into the ether. Where to, is what I’m wondering.

It’s hard to imagine that even with all that alleged anger manifesting itself post-09 civic workers’ strike, there’d be such a stampede across the political spectrum toward the decidedly un-progressive Rob Ford. George Smitherman has run a very right of centre campaign, tossing out the occasional lefty crumb to keep up liberal appearances. So where are those 40% of David Miller voters?

Granted, not everyone who ever voted for David Miller would consider themself progressive or left of centre. In 06 there was the power of incumbency and, arguably, a weakness of opponent. In 03 Miller was deemed the agent of change who would undo the disrepair wrought on City Hall by the Lastman gang. Change seems to be a major player again in this campaign. Regardless of ideology, the electorate has moved to candidates they think will bring about the biggest change for the city.

Still, it’s hard to reconcile the Pantalone 15%. As we have stated on more than one occasion here, Mr. Pantalone is not a strong campaigner. So, that must be factored into the equation. He’s simply been unable to rally the troops under his candidacy’s flag. But with no other viable left of centre candidate (at least in the mainstream media – and thus, a majority of voters’ eyes) on offer, 15% seems like a very, very low number.

Yes, there is the Ford factor. Many who would naturally tend Pantalone-sque are so violently appalled at the prospects of the Etobicoke councillor becoming mayor that they have abandoned their natural base in order to stop that from happening. The Deputy Mayor simply never polled high enough to be considered the candidate to defeat Ford. That simply takes us back to the question, why?

What’s taking place here in ward 19 may offer up a possible answer.

Two progressive candidates are fighting it out for the council seat that opened up, appropriately enough, when Joe Pantalone decided to run for mayor. Michael Layton has been endorsed by the former councillor and is back by the legendary local NDP machine including his father’s wife, Olivia Chow, the M.P. for the area. Karen Sun is an independent voice who has spent the last decade working on a series of municipal level matters both at City Hall and outside, ranging from environmental to governance issues.

The division between these two candidates, I think, represents the ongoing transformation of progressive thought, and may help explain Joe Pantalone’s anemic showing in the campaign so far.

Mike Layton epitomizes the old school, left wing coalition of urban elitism, the “ethnic vote” (for lack of a better term), unions and Tommy Douglas-like grassroots populism. The “ethnic vote”, I would suggest, is fairly disparate at this point that doesn’t vote en masse for a single candidate. Ditto, the union vote. Populism has become largely right-wing recently. And us elites can only be counted on not to vote too far right. That’s a tough group to stitch together in hopes of gaining a plurality. A little of each may not be enough to secure a victory.

Especially if you’re vying with a candidate who is offering up a similarly progressive but far more urban oriented platform. For a candidate growing up with a father and stepmom both city councillors, Layton the Younger displays remarkably little affinity for local, urban specific issues. Check out his Community Experience under the About link on his website. A camp councillor?!

In comparison Karen Sun represents the face of urban progressivism. Her work has been focused almost exclusively at the municipal level. This is vitally important since we as a nation are becoming increasingly urbanized. With over 3/4s of us now living in what are considered urban environments, it is becoming more critical for us to elect those well versed on those issues to represent us. Progressive values have become increasingly linked to urban values.

Bringing us back to the flagging Pantalone support. While he can rightfully boast of a number of progressive initiatives he’s helmed or supported, his endorsement of Michael Layton displayed a proclivity for stale thinking. Whether he believed Layton was the best candidate on offer for ward 19 or if it was just a case of mutual back-scratching with the NDP powers-that-be, Pantalone showed himself to be out of step with where much of the progressive, left of centre is at the moment. He may be the most left leaning voice still in the mayoral election (that is within the realm of the remaining 3 front runners. Perhaps if the wider voting public had been allowed to see more of Himy Syed, the city would be in the throes of the same deliberation we here in ward 19 are currently in the midst of between Layton and Sun) but Pantalone simply is not in step with the wider progressive movement.

Thus, leaving much of the left limply unenthusiastic and prone to drifting reluctantly to where they think they’re needed most.

unsupportively submitted by Cityslikr