Vision Quest VI

October 21, 2010

It’s Thursday. So you know what that means. Time for another Vision Quest. Toda—

But wait, you’re all saying, probably. Vision Quest usually happens on Friday. What’s with the Thursday Vision Quest? It’s throwing my equilibrium all off.

Well, the thing is, with just 4 days before election day, we needed to set aside 3 for our mayoral endorsements. So, we decided to push the last of our Vision Quests ahead by a day. Hopefully, this won’t be a constant source of disappointment to those who then keep thinking it’s Friday, only to have the fact that it’s actually just Thursday constantly thrown in their faces.

And to be clear: this in no way should be viewed as an official endorsement. This is not an endorsement. This is not an endorsement. Nope, not an endorsement.

Vision Quest VI (Thursday and final edition): George Smitherman!

Nicknamed Furious George, but for those of us with more leftish hues, what Smitherman should be better known as is, Infuriating George. Smart, thorough and tirelessly hardworking, he should’ve been everyone’s (who wasn’t backing Rob Ford) easy 2nd choice for mayor. Yet, it’s as if he made it deliberately impossible for us to take to him, seemingly intent to alienate and provoke us, almost as if it were part of a… diabolical plan.

The rube in me, who treats everything on the level, no subtext, no ulterior motives, saw the unfolding Smitherman campaign as a bumbling, stumbling mess. Determined almost, to repeat the exact same mistakes as his former boss, Barbara Hall, in the 2003 election, going from frontrunner to a distant 3rd place. He practically disappeared there during the spring and summer months, threatening to become another big name bust.

But then it clicked into place as soon as it was announced that, in fact, Rob Ford had become the candidate to beat. In mid-September, his victory was pronounced as pretty well inevitable, his almost 25 point lead was viewed as insurmountable. A collective OMG!!! arose from the general populace. What are we going to do?! This can’t happen. We need to elect Anybody But Ford!!

Cue the sounds of horses approaching from the distance, the arrival of the cavalry. Fear not, good people of Toronto, your white knight riding to the rescue. George Smitherman is here to drive the evil Rob Ford gang back to the wilds of Etobicoke. Our hero!

Pure brilliance, if a little disturbingly calculating. A truly post-modern campaign that smartly up-ended the big name, early front runner dilemma. Tactics trumping substantive thinking and the need for any sort of comprehensive complete policy platform. In 2010, that may be all that’s necessary to become mayor.

Had Smitherman Our Saviour then arrived and stood up vigorously to the radical, right wing retardedness of Rob Ford, it may’ve been a done deal. Instead, George lurched right, aping much of the Ford anti-City Hall populism and firmly embracing the modus operandi of another former boss of his, Dalton McGuinty, who has built his entire political career on the notion of being only slight less bad than the Mike Harris era Conservative government. Vote for me because I’m not as bad as that guy.

George Smitherman. Just another unprincipled, scheming politician with a hollow core. But hey. At least he’s not as bad as that other guy.

And as the campaign winds down, he then has the balls to try and castigate those who haven’t fallen into line behind him, portraying them as the villains if he comes up short and Rob Ford wins this thing. Holding a gun to the city’s head, his endgame now consists of, vote for me or this guy gets it.

Yeah, that’s the guy I want as my next mayor.

So repellant has Smitherman’s tactics become that I refuse to cut him any slack or give him the benefit of doubt on anything. We were rightly reprimanded by a commenter on our post a couple days ago who pointed out that we misrepresented Smitherman’s rejection of safe injection sites. His position on the issue is much more “nuanced”. Fair enough. But at this point, we cannot grant him anything resembling nuance. We can only see the darkness.

To us George Smitherman is simply a political hit man, dispatched from Queen’s Park to quell a restive and vocally frustrated city that has become noisy in its displeasure with the contemptuous disregard and mismanagement at the hands of its provincial overlords. He doesn’t want to lead Toronto. He wants to keep it in its place. In that, he is no better than Rob Ford.

The company he keeps is Tory blue, through and through, including Harrisites, many of whom wouldn’t be considered friends of Toronto. Ralph Lean, best known in political circles as a David Miller band wagon jumper whose very public break with the mayor last fall helped grease the way to the mayor’s decision not to seek re-election and opened the floodgates of anti-City Hall sentiment that Smitherman slid in on, is a key part of his fund raising arm. And the fact that Barbara Hall has babysat George’s son does little to alleviate our growing mistrust of Smitherman’s intentions.

He wants us to merely settle on him as our next mayor. It could be worse, he tells us. Rob Ford. Yes, he’s right. It could be worse. On the other hand, it might not be. There’s much of the devil you know at work right now. And if George Smitherman can’t win this thing based on his own merits, well, maybe he just doesn’t deserve it. For 10 months or so, all we’ve asked is that he prove to us that he does. Four days before election day, George Smitherman has come up woefully empty on that account.

angrily submitted by Cityslikr

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

Privatized Parts

March 4, 2010

The Toronto Star’s headline for March 3rd declares: Smitherman Backs Privatization.

Inside, the news reads as little more than a minor, almost imperceptible bump up in enthusiasm for privatization than the candidate’s been touting previously despite the article hyping it as his “first substantive policy pronouncement” of the campaign. According to Smitherman, “… any moves to outsource city services would be carefully reviewed,” which I guess makes him the prudent candidate versus opponent Rocco Rossi’s wild-eyed, stock floor trader panicked approach to the selling of city assets and privatization of services.

In actual fact, the respective platforms of Smitherman and Rossi range all the way from point A to point A, essentially coming down to the difference between gutting the city mercilessly versus gutting it mercifully. And where to put bike lanes. Two peas in a pod, really; worse and worser. If you’re a big fan of privatization it’s a happy choice that comes down to how you want to slice up the pie.

One of those big fans of privatization is — surprise, surprise — Smitherman’s chief fundraiser, Ralph Lean QC. As noted previously, Mr. Lean is partial to, at least, “examining” the idea of “outsourcing some city functions.” A point of preference which contributed to the falling out Lean had with Mayor Miller last September just before Miller announced he would not run for re-election in 2010. As George Smitherman publicly signals an open mind toward privatization, it seems he may be more attuned than the outgoing mayor to the wishes of his chief fundraiser.

So what, you say. Surely it’s not unusual for a candidate to share political views with the people working on his campaign. It would seem wrong for anyone to go out and solicit money for a candidate whose views they don’t believe in, wouldn’t it? Hypocritical. Cynical, even.

Yet reading through Ralph Lean’s CV from an article posted on his law firm’s website, over the past decade or so he’s been retained as a lobbyist for American firms interested in the state of outsourcing such varied government functions as prisons and tax collection. It makes Lean’s interest in the areas of privatization and outsourcing seem less political and more.. personal. As Smitherman slowly but deliberately drifts toward a more accepting view on the topic, one wonders who’s calling the shots in his campaign.

And if George Smitherman is elected mayor of Toronto in October and hopes to keep the job for a little while, say, at least a second term that would garner him both national and international coverage when the city hosts the 2015 PanAm games, he would do well to learn from his predecessor’s one fatal misstep. Defy Ralph Lean QC at your peril.

See George. See George Jump.

“There are outsourcing salesmen,” Smitherman explains in the Toronto Star article, “and I run into them all over the place [italics ours], who have advanced this idea that outsourcing in and of itself is some panacea. My experiences are different … It’s intensely risky to have a discussion whereby the quality of the service being provided to the citizen is set aside and the fiscal piece is advanced. I am saying we need to look at outsourcing where it makes sense, given the state of the city’s finances, while protecting our citizens.”

“I will be their protector.”

Don’t worry citizens of Toronto, Smitherman assures us when it comes to outsourcing and privatization, as mayor he’ll have our back. Small comfort we should take from that when we consider that Ralph Lean QC has the ear of George Smitherman.

Cassandraly submitted by Cityslikr

Sneering Smitherman

February 22, 2010

OK. So when can we expect to start hearing some positive tones coming from the George Smitherman campaign? Almost from the get-go there’s been nothing but invective spewed forth, denigrating anything and everything to do with City Hall. Yeah, we got it, George. The place is a nest of under-worked and over-paid politicians and bureaucrats alike, and you’re the tough guy who’s going to knock heads and make things fly right. City Hall is Jack Palance. George Smitherman is Shane.

Not that he’s alone wallowing in the bile. Rocco Rossi is no slouch himself when it comes to matching Smitherman in heaping sneering superciliousness upon Toronto’s public servants. Together they are proving to be the Beavis and Butthead of the 2K10©®™ campaign trail, sitting around watching the proceedings and yelling: Fire! Fire!! Burn! Burn!!

As we have said in these pages relatively regularly, criticism’s the easy part. Solutions aren’t so simple. Unless of course you are George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi who have both displayed an easy affinity for right-wing, neoconservative/liberal platitudes and claptrap.

Rossi thinks that if we just sell everything, it’ll be clear sailing ahead. Along with squeezing out ‘efficiencies’, that’s the heart of his multi-year plan to restore fiscal health to the city. It’s like listening to a panicked investment advisor when he hits a rough patch. Sell! Sell! Sell!! And the next thing you know, you’re looking at a Great Depression.

Smitherman, having learned firsthand from his former boss at Queen’s Park, is pitching himself just slightly less fiscally conservative than his opponent. It’s not that he is against selling public assets per se (he couldn’t be, what with Ralph Lean as his chief fundraiser). He just thinks it should be done in a more orderly fashion than Rossi’s willy-nilly, fire sale approach. Aside from that, the two candidates are pretty well marching in campaign lockstep.

Smitherman’s response to the city’s proposed budget is all dismissive snarl, manly chest beating and empty campaign rhetoric. Cuts, slashes, freezes and a general shaking up of the sense of indolent entitlement George perceives City Hall to be full of. No more ‘hobby horses’ under the responsible leadership of a Mayor Smitherman. It’s all about long term thinking replacing stop-gap measures with a dollop of ‘innovative models’ and ‘new approaches’. It’s a campaign strategy of can’t and cant.

To Rossi and Smitherman, it’s as if the last 12, 13 years never happened. For both, Toronto’s fiscal problems are all its own doing. Never mind that structural deficits really started in earnest when the provincial government massively downloaded social services on municipalities in the late-90s without the corresponding money to run them. Never mind that the same government pulled out of the traditional 50-50 funding of operational costs for the TTC at the same time. Never mind that all those annual savings from amalgamation never materialized. I mean, come on. That’s so last century.

Of course this heavy tilt to the right is made possible in the absence of any credible progressive candidate in the race since Adam Giambrone’s flameout. Oh wait. Who’s that over there? Right, right. Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone and his 30 years of municipal experience. But come on. He’s not really plausible for mayor. I mean, look how short he is and he’s got that funny accent.

Pantlone is either proving to be an ineffective candidate or he’s just being bulldozed past in what, according to the cold, logical analysis of the National Post’s Terence Corcoran, is Toronto’s “… momentous shift to the right”. Either way, until someone is able to step up and be heard above the shrill din of hard conservative blather, Smitherman and Rossi (sounds like the name of an appertif) are going to continue battling it out to prove who can be the meanest, nastiest, slashiest-and-burniest neo-con on the block. Or until Rob Ford enters the race and assumes control of the hardcore spectrum of the right wing, making the other two seem almost reasonable by comparison.

This anti stance by the likes of Smitherman and Rossi with some similar haymakers thrown by Giorgio Mammoliti may sound good to receptive ears but it really amounts to little more than a cancer on the body politic of Toronto. It’s self-immolation and makes it impossible to see how any candidate who gets elected on such a platform could govern properly. Who wants to work with or for someone espousing dismissive, malicious attitudes towards you and what you do? While George Smitherman may think such hard-nosed tough talk exemplifies leadership, it’s nothing but cold calculation and mean-spirited posturing which will repel more voters than it attracts.

City building it’s not and shouldn’t that be the one thing we demand from our mayor?

testily submitted by Cityslikr