Nothing To See Here

If you don’t spend much time on social media, especially my social media, you might be surprised to learn that there’s a municipal election here in Toronto in less than three weeks. In fact, advance polls begin tomorrow. Time sure flies when you’re in a constant state of disquiet, amirite? Climate crisis. War in Europe. North Korean missiles over Japan. Tactical nuclear strikes. Omicron omnivariant. A ‘King’ Charles. The upcoming wildcard series.

Campaign signs are few and far between in the parts of the city I frequent. One city council candidate has knocked at our door so far and one other flyer’s been deposited through the mail slot. Nary a peep from anybody running for mayor.

I know, I know.

As someone who’s invested much time ingesting, masticating, digesting and gassily expelling municipal politics for a decade plus, I understand that this junior-est level of governance stands as the Rodney Dangerfield to its provincial and federal counterparts. Uninteresting and unloved, unattended to until some daily annoyance arises. A pothole. Uncollected garbage. An unplowed street. Noise complaint. The tree you want to cut down for the back addition to your house you want to build.

The very stuff you want the best and brightest to be in charge of but mostly feel should get done by phantoms and pixies while we sleep soundly, unseen and unheard by us. Our hard-earned tax dollars, dammit! Annoyance and ire registered, we then return to the usual state of indifference. You may not be able to fight City Hall but you sure as hell can try and ignore it.

Par for the course.

Except this year, the disengagement feels particularly acute. Coming on the heels of June’s election in Ontario with its record low voter turnout, it seems heightened apathy’s trending, if such a dynamic can exist. Deepened apathy? Embedded? We’re mad as hell and we just can’t be bothered! Have at it. Do your worst. It can’t be any worse than we’ve already been through over the last few years.

You wanna bet? I caution.

Maybe too many of us reason that you can’t fix what’s irreparably broken although that’s not how the saying goes. Or perhaps, it’s not broken enough for those invested enough to vote, so, steady as she goes. Don’t rock the leaky boat.

I’m also working on another theory.

A prime culprit for our electoral malaise in Toronto currently occupies the mayor’s office. Incumbent John Tory and all his enablers have approached his re-election campaign as more of a divine right to coronation, largely sitting this one out, awaiting the perfunctory results on October 24th. He makes the occasional pop-up appearance, half-mayoral, half-candidate, announcing things previously announced or exciting initiatives his administration has had little to do with bringing into existence. There have been rare sightings of him out on the hustings, stumping for city council candidates he’s endorsed, his potential board of directors, as it were, in order to pack the next council chambers with friendly and compliant faces bearing him I.O.U.s, in place solely to assist him and what will be newly minted strong mayoral powers in pushing through his agenda. An agenda John Tory is unwilling to lay out for voters to scrutinize during the campaign. A mysterious agenda known only to him and a small cabal of operatives and strategists.

From his standpoint, I get it.

Frontrunners always tend to keep public appearances to the barest of minimums, lowkey and almost exclusively in front of friendly audiences. There’s everything to lose with any sort of slip-up and almost nothing to gain. This may be especially true for a two-term incumbent like John Tory who has had 8 years already to show what he’s made of, and the results are mostly wanting, to be overly generous.

What I don’t understand is why and how others are letting him get away with this duck-and-hide tactic? Not his opponents. They don’t have the leverage to force him out into the open. But the media. Why has it decided in accordance with the mayor that there isn’t really much of a race this year? As far as I know, there will be no televised debate because, it seems, the Tory campaign wouldn’t agree to take part or, as he did in 2018, on terms dictated by him. He’s already skipped a Zoom debate and the only two others will take place after or right at the end of advance polling. Both in friendly, non-broadcast, confines, consisting of Tory’s soundest base, the Chamber of Commerce and CARP: old and well-to-do.

If John Tory won’t engage, fine. No one’s going to force him. But by refusing to extend coverage to his opponents, to allow them to present their respective cases for a wider public viewing, the media is aiding and abetting the mayor’s do-nothing campaign.

Why is John Tory once again being accorded this special privilege? It wasn’t always the case. When I first started this blog at the onset of the 2010 campaign, by June of that year debates were happening. By fall, there’d been so many mayoral debates that something of a fatigue had set in.

This is candidate John Tory in 2014, chastising rival candidate Doug Ford for ducking debates:

A laughable concept now, but it used to be some public service came attached to gaining access to a broadcast license, a public service like televising political debates. CityTV did, when it saw itself as more local rather than just another corporate media outlet. What about the public broadcasters, receiving public funds, the CBC, TVO? Why are they going dark again this year?

For that matter, where’s the Toronto Star? The best city coverage by far with a large readership. Why isn’t it hosting or sponsoring a big debate event instead of simply signing off with some tepid and eye-rolling, toss away editorials and endorsements? This, despite the litany of urban woes it continues to examine and expose on a daily basis recently. Congestion. Crucial staffing shortages. Bike theft. Trashy streets. Disrepair of once vaunted transit corridors.

It isn’t as if the outcome hardly matters. On so many fronts, Toronto is misfiring and dysfunctional, on a far larger scale than it was in 2010 when the mayor’s race was making front page news. Even in 2014, as hard as that is to believe, when Rob Ford was running for re-election. And much of the current mess has happened not only under John Tory’s watch but because of the policies he’s pursued and the inaction that is his political nature. If you’re crossing your fingers and hoping that maybe we’ve bottomed out and things can only get better, John McGrath wants to set you straight.

John Tory thinks he deserves a third term. Not only that, John Tory believes he doesn’t have to tell you why. Apparently, those whose job it is to hold him to account and demand he actually actively run for the position are just fine with that.

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