Looking For Good Vibrations in Terrible Times

Less than a month out now from Toronto’s mayoral by-election and another poll showing pretty much a static state except for the appearance at the lower rung of leading contenders of the  Toronto Sun Postmedia True North’s cringey/fringey white boy be mad at stuff candidate Nick Fury – no, sorry – Anthony Furey. Furey. Anthony Furey. Like Mikey from the old Life cereal commercials, he hates everything!

There were disgruntled rumblings in my social media circle (admittedly, a small sample size) from supporters of Councillor Josh Matlow over the lack of traction their preferred candidate seemed to have gained so far during the campaign. What’s a guy gotta do to get noticed around here? Councillor Matlow has been very busy since entering the race, announcing policy plan after policy plan, realistically costed according to those much more expert in such analysis than I certainly am. Arguably, along with Mitzie Hunter and Chloe Brown (whose continued regular absence from pollsters’ survey questions to potential voters, despite her 3rd place finish in last fall’s mayoral campaign, suggests a very deliberate attempt at exclusion), Councillor Matlow has put forth the most thorough platform of any of the other contenders.

And yet, his polling numbers have peaked in the mid-to-high teens, at best, to the pre-teens at worst.

Why haven’t more people tuned in and turned on?

Sean Marshall, of Marshall’s Musings, said of the Matlow campaign to date: “… it’s looking like he’s the Soknacki of 2023 – a darling of those who want policy and accountability, but not enough traction beyond that.”

You might remember David Soknacki, former Scarborough city councillor, David Miller’s 1st term budget chief, from his aborted 2014 mayoral run. A small c-conservative, running in John Tory’s lane but with actual, concrete, reasonable campaign proposals, he never really found much footing in what turned out to be an Anybody But Ford race, and decided to pull the plug just after Labour Day. The policy wonk’s bid to cut through the mere theatrics and empty posturing of poll driven politics, dashed.

Maybe, the unfortunate conclusion to draw here, is that, despite an agitated electorate demanding transparency and accountability, sick to death of vague promises and impossible pledges, actual political campaigns are no place for concrete policy initiatives. You don’t really expect me to read through all that, do you? Give it to me in bullet points. An elevator pitch. Easily remembered slogans preferred. The proverbial bumper sticker.

All campaigns boil down to vibes and momentum.

That’s not a criticism. Necessarily. Too few of us have the time and/or inclination to wade through anything but the Cole’s Notes version. We vote, we decide who to vote for heuristically, I think. Fitting the bits and pieces of information we receive from candidates into already preconceived ideas and inclinations. We tick off the important boxes before we cross an x on our ballots. Few of us venture far afield of our political comfort zone, our political vibe. Best case scenario, we happily vote for the candidate of our choice. Conversely, we can be motivated to vote from pure pique and anger.


Doug Ford became premier the first time around almost exclusively because he wasn’t the Liberals (or, thank goodness, the NDP). He was re-elected because enough people decided he wasn’t as bad as we thought he might be. Justin Trudeau rose to power on a wave of Sunny Days. And if you look at the mayoral elections of amalgamated Toronto, few were fought and decided on policy issues except for maybe one: low property taxes. Mel Lastman got that ball rolling with a property tax freeze during his first term and was essentially the Amalgamation: Revenge of the Suburbs mayor. David Miller was elected with The Broom, sweeping (couldn’t help it) into office with the pledge to clean up the corruption of the Lastman administration, corruption that now seems almost quaint when we look up University Avenue toward Queen’s Park. Rob Ford, Stop the Gravy Train: Revenge of the Suburbs II. And then John Tory, on little more than well-manicured competence that he continued to run on and get re-elected with despite all the growing evidence to the contrary.

All vibes and momentum.

And, as usual, this time around, there’s little vibe to solid, stolid, well-thought out policy proposals.

So, 25 days away from the election, what is the vibe feeling like?

Like most post-pandemic (the start of, not the end of) campaigns at the provincial and municipal levels, this one seems to be riding a wave of No Sudden Moves. Everyone remain where they are! Hopefully, all this, this disruption to our lives over the past 4 years will pass. Nothing drastic. Nothing extreme. Things aren’t great. But they could be worse.

In last year’s mayoral campaign, Toronto voters, the less than 30% who actually cast a ballot, embraced the status quo overwhelmingly if very, very tepidly. With that option not on the table now, there appears to be, not flux exactly, but an inert uncertainty, judging from the consistently high number of undecideds in the ranks of the regular polling numbers. A template order of candidate preference fell into place about a month ago, based pretty much on name recognition, and there’s been little variation since.

The more-of-the-same contender, former city councillor and deputy mayor to John Tory, Ana Bailão, lurks midpack, desperately trying to explain for voters just how she’ll deliver more of the same but differently, a complicated political contortion that her former boss excelled at. Unfortunately for Bailão, the whopping mess this approach of her predecessor left behind makes her furiously running on the spot pitch somewhat uninspiring if not wholly inadequate. But hey. These days, even in the face of such glaringly apparent, uphill challenges confronting the city, complacency is a helluva panacea, and the indefatigable do-nothingness that Bailão is proposing may generate enough lukewarm familiarity to cobble together a winning vibe.

But there just may not be enough time for her to bludgeon voters into the necessary somnolence that worked to get John Tory re-elected twice, the months’-long war of attrition that was his winning strategy. There also may not be enough time to gently coax the electorate into coming to grips with a detailed policy analysis of the problems Toronto is dealing with and the solutions needed to fix them down to the penny. In fact, there’s little precedent for that ever really being much of a path to electoral victory.

Hope and anger are usually the go-to vibes that lead to success on election day, regardless of how misdirected or misguided either one might be. If no candidate can bring either to the forefront of their campaign and, let’s face it, currently, that would be a tall order, there being so much to be angry about and so little hope to address the fundamental issues driving that anger, a certain paralysis sets in. An acceptance that things have gone off the rails and the desire to try and fix it but without too much effort or sacrifice on anyone’s part. That’s an almost impossible needle to thread.

A calm determination in a familiar face may be all voters are looking for in the next mayor of the city.


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