The Company He Keeps

October 3, 2010

Before everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that at least a Rob Ford mayoralty is not assured at this point, we might be well served to pause and look more closely at the man who is shaping up to be the only viable alternative. George Smitherman.

Ignoring the distasteful aspect of feeling obligated to vote for a candidate in order to stop another one from winning – the ‘Do I Have To?’ factor – and the inevitable disenchantment with the political process that follows, we should be alert to the tone Smitherman’s taken on the campaign trail recently. Instead of trying to distance himself from Ford’s ultra-right platform and embracing the wide open centrist territory, Smitherman’s been mouthing increasingly conservative platitudes. He’s stepping onto his rival’s turf and attempting to engage him in a knockdown, brawling neo-con slugfest.

Tax freezes (and cuts), hiring freezes except for police, privatization and outsourcing. All of which can be found on Rob Ford’s campaign website. Yes, Smitherman’s pledged to increase things like arts funding but it’s difficult to see how those kind of ‘special interest’ targets will get much priority amidst the fiscal restraint he’s vowing to bring to City Hall.

Moreover, look at the people backing Smitherman and working in his camp. While his fellow rivals on the right, Ford and Rocco Rossi and the media organs that stand in opposition to him, namely the Toronto Sun, try pinning the tax-and-spend, Liberal label on Furious George – he was part of the Dalton McGuinty government after all – Smitheman For Mayor is actually eye deep in Tory blue. And not just the soft and squishy Progressive Conservative brand of yore, either. Jamie Watt, senior campaign strategist for Smitherman, was a communications advisor for Mike Harris in 1995 and 1999 where he helped introduce good ol’ American style neo-conservatism into these parts.

Further Harris ties gained front page news last month with an open letter of support for George Smitherman signed by some 38 conservative voices. Some prominent, others forgettable but most having had something to do with the Mike Harris government.

In amongst those names was one Ralph Lean. Lean is part of the Smitherman fundraising team and signed on early to the campaign in that capacity. Along with being a highly placed figure on the conservative scene, Lean made waves last year when he publicly broke with David Miller after having turned heads by helping Miller get re-elected in 2006. It was a public excoriation in the pages of the National Post that came out mere weeks before Miller announced he would not seek a 3rd term.

Among the mistakes that Miller had made as mayor that cheesed Lean off were “… overspending, for failing to freeze councillors’ salaries, for narrowing Jarvis Street, for fighting with Porter Airlines (“I’m a big supporter of Porter”) and for refusing to examine outsourcing some city functions.” Hmmm. Sound familiar? Oh right, Smitherman’s mouthed the same complaints, all of which he’s vowing to alleviate if we elect him mayor.

None of this is at all new or groundbreaking. The dividing line between Conservative and Liberal politics is often times slippery and blurry. It’s just that as the endgame of our mayoral race is being forcibly shaped into a two man race, between the far right and the not-as-far right, progressive voices and views have been squeezed out. The accepted narrative being spun has it that Toronto is a city on the brink of financial and social ruin, its citizens over-taxed and under-serviced. Pure hyperbole mixed in with a soupçon of outright bullshit.

Not only are those of us who range on the political spectrum from centre to left being asked – nay, told – that in order to avoid a calamitous victory by Rob Ford we must vote for a candidate who is displaying no affinity for our political views. We are being instructed to cast a ballot for a candidate who is campaigning further on the right than anyone has seen here in a long, long time, if ever. We are being neo-conned by stealth.

There are other choices available to us, folks. Don’t close the book on this race yet. To give in to the two man race narrative is to hand over the keys to someone – either Rob Ford or George Smitherman — who is determined to reshape Toronto in ways that will benefit few and be harmful to many. Let’s not be a part of that.

defiantly submitted by Cityslikr


Smitherman Stumbles

April 12, 2010

There are worse things that can happen to candidates running for office than having their campaign manager quit their post part way through the race. An inability to keep it in their pants and commit tawdry details of the proceedings in a text train with a publicity seeking, vindictive mistress might be one way. Especially if it puts you in the sanctimonious crosshairs of a gotcha journalist like the Toronto Star’s Royson James.

Still, the seriousness of a prematurely departing campaign manager cannot be denied. If it weren’t significant, the exit announcement would not be made at 10 pm on a Friday night when thoughts have already turned to the weekend. A weekend chock full of other attention grabbing items. The end of the NHL regular season. Tiger Woods’s return to the golf circuit. David Simon’s newest contribution to the betterment of television.

Despite the best efforts of the George Smitherman For Mayor team’s attempt to bury the lede, rumours and speculation have been making the rounds regarding Jeff Bangs taking a powder. Talk bubbled up around some animosity existing between Bangs and strategist, Jamie Watt, quickly denied, off course. There’s also been some banter about just too many cooks in the kitchen creating a disjointed, hodgepodge campaign. Or how about this one? As partner at The Pathway Group, a government relations and public affairs firm, Bangs wasn’t prepared for a fulltime commitment this early on in what is a nearly 11 month slog to election day.

Certainly few people are buying the official explanation of Bangs wanting to spend more time with his family. It didn’t seem credible to many ears when Mayor Miller cited it last fall as the reason he would not be seeking a third term and he’d been on the job for 6 years already and was facing another 5 if he won re-election. Bangs was just 3 months or so into a gig that’d be wrapped up well before the end of the year.

Whatever. It appears something ain’t working within the Smitherman team. So much so that it’s thrown the first spanner into the works of what has been, until this point, the anointed front running mayoral campaign. Distant rivals are heartened. Points being scored suggesting that this only proves that Smitherman doesn’t work well with others which is very problematic when it comes to the position of mayor who must forge coalitions to push through their agendas.

That only points out the real crux of the matter from our view. What exactly is the George Smitherman agenda? Three months into the race and we still haven’t the faintest idea why Smitherman wants to be mayor of this city. Now, this is a failing shared by every one of the six leading candidates for the job. That whole vision thing. Nobody’s articulated a clear vision of how they see Toronto growing, prospering and developing under their leadership mantle. To date, it’s been a race from the negative side of the ledger. What they’re going to cut or sell off. Whose asses they’re going to kick. Which David Miller led initiative they’ll scale back on.

More than any of the other candidates (until Rob Ford’s entry into the race), George Smitherman has been all about the bully in the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office, stirring up anti-incumbent fervor. As a campaign strategy, that may work at the provincial or federal levels where races last little than a month. It’s a discordant tune, however, that begins to grate over the course of three seasons. Eventually, even your most diehard supporters want to plug their ears to block out the unpleasant sound.

Maybe this is one of the reasons reactionary, anti-government platforms haven’t been a wholly successful strategy at the municipal level, weighted down as they are by the unbearable mass of negative energy. Whispers have emerged around Jeff Bangs departure about a possible ideological divide within the Smitherman team. It is a group tilted heavy to the right with Mike Harris/provincial Tory flaks including bag man supreme, fundraiser Ralph Lean Q.C. Perhaps whatever centrist-left wing instincts candidate Smitherman still possesses have awoken and are attempting to flex their atrophied muscles, creating some internal strain within the group.

From an actual progressive P.O.V., however, the differences between a Dalton McGuinty Liberal and the neo-con Conservatives are significantly less than the Liberals would like us to think.

No George, if you want to be mayor, you’re going to have to start telling us why. You can bluster and intimidate until the cows come home, re-arrange the deck chairs on the S.S. Smitherman all you want but, ultimately, you have to inspire us. Give us a reason to vote for you and not just against your opponents. Orchestrate an inspiring score and then maybe you’ll have everyone singing from the same songbook.

musically submitted by Cityslikr