Our Mayoral Endorsement

It just shouldn’t be this difficult writing an endorsement.hardclimb

After such a tumultuous 4 years at City Hall, the melodrama, the outright assault on civility and common sense, the ripped from the crime fiction pages, you’d think choosing an alternative would be easy. The bar has been set so incredibly low. How couldn’t you find a candidate to be enthusiastic about?

Yet. Here we are.

Doug Ford is a non-starter. I hardly need to explain that statement, right? The only positive aspect I can say about the prospect of a Doug Ford mayoralty is that it would be a lonely one for him. He’d be an isolated figure from the outset, nothing more than an irritable object to be worked around. But that’s not going to be a problem because Doug Ford isn’t going to be mayor of this city. Despite what many supporters of John Tory want you to believe as you go to cast your ballot.

John Tory’s entire pitch, the all-in roll of his dice this second time around running for mayor is that only he can defeat Rob Doug Ford. That’s it. himormeOnce he was able to push past Olivia Chow in the polls during the summer, all he set out to do was convince enough middle-ground, centrist voters that the only thing that mattered this election was the defeat of a Ford and the only one who could do that was John Tory.

John Tory the candidate trotted out John Tory the civic-minded patron as proof of his progressive bona fides. Remember the John Tory who talked about genuine revenue tools as the only way to build transit? Remember CivicAction John Tory’s support of diversity and inclusion? Vote John Tory!

The fact John Tory the candidate never did more than talk about progressive issues didn’t seem to phase those who gravitated into his camp. emptypromiseAs our friend MookieG77 pointed out over on Twitter, John Tory has committed $0 to social programs in his campaign platform. Instead he’s emphasized the need to find more efficiencies, weed out more waste and played up the role of the private sector and tapping the senior levels of government for more money as ways of paying for our services and programs.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s been the Ford mantra for the last 4 years.

Factor in Tory’s only less laughable than the Fords’ transit plans, his SmartTrack, a smartly designed graphic with fundamental construction flaws and purely magical funding mechanism, and essentially what’s on offer is a smiley, functional happy face on the Ford agenda. An agenda John Tory openly supported until Rob Ford’s personal demons politically neutered him. An agenda John Tory in no way repudiated during this campaign.

Arguably the most interesting candidacy was that of former city councillor and budget chief, David Soknacki. A wonk’s dream, it pitched itself on the notion of substance of style. If the politics of personality got us into this mess, maybe an issues oriented campaign could get us out.policy

Platform ideas flowed freely over the course of the 7 months Soknacki was in the race, many of them good, almost all of them worthy of discussion. He was unafraid to tackle controversial subjects like the ever-expanding police budget and unabashedly told us that if we wanted things, we had to figure out realistic ways to pay for them. He injected a passion for reason and rationality into the campaign.

The Soknacki team either miscalculated the electorate’s desire for serious discourse or, perhaps, David Soknacki wasn’t the right candidate to capture the public’s imagination. Too wonky? Too nerdy? Certainly the direction the campaign’s taken suggests the problem wasn’t the messenger but the message itself.

Ari Goldkind, a newcomer on the political scene, certainly tried to push the idea of an issues campaign. newsherrifA criminal lawyer by trade, he was more dynamic a candidate than Soknacki but he ran into a very familiar wall anyone faces when they’re coming at it from the outside. Who are you and why should we give you an opportunity to speak? He got himself into a few debates, established some credibility, getting himself on the wrong side of Doug Ford in the process, but never caught enough of the popular imagination to make himself a serious contender in the wider public’s eyes.

Goldkind did shape a platform that most closely aligned with my politics. The irony here though is, his style ultimately trumped his substance for me. As I told him in our couple conversations we had just after he got into the race, I wasn’t looking for a white knight to swoop in and solve our civic crisis. I’ve been at this, following municipal politics closely for nearly 5 years now, and I feel unqualified to run for mayor. It takes a lot more than good ideas and good will to generate good governance although it’s a pretty good start.

If Ari Goldkind sticks around for the next 4 years, reaches out and begins working with and contributing to the wider civic-minded group that’s emerged since 2010, I’d say he’s laid out an intriguing and extensive platform for another run at the mayor’s job in 2018.

endorsement2Which leaves me with Olivia Chow.

I have complete faith in the fact Chow would make a much better mayor than she has a candidate. Unlike either of her two main opponents, she actually has a history of collaboration with colleagues as an elected official. Always smoothly? No, but that’s a little unreasonable to expect from someone who’s served in public office for 30 years or so.

When Chow finally got around to playing to her strengths as a politician (more on that in a second), she brought the issues that really sit at the heart of building a better city to the fore. Equality, fairness, opportunity, inclusion. This is Olivia Chow’s bread and butter. After 4 years of the Ford administration’s assault on all those things, out of the gate she should’ve been trumpeting them, establishing them as the go-to themes of this election.

Why that didn’t happen is one of the reasons I hesitate to endorse Olivia. It could be seen as endorsing her terrible, terrible campaign. Those in charge of it should never be allowed to run a campaign again. Olivia’s strengths were downplayed for fear of attacks from her opponents. The campaign emphasized her fiscal “common sense” and held back on the notion of investment in our neighbourhoods, communities and city. Rather than humming and hawing about property tax increases ‘around or about the rate of inflation’, Olivia should’ve boldly stated she’d do whatever was necessary to make sure this city functioned well and functioned fairly.smash

If we’ve learned nothing else from this campaign, it should be this. Unless you’re white and male, never run a campaign as if you’re a frontrunner. Clearly you’re not.

My other brief hesitation is that, whatever happens on Monday, we need to have a long, hard discussion about who determines who is a progressive candidate around here. However we’ve been doing it for the past two elections has not worked out. The blame for that I place squarely on the political party machines that are in play in the background and on the sidelines at the municipal level.

We need to bust these fucking things up. They serve one thing and one thing only, the party. Having watched this campaign closely, I feel confident in stating that if city council fails to shift in a progressive direction, it will be because political parties put their interests first. A slew of interesting and exciting candidates, politically unaffiliated many of them, cropped up all over the city and many were left to their own devices while parties put their resources toward their own and other parties put their resources to stopping their opponents from being elected.

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So I endorse Olivia Chow for mayor, in spite of her political affiliation not because of it.

I endorse Olivia Chow because she reflects the kind of city I want to live in and be a part of. I endorse Olivia Chow because she represents our best ideals. An immigrant to this country as a young woman, growing up, if not poor, at least scrambling to get by, who took hold of the opportunities offered to her. I endorse Olivia Chow because she then dedicated her life to public service, a public service dedicated to helping others who faced similar obstacles she had along the way, a public service dedicated to fighting for those things that make us better, make our city better. Equality, fairness, opportunity, inclusion.

That’s why I endorse Olivia Chow for mayor of Toronto.

guardedly submitted by Cityslikr

It’s All In The Presentation

Last night, as an October’s worth of rain fell around the city, CBC hosted its mayoral debate. Streets, a subway station flood, power outages here and there. heavyrainFor what? The third time in over just a year, if not a storm of the century, an outburst of weather that Toronto clearly is not up to handling.

Yes, we have an infrastructure deficit. One that’s only going to get bigger unless we deal with it, head on.

Yes, we have a child-care deficit. One that’s only going to get bigger unless we deal with it, head on.

Yes, we have an affordable housing deficit, a looming crisis really. One that’s only going to get bigger unless we deal with it, head on.

Yes, we have a transit deficit. (I don’t really have to link this one, do I?) One that’s only going to get bigger unless we deal with it, head on.problems

And yet, here we are, just over 9 months into the campaign and none of these things are we talking about dealing with head on. At least the mayoral front runners are doing anything but. Olivia Chow has been talking the issues up lately. Long shot candidate Ari Goldkind’s built a platform around them. Long gone candidate David Soknacki built a campaign on the platform people wanted to talk about these issues head on.

He miscalculated.

What we want, evidently, from this election is to restore our respectability in the eyes of the world, by chasing all the buffoonery, malice and low-brow spectacle from the mayor’s office, clear out of City Hall. Toronto is tired of being embarrassed. Toronto yearns once more to be world class, with a world class mayor.

Whoever promises to do that for us, well, they’ve got our vote for mayor. No other questions asked. Certainly not answered.

As for the rest of it? M’eh. What are you gonna do? personalitycontestAs long as we have a mayor in place who isn’t smoking crack, it’s all good. Baby steps, eager pants. Baby steps.

Very adroitly, the John Tory team framed this election as one about personalities not issues. Conveniently so too since he really had no issues to run on despite his self-proclaimed years as a civic advocate for the city. That infrastructure deficit? Don’t worry. Property tax increases at or below the rate of inflation will fix that. Child-care? Provincial government’s problem. Affordable housing deficit? Let the feds take care of it. Youth unemployment and a growing inequality gap? Good jobs. Private sector. Sobeys. My rolodex.

But his real doozy comes in response to our transit deficit.

SmartTrack.

A totally unworkable, unfunded piece of transit planning sorcery rivalling the slogan-heavy and equally laughable Subways! Subways! Subways! from the Ford Brothers.brushitoff

It’s not that our new emperor has no clothes. It’s that, as the Torontoist referred to John Tory, he’s “…just Rob or Doug Ford in a better suit.”

If the polls are to be believed, a plurality of Torontonians are OK with that. In fact, polls suggest over 70% of voters in Toronto are fine and dandy with the Ford policies dressed up in John Tory’s button-down, Bay Street attire. Some will protest and tell you, hey, it’s not that they’re voting Tory because they like him, it’s that he’s the only one who can beat Doug Ford. They’ll keep insisting on that even though the likelihood of a Doug Ford victory dims with each day we get closer to the election.

If this all comes to pass and the election plays out as we’re told it’s going to, there’s no reason to think these things that actually matter, transit and congestion, welldressedmancrumbling infrastructure, affordable housing crunch, increased inequality, will be addressed in any sort of substantive manner. Why should we expect they would? John Tory has shown he doesn’t actually give a toss about any of that. He just wants you to know he’s not Doug Ford and that’s all that really matters.

We seem shallow enough to be poised to agree with him and make John Tory our next mayor.

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See Ya, Soks

Even in light of David Soknacki’s withdrawal from the mayor’s race last night, I refuse to go blaming a campaign team for over-estimating the public’s desire to engage in meaty policy thinking during an election campaign. goodintentionsIt’s a good instinct to have, I think. Optimistic. Displaying faith in your fellow human beings. Respecting our collective intelligence.

Unfortunately, it also may be somewhat misguided. What a candidate really seems to need to be successful is an image consultant not some nerdy issue wonks. Keep it simple. Most people don’t pay that much attention.

“Ultimately, the reason Ford got elected is that voters were very superficial,” says [Soknacki campaign manager Brian] Kelcey, noting his awareness that these comments may come back to haunt him. “I believe that the reason voters were willing to vote for Ford in 2010 in such numbers was because they were being superficial about municipal issues. That they wanted change, but they bought into the idea that the solutions could were simple and could be expressed in meaningless slogans without a plan to back them up… The challenge is that we’re still facing superficial voters, and the voters who are being anti-Ford may be being as superficial as the voters who were being pro-Ford in 2010, by not demanding more of the other candidates.”

While this, in David Hains’ fantastic Torontoist piece from yesterday, might come across as sour grapes from a failed campaign, it’s difficult to disagree with Mr. Kelcey at this point. sourgrapes1Even in a campaign this long, months and months long, there was very little space given over to detailed ideas and platforms with even two dimensional complexity. Freak shows and catchphrases. Toronto Votes 2014.

Maybe that’s just politics in the Rob Ford era. 2010, Rob Ford, good. 2014, Rob Ford, bad.

But I think it goes much deeper than that. We’d like to think that in a robust democracy substance matters. An informed electorate will look past personalities and zippy slogans, and dig down into the meat of matters. The message is what matters not the messenger.

The fact is, we’d be idiots to believe that. “Firstly, it must be said that Soknacki is a dedicated and conscientious policy wonk and, I think, a genuinely decent human being,” @mightygodking tweeted last night. “All of that said: so what? This is politics. It is not THE WEST WING.”

We can blame this on all those ‘low-information’ voters out there, too busy or too ignorant to take the time to become really informed, substancebut I suspect most of us are not immune to our visceral, initial impressions of a candidate. Many of us love our brand affiliations. This is why the ‘NDP candidate’ Olivia Chow barb from John Tory has stuck so clingingly. That’s gut trumping brains.

Everybody knew that this campaign would be some sort of referendum on Mayor Rob Ford. That tends to happen when an incumbent runs for re-election. The calculus of engaging that by each candidate was different.

David Soknacki and his team rolled the dice, figuring the public was tired of the outrageous antics of the mayor, and wanted somebody the exact opposite. A low key, less colourful figure with good ideas. Toronto just wanted some peace and quiet, and for city council to get on with running things competently.

The problem for Team Soknacki turned out to be that John Tory did them one better. patricianHe was low key and less colourful than Rob Ford minus the good ideas part which rarely counts for all that much in an election campaign. Sorry.

Where in 2010, Rob Ford caught the spirit of voters with one word, resentment, John Tory is doing it in 2014, competency. Is he competent? Doesn’t matter. His suit fits perfectly.

David Soknacki ran smack dab into the impermeable bubble of illusion created by money, influence and class, frankly. The patrician John Tory had the Those Seeking Competency Above All Else vote from the outset. He didn’t have to prove it. He just was.

But I will throw mad props out to David Soknacki and all those who dedicated their time and energy to his candidacy for actually thinking we were prepared to engage in an issues-oriented campaign, for making a bid to our better angels. For various reasons, we weren’t up to the task. Toronto scared itself shitless 4 years ago and now was desperately, irrationally trying to un-inflict the damage. 2014 was no time to engage in ideas about the future.

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grumpily submitted by Cityslikr