Missed Opportunity

March 24, 2014

It started out on a shaky note and didn’t get a whole lot better from there.


“What was the moment in which you decided to run for mayor?” Metro Morning host Matt Galloway asked candidate Olivia Chow.

“…ummm, it’s not that one moment…”

Oh, god. *sigh*

That is the one question any candidate needs to have a pat answer down for. Why do you want to be mayor? stumped2Why should people vote for you? What was the moment you decided to run for mayor?

Campaign school 101.

I was fighting desperately to give Ms. Chow the benefit of the doubt since she was the first one in the series that will be playing throughout the week, featuring the 5 leading mayoral candidates. It’s a tough slog, right out of the gate. Breaking trail. New ground.

She recovered when asked about her pledge to re-institute the long planned Scarborough LRT instead of the new fangled subway council approved last summer. Four more stops in four less years for a lot less money. A nice, precise sound bite that is hard to refute especially by those touting their fiscal cred and business acumen.

And then Mr. Galloway teed one up for her at which point I realized, no, going first could actually work to Chow’s advantage. She’d be able to establish the terms of the debate, at least as far as this one happening this week on Metro Morning. Her answers and responses would serve as the scale by which her opponents’ performances might be measured.

inthewheelhouse“Do you think tax has become a four letter word?” Galloway asked Chow.

“Of course it has, Matt. To the detriment of this city. We cannot even begin to talk about the things we need, the infrastructure, both physical and social, the services, the programs, without having a rational discussion about taxes. About taxes, user fees and other sources of revenue Toronto needs to access if we hope to build the liveable, affordable, functional city one of my opponents claims to want.”

No, no. That wasn’t what she said at all.

Just a bunch of humming and hawing, refusing to budge any further than her already stated claim of property tax increases of ‘around inflation’.

Galloway even threw her a lifeline, pointing out that the city manager, Joe Pennachetti has gone on record as saying that Toronto cannot hope to continue growing in any sort of healthy fashion without serious consideration of more revenue. duckandhideWe do not have a spending problem. We have a revenue problem. Cover has been provided for all you closeted tax-and-spending politicians.

But Chow didn’t take that path, choosing instead to circle back to the savings that would come from putting the brakes on the Scarborough subway plan. That’s all it’s going to take, Matt. Just better decision making, smart investment, a modest inflationary annual property tax increase and together, we can build a better city.

We know how this movie unfolds.

Olivia Chow plays it safe into the mayor’s office, inevitably to be confronted with worse looking books than the outgoing council will ever admit to. We know they’re going to be worse, worse certainly than the $350 million operating budget surplus the supposed fiscally reckless David Miller administration bequeathed Rob Ford as a mayoral-warming gift. Having just scratched the surface dealing with last year’s announcement from the province that it was shortening the time frame in which it was going to cease its Toronto Pooling Compensation support of social services in the city, the bulk of the nearly $150 million loss is going to be faced by the new council.

herewegoagainAnd that’s just one example.

Oops, our new mayor will say. We didn’t see this coming. (We did.) We’re going to have to raise taxes more than I pledged in order to deal with this unexpected turn of events.

All followed by cries of ‘I told you so’, ‘tax-and-spender’, and everybody retreats back to their ideological corners. Myths and misconceptions reinforced. She wasn’t given a mandate by the voters of Toronto to raise taxes.

And they’ll be right. By not tackling this issue head-on now, the Olivia Chow team is simply delaying the inevitable battle they will have to have if their candidate is elected in October. Their short term gain will lead to a longer, extended battle that will invariably create fertile ground for another Rob Ford-like assault on the governance of Toronto. Proper, healthy city-building will come under threat once again.missedopportunity

The Chow campaign has ceded ground right off the bat to the anti-taxers, giving more credence to the mindless incantations from the likes of John Tory’s Nick Kouvalis. It is defensively reacting to the terms of the debate laid down by the mayor and all the right wing contenders for his job. There was an opportunity to seize control this morning, redefine the framing. They fumbled it.

It is a long campaign. Plenty of time to re-shape the messaging as you go along. It just gets harder if you pass up chances Olivia Chow was given today to set the agenda in her favour.

frustratingly submitted by Cityslikr