A Mayoral Catch-22

March 20, 2014

I was mulling over Edward Keenan’s piece in The Grid yesterday about, well, fringe mayoral candidates, thinkinganddrinkinglet’s call them for lack of a better heuristic when, don’t you just know it, up pops the news that former candidate Sarah Thomson is planning another run at the mayor’s office.

You know Ms. Thomson. Barely cracked double digits in the 2010 race before throwing her lightweight weight behind the eventual 2nd place finisher, George Smitherman. Then ran something of a spirited campaign for the Liberals in the 2011 provincial in the riding of Trinity-Spadina, giving the long time incumbent Rosario Marchese a bit of a scare. Sarah “Transit” Thomson who basically took her one good idea from 2010 – road tolls – and built a platform of self-promotion around it. Yeah. That Sarah Thomson.

As I write this, Thomson showed up at City Hall this morning in a horse drawn red wagon to register. Whatever. But it does provide me a nice little segue into a larger discussion about fringe candidates.

Next Wednesday CityNews will be holding the first televised mayoral debate of the 2014 campaign. cinderellaAll 5 “major” candidates have signed on to participate, according to the announcement. Olivia Chow. Rob Ford. David Soknacki. Karen Stintz. John Tory.

Will a 6th podium be added now for Sarah Thomson? If so, why? Because she ran previously? Because she organized events around regional transit problems? Because she owns a publication? Because all this combines to give her public standing?

On the other hand, if CityNews doesn’t extend an invitation to the debate to Ms. Thomson, why not? Why do they get to make that decision? Who determines which candidacy sits beyond the fringe and which one doesn’t?

Mr. Keenan seems to suggest that’s it’s kind of an organic process. “As with any job — in this case, the CEO of a $10 billion-a-year organization responsible for millions of peoples’ daily necessities,” Keenan writes, cv“the hiring criteria includes significant experience and demonstrated abilities as much as anything else.”

There’s certainly some truth to that. In Toronto, it’s been the case for pretty much forever that the only way to the mayor’s job is through city council. Mayoral hopefuls have traditionally put in time as councillors first. No outsiders need apply.

“Putting together a successful campaign is actually a pretty good proxy for many of the attributes you need to govern,” Keenan continues, “managing a staff and volunteers, inspiring people to work on your behalf, raising funds, and engaging in a public debate that convinces citizens to put their trust in you and your plan. The press will pay close attention to candidates who show they can do that on a citywide scale. And so will voters.”

Again, certainly true, but for me, really only half of the equation. “Managing a staff and volunteers…raising funds…engaging in a public debate” are essential but none of it just appears out of the blue. All that’s easier said than done. Without an established name or easy access to money to buy yourself one, outside candidates have to work doubly hard (at least) to get their name and ideas out there. backroomI am troubled by that notion.

What I see is a slate of candidates that is presented to voters on the basis of money and influence. Prominent, backroom donors, well-worn campaign strategists, political party apparatchiks, all cajoling, tempting and eventually signing on to work for candidates they deem acceptable to run for mayor. These are your candidates, Toronto. Now, vote as you see fit.

And the media, especially media outlets that wind up hosting mayoral debates and forums, are complicit in this heavy-handed winnowing of the field. Only candidates from the given slate are invited to participate. Why? Well, because these are the ones voters want to hear from? Why is that? How does the media determine that? Look at the polling numbers, we’re told. Numbers derived from polls featuring only the non-fringe candidates’ names.

It’s a pre-determined, closed loop. An iterative process with only a handful of appointed variables, ultimately ending up with the choice from pick one of the above. closedopensystemNone of the above is never presented as a viable alternative.

Look. The 2014 campaign is about two and a half months old. Candidates have been registered since January 2nd. Yet, only after Olivia Chow — who everybody knew was running — officially entered the race last week were we informed that the official debates would begin. I’m not alone in finding the timing a little fishy, am I? It feels like the fix is in.

Instead of hashing and rehashing the will he or won’t he/when will she narrative and pursuing the HMS Destructive tour of the current incumbent, maybe a little time could’ve been devoted to listening to some of the other candidates for mayor, suss out their fitness for the job. In early February the U of T Scarborough student union held a mayoral forum that featured the mayor, David Soknacki and 3 of the fringe candidates. footinthedoorThe Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale covered it and, in his opinion, declared that one of the 3, Robb Johannes just might’ve won the debate.

So why hasn’t Mr. Johannes been invited to participate in the CityNews’ debate? Based on the observation of an experienced City Hall reporter giving his candidacy some legitimacy, what must he do to be given a shot at proving himself worthy of further consideration?

In 2010, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke ran some 30 or so Meet A Mayoral Candidate posts throughout the campaign. Admittedly, most, a high percentage of them, rightfully deserved the fringe label. Remember, anybody with $200 to spare can run for mayor. It was hard to tell why many were in the race. A lark. Mere attention seeking. Misguided sense of direction.

But a handful of them were thoughtful, interesting and dedicated to giving their time and energy to the city. Hell, we ended up endorsing one for mayor when all was said and done. Not every fringe candidate should be viewed fringe simply because they don’t yet have money, resources or influence.musicalchairs

And I would argue that this time around, there are even more potentially serious fringe candidates then in 2010. The subject of Mr. Keenan’s article, Ari Goldkind, immediately strikes me as somebody worth listening to. Matt Mernagh. Jeff Billard. Richard Underhill. Morgan Baskin. The above mentioned Robb Johannes.

Are any of these credible mayoral candidates? I don’t know. But who the fuck am I to blithely brush them off before giving them a chance to hear what they have to say, deliver their plans and ideas to a wider audience?

“You don’t need the press to legitimize your candidacy,” Keenan informs the fringers. “Only your campaign can do that.”

That sentiment seems hopelessly and impossibly pollyannish or unaware on Keenan’s part; neither adjective I’d normally attach to him. Yes, we can all look to Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi as living, breathing proof that an unknown entity can come out of seemingly nowhere to score an improbable victory. ignoreOutsider candidates should look to Nenshi to see how exactly he and his team pulled that off. But to point to that very, very rare example and conclude it’s all about a little innovative DIY, and that somehow the media’s exclusionary practices to all but the few anointed candidates doesn’t play into the fringe determination of the many, that only truly viable candidates will earn a place in the spotlight, I think ignores just how a vast majority of the voting public gets their information and processes it in determining what way their support is going to go.

disappointingly submitted by Cityslikr


Ford Nation Right Or Wrong

March 10, 2013

Nothing brings out the morass of illogic, paranoia and dystopian alternate reality of Ford Nation more than an allegation brought against its titular head, Mayor Rob Ford. flyingmonkeysScandal is what they feed off, proof that a vast conspiracy is perpetually at work in an attempt to discredit, humiliate and ultimately topple the duly elected mayor with a mandate from power. These people – everybody who does not whole-heartedly support the mayor – will stop at nothing to achieve their nefarious ends.

Yes, real life like some badly written comic book.

They are the Oz’s flying monkey brigade, just waiting for a signal from their leader to tear an opponent to shreds.

Never mind Mayor Ford’s past behaviour. It does not factor into their reasoning. An attack has been launched against him. Maximum damage must be inflicted upon the transgressor.

I am not suggesting the mayor is guilty of what Sarah Thomson has accused him of. How would I know? strawmanI wasn’t at the event in question.

But for the life of me, I cannot figure out what Ms. Thomson has to gain by making such a false allegation. Media attention? Sure, but to what end? She garners plenty of media attention already – she is part of the media. I’d argue she’s very good at keeping herself in the public eye.

Here’s one theory that was bandied about as I understood it:

A striving but perpetually unsuccessful political candidate makes false allegations of a sexual nature against a mayor in order to generate publicity for herself and discredit him. This will enhance her chances at victory come next election. It is a tried and true tactical strategy that has launched the careers all those other women like… readyformycloseupAnd I’ll pause here to wait for you to fill in that blank as I’m coming up empty in an attempt to provide any actual examples.

While Ms. Thomson has been unsuccessful to date in winning any election she’s run in, this interpretation of events paints someone so desperate to achieve her ends that she will stop at nothing including slander and libel. She’s a media hound. She’s flakey. How did Mayor Ford put it on his radio show today? “I don’t know if she’s playing with a full deck.”

Such a torturous, scorched earth route to get from point A to B when the shortest way would be to look at the mayor’s own past behaviour. Outbursts of public loutishness. Check. Immediate denials. Check. Heavy-handed dismissal of accusers. Check.

Again. That’s not to say Mayor Ford is guilty of what he’s been accused of. How would I know one way or the other? I’m just saying his supporters are working hard to prop up the least likely explanation.

But there are inconsistencies to Thomson’s story! She said she was drinking cranberry juice but somebody else said she was drinking scotch. She said the mayor told him he was alone down in Florida but we all know he went down with his family. hediditShe said she told his staff about his behaviour but his staff said they never talked to her at the event.

In this version of the story, only Sarah Thomson had motivation to lie. No one else.  Not the mayor. Not the mayor’s staff. Thomson just created layer and layers of lies in order to prop up her original lie.

But we have three witnesses! Ford Nation exclaims. Sarah Thompson has none. So case closed. The Mayor is innocent.

Never mind that two of those witnesses, Richmond Hill councillors, Carmine Perrelli and Greg Beros, in no way refute Thomson’s initial claim. Everyone seems to agree that she joined their group after she had her picture taken with the mayor, saying he’d just grabbed her ass. You need proof of that, came the response. So Thomson and her assistant went back to see if they could get a picture of the mayor grabbing somebody else’s ass. The Set Up, as the media subsequently called it.

None of this undercuts Thomson’s original claim.

OK, but what about Jordan Falkenstein, the eye witness who came forward to state that he did not see anything untoward going on between the mayor and Ms. Thomson. setatrapHe was waiting in line for a picture with the mayor when Thomson butted in front of him. So he got a bird’s eye view and can say with absolute certainty that at no time did he see Mayor Ford grab Ms. Thomson’s ass.

Slam dunk!

But imagine if you will, Mr. Falkenstein on the stand in a court of law.

So, there you were, Mr. Falkenstein, waiting for your turn to get a picture with Mayor Ford and this woman just barges in front of you. You’re cool with that, you say. No hard feelings. She then starts talking ‘in a cynical tone’, you say, to the mayor. You don’t hear the specifics and all the while this is happening, you don’t take your eyes off of the mayor’s right hand which you say stayed on her shoulder the entire time. That’s all you’re looking at, the mayor’s hand. You swear under oath that at no time during that entire exchange you diverted your gaze from his hand.

By its very nature, the kind of behaviour the mayor is accused of by Ms. Thomson is surreptitious, intended not to be seen by anyone else. suspiciousorangesProviding someone who says they did not see what was never intended for them to see is a pretty wobbly nail to hang your argument on. Yet it’s being touted as the final nail in the coffin of both Thomson’s claim and political career.

None of this, let me re-iterate, goes to proving the opposite, that Mayor Ford did and said what he’s been accused of doing and saying. It remains his word against her word. But the degree to which his supporters have leapt to his defense and so totally vilified Sarah Thompson is both disturbing and instructive.

For them, his pattern of previous behaviour has no bearing on his present actions. Instead, it’s all about concocting dark motivations of his accusers and demanding explanations from them that they in no way ask from the mayor. It’s almost as if an attack on him is an attack on them. To question him is to question their support of him. If Mayor Ford is capable of doing all the things he’s been accused of doing that would mean that those who supported him made a bad choice. That’s a tough pill to swallow. headinsandNobody likes admitting they might be wrong.

Instead of entertaining that possibility, Ford Nation goes to extraordinary lengths to create the unlikeliest of scenarios where they are right, where they’ve always been right and where they will always continue to be right. In such a world, everyone else has to be wrong. There is no stone of unreason they will not turn, no hypothetical too outrageous to run up the flag pole in order for that reality to happen.

matter-of-factly submitted by Cityslikr


Our Provincial Endorsement

October 5, 2011

With the importance provincial governments play in municipal life, I’m somewhat bewildered by my lack of engagement with the 2011 election. I should be on top of this, combing through party platforms, tracking down candidate debates or otherwise just staying on top of things. But no. I dithered. I procrastinated. I couldn’t beat back this feeling of caring less.

In trying to avoid the burden of responsibility, I lay the blame squarely on the respective campaigns’ shoulders. It all seemed to be about what we don’t need. We don’t need another 4 years of Dalton McGuinty. We don’t need another neo-conservative at the levers of power, desperately trying to steer the ship of state away from the future. No time for change. Exactly the time for change.

Well, if that’s the case, do I really need to be paying attention?

Snap out of it. Of course you do. Must muster interest. Do your duty as a citizen. Engage! Engage!

So I sat through Rogers’ Trinity-Spadina candidates’ debate minus the incumbent MPP. I went through campaign literature. I scoured party websites. And here’s what I came up with.

Surprise! I won’t be voting Conservative. The last thing we need is another anti-urban leader ignoring the interests of municipalities. Ignoring would be generous to Tim Hudak. It’s more like looking at cities as dumping grounds for the disastrous results of their backward policies. Remember Mike Harris?

As for the government of Dalton McGuinty? Ambivalence is mostly what wells up within me. For every strong initiative it’s made in areas like education or the environment, there’s been two steps back in the face of strong, largely misguided opposition. You don’t like wind turbines in toss-up ridings? They’re gone. Catholic school boards got problems with progressive approaches to sex education in the classrooms? Ignore it and carry on with your discriminatory, pre-Second Vatican Council ways.

Oh yeah. And let’s not forget the trampling of our civil rights, police state approving fiasco that was the G20.

The Liberal Government’s dealing with cities has been wishy-washy. Yes, it’s redone a lot of the damage inflicted by the Harris gang. Uploading many of the services dropped into our laps in the late-90s. They passed the City of Toronto Act which gave more powers and flexibility to the city to deal with its particular issues. There’s been the more than half-hearted Big Move and nod to the importance of public transit in the GTA. We got some of the gas tax. Promises have been made since 2003 of restarting provincial contribution to the annual operating budget of the TTC. Transit City was a signature piece of the transit puzzle here in Toronto. Until it wasn’t.

One might hope that, if given a 3rd majority, McGuinty would become more resolute and less afraid of his own shadow. He has stood firm in the formidable face of opposition to the HST. If Ford Nation fails to dislodge him, the premier might start standing up to the more ridiculous whims of our mayor. Moreover, Premier McGuinty might gracefully approach retirement and the Liberal party could entertain the notion of reclaiming its more liberal leanings.

But what about the Liberal candidate in our riding? One Sarah Thomson. We got a healthy dose of her when she ran for mayor of the city last year before she ran out of gas late in the proceedings. Underwhelming initially, she never really caught fire but she did evolve over the course of the race, the first of the candidates to begin backing away from the city’s-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket narrative and did seem to be listening to the actual problems we were facing. She adapted an extensive bike lane plan and was the first one to float the idea of road tolls, getting laughed out of the place by her opponents.

Yet, she still has a tendency to talk in sound bites. There’s the air of the high school valedictorian about her. I get the feeling she’s running here because there was no riding closer to home. She may be an ideal McGuinty Liberal which I hold against her. On the other hand, she’s not Rocco Rossi.

Normally, I don’t have to go through such a process of elimination about where I’ll be placing my X on the ballot. Trinity-Spadina is an NDP stronghold. I tend to lean that way most of the time. It should be a no-brainer.

However, maybe it’s the fallout of the lacklustre campaign but I’m just not feeling Andrea Horwath’s vibe. Rather than pick up where the federal NDP left off and run unabashedly with a left of centre platform, I’m feeling nickel and dimed by all the talk of capping gas prices, removing the HST from home heating fuels. On the other hand, they have promised to restart contributing to the TTC operating budget and other transit initiatives. But that feels almost ad hoc, not part of a bigger plan for cities.

Where’s the tapping into the Occupy Wall Street movement? It’s a shitstorm out there, people! Governments should not be retreating in the face scary economic news. We need to be talking Keynesian not deficit reduction. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.

And then there’s our incumbent, Rosario Marchese. He may be a very nice man and a crackerjack constituent MPP. But how would I know? I never hear much from or about him until election time. Maybe it’s living in the shadow of MP Olivia Chow who keeps me apprised of everything she’s doing.  (What’s that you say, Olivia? A private member’s bill calling for a national transit strategy?) Marchese pales in comparion. But when he missed most of the Rogers’ candidates’ debate, it just struck me that he’s merely doing time.

Leaving me with the Green Party. Now, truth be told, I’ve never really known what to make of the Green Party. I get the environmental thrust but there’s also been the fiscal conservatism they’ve often touted. Some of the pledges in their platform come with the ‘when the budget’s balanced’ caveat. I’m sorry but with all the grim predictions making the rounds out there about an almost certain double-dip recession, budget balancing should be the last thing we’re talking about now.

That said, the Green Party candidate in Trinity-Spadina, Tim Grant, has caught my fancy. A former teacher who has been involved in the environmental movement since the days when most of us were asking, what’s that? He was a member of the Harbord Village Residents Association. His platform stresses biking and walking as much as public transit. Mr. Grant advocates a Junk Food Tax and a carbon tax. During both the Rogers’ candidates debate and on The Agenda’s Confronting Poverty, he came across as not only knowledgeable but collegial with his opponents.

On top of all that, he’s pictured riding a bicycle on his campaign signs!

I realize that in voting for Tim Grant, I’m doing little more than lodging a protest. There’s no hope in hell he’ll be elected. But I’m alright with that. Let it be known that I’m protesting the Liberal government and it’s too tentative embrace of a green economy in general and a strong, unapologetic public transit strategy. I’m sending out a protest to the provincial NDP. Don’t take my vote for granted. Out with the deadwood and in with new blood.

For all those reasons, tomorrow I will be voting for Tim Grant in the riding of Trinity-Spadina and The Green Party of Ontario.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr


Harmonic Convergence

January 28, 2011

This irony cannot pass quietly without us taking an opportunity to kick it around for a moment. At least, I hope it’s ironic. I’ve never been able to get a good grasp on the word and whenever I attempt to use it, I think I might be coming across a little Alanis Morisette-y. (Not to mention repetitive. Almost a year to the day. We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke are nothing if not annually consistent.)

Last night our mayor participated in a fundraising dinner with 3 of his opponents from last year’s election to bring attention to the horrors wrought by campaign debt. The Harmony Dinner it was dubbed, and for anywhere from $250-$2500 a pop, you could pitch in and help put George Smitherman, Sarah Thompson, Rocco Rossi and the mayor back into the black. Or at least, less out of the red. Joe Pantalone, bless his red, white and green heart, inharmoniously held his own fundraiser earlier in hopes of burying a $30,000 debt because he still cannot bring himself to be in the same room as former premier Mike Harris who served as the Harmony Dinner’s co-host and who, the ex-councillor feels, inflicted untold damage on the is city. Talk about carrying a grudge. Although, remember when we almost had that subway running along Eglinton?

For his part, George Smitherman doesn’t owe any money but apparently participated in the event to help Sarah Thompson who wound up $80,000 in the hole before she ended her campaign and threw her weight behind Smitherman, helping the longtime frontrunner finish in an unspectacular second place. Personally, I would’ve let her dangle. Rocco Rossi, first in and first out of the “big” names in last year’s race, came to the dinner hoping to erase the last half of the $60,000 he was on the hook for.

The mayor… the mayor… and here’s where the irony kicks in. (We think.) Our mayor, the boastful tightwad, the budget buster, the Gravy Train stopping, little guy looking out for-ing, riding the rail of populist outrage at City Hall profligacy, yes that mayor, spent $1.7 million to get himself elected while raising almost, and I’d stretch it out a little with the playful TV catchphrase `wait for it, wait for it’ but everybody already knows where I’m going with this, almost one million dollars. 900 K to be exact which left him the biggest panhandler at last night’s event.

Mayor Rob Ford has $800,000 in campaign debt. How is that not ironic? And if it is (and I really do think it is), add another irony layer to it because, like most political donations, people giving money get partial tax rebates. So this mayor, preparing to gut the city back to its skeletal remains, first wants City Hall to help pay off the debt he accumulated campaigning for the job that would put him in the position to do the gutting.

The fuck is that?!

And why hasn’t there been a much larger public excoriation of him?

I have nothing against public financing of election campaigns. In fact, I’d be all for full public funding if there was some way to portion out money equitably and sensibly. But something about Mayor Ford wanting a piece of it just doesn’t sit well with me. And the fact that he dug a significantly bigger hole, we’re not just talking degrees but by orders of magnitude, makes me believe that we’ve elected a mayor who thinks austerity is for other people.

So those 10 years of office budgets the mayor never used while he was a councillor and saved the city, let’s call it half a million dollars? The mayor now wants some of that back. To pay his own personal campaign debt. Let’s remember that, shall we, when we’re standing out in the cold, waiting for a bus that no longer runs on Sundays.

ironically (I think) submitted by Cityslikr


Vision Quest III

October 1, 2010

Now I don’t know if this’ll work the same magic as it did last week when we wrote about Sarah Thomson’s candidacy and a few days later – voila – she dropped out of the race. But here’s hoping…

Vision Quest III. Up this week, Rob Ford!

There’s really not much more that can be said about Councillor Rob Ford and the race he’s run so far that hasn’t been said over and over and over again already. It’s all so improbable. It’s built on misguided anger and faulty numbers. It makes sense only to those who’ve pledged blind loyalty to the wacky internal logic at its molten core.

(Wacky internal logic, you ask? OK, how about this. Increase councillor responsiveness to their constituents by cutting the number of councillors in half. Wait, what? Won’t that just double their workload and make it that much harder to serve their constituents? On the face of it, sure, but since there’ll be fewer council seats, the competition to get elected will be fiercer and, as anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Free Market 101 can tell you, tougher competition means only the fittest will survive. So, fewer council seats equals better councillors, all who’ll work harder which, and I’m not even sure the hardest core of Ford’s hardcore supporters have thought this thing as far through as this, it will also increase council’s diversity. How, you ask, again? Well, as Rob Ford is on record saying, the Orientals work like dogs. Such hard workers will make them more fit to be councillors. Under a Mayor Rob Ford and his smaller council, the Orientals will take over council! Two birds with one stone.)

That, in a nutshell, is how our mayoralty campaign has gone since Ford entered the race back in March. As we’ve written here frequently, regardless of the outcome on October 25th, Rob Ford has already won. Or at least, his cause can be declared victorious. His ceaseless harping on City Hall as out of control – bloated, profligate, corrupt, onerous on the citizens – has essentially salted the grounds around Nathan Phillips Square (concrete and all) and created a poisoned environment where every politician and bureaucrat can now be painted with the same unforgiving brush. In it only for themselves with their grubby little hands always in taxpayers’ pockets, demanding more from us and giving less back in return.

That there’s but a sliver of truth to any of that is entirely beside the point. Perception is everything, and as in most talking points emanating from the small government, libertarian leaning sect, simply repeating the same message over and over again at higher and higher decibels passes as truth or fact. It sure beats having to take the time to work through a coherent policy platform.

And why would they, for godssakes? Since the beginning of his run, Ford’s been amply rewarded for the discipline he’s shown staying on message. His lead in the polls is, at least in part, credited to delivering an easy-to-remember brand. Stop the Gravy Train! Cut Wasteful Spending! A War on Cars! (Credit for that should really go to Rocco Rossi but Ford’s it made his own.) It makes for great headlines and editorial chatter.

But just how difficult is that, I have to ask. We used to demand that high school students memorize the fucking periodic table of elements. Now, we’re applauding a man who wants to be mayor for his amazing ability to string the same five or six words together over-and-over again regardless of context or much, if any, meaning? Perhaps an admirable trait to posses in the advertising and marketing businesses but something short of desirable when looking for someone to oversee the nuances of governing a large city.

That’s the rub, of course, for Rob Ford and his ardent supporters. There is no nuance to governing a city big or small. Just fill the potholes, fix the streetlights, rid the roads of crime, bikes, streetcars, the homeless (see crime), festivals and marathons, and respond to every single inquiry and demand from every single voter that makes one. Outside of that, leave it up to the private sector to take care of all our other needs. Easy-peazy.

Aside from Europeans and their apologists, who wouldn’t want life and governance to work out just like that? Just like it was back in … the imaginations of those who actually believe there was such a time when all our needs were met, our taxes low and when we could keep our doors unlocked because crime is what happened somewhere else. That is, in a 1950s sitcom.

There has been some recent pushback to these simple minded sentiments. Since Ford became the presumptive favourite, his candidacy has come under more intense scrutiny. The results have not been pretty. His transit plan (or something approximating that) is a mess. Budget numbers don’t add up, with his proposed tax cuts leaving a large whole that he can’t fill without service cuts he’s refusing to divulge. His track record in council suggests that he has very few allies at City Hall which might render him ineffectual as mayor if he does get elected. Continued personal gaffes evoke images of Mel Lastman bringing unwanted international attention on the city.

Even the Toronto Sun has questioned the viability of a Rob Ford mayoralty. Sue­-Ann Levy took a powder and hiked on over to the Rocco Rossi camp. If a radical right wing candidate can’t even maintain the support of a radical right wing rag, is there the critical mass in place to be elected? Plenty of people remain angry out there at what they perceive to be our local government’s vast shortcomings but are there enough of them who will ignore their better instincts and put their ‘champion’ in place so he can take back City Hall for them?

That will be the question between now and October 25th.

quizzically submitted by Cityslikr


Vision Quest II

September 24, 2010

The journey continues.

Up this week: Sarah Thomson!

I must write this quickly as rumours build of Ms. Thomson’s imminent departure from the mayoral race. Or maybe not. Maybe in two weeks. But then again, maybe not.

Which encapsulates her candidacy perfectly.

When I initially saw Sarah Thomson at a live debate all those months ago, I was immediately reminded of the first episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. After she expresses outrage at the personal nature of some of the questions asked during her job interview, the crusty Mr. Grant tells Mary that he thinks she’s spunk. When Mary mistakenly takes that as a compliment, Mr. Grant barks, “I hate spunk!”

Now replace the word ‘spunk’ with ‘pluck’ in order that I stop giggling like a grade schooler, and that’s how I best describe Ms. Thomson. She’s got pluck. She left home at the age of 15 and by the time she was 30, Ms. Thomson had made herself a small fortune, “turning around failing service stations and making them successful” by getting them to sell chips and stuff and not just gas and oil. She then went back to school, got herself a degree in English and philosophy which she used to begin a new career of buying rundown houses, renovating and then flipping them, I believe the term is. Moving on from there, Ms. Thomson then took on the mantel of ‘social entrepreneur’ and started up the Women’s Post media empire in 2002.

Pluck by the bucketful.

And all very Horatio Alger which could only be made more storybook perfect with a successful run for political office. So Sarah Thomson screwed on her pluck and set her eyes straight for the top. She would become mayor of Toronto!

I mean, how hard could it be to a person who’s turned service stations around and made old houses new again? What’s a city if not a place full of old houses waiting to be flipped and stations of services in need of a little entrepreneurial giddy-up? If you treat the levers of governmental power like a business then, dognabit, the levers of governmental power will start behaving like a business. And isn’t that what we all want from our government? For it to be just like a business?

There were two very likely fatal flaws in this thinking of the Sarah Thomson campaign. One, actually government isn’t just like a business. Two, there were a couple other candidates thinking just the same thing. One had bigger name recognition and the other had more money to spend.

So Ms. Thomson veered rudderlessly from fiscal conservative to social progressive, trying to recreate the John Tory formula except for the non-winning part. It even went so far as to have a couple of the Tory offspring on her team. She tried presenting herself as a no-nonsense business manager who would ferociously cut to the bottom line while maintaining a beating heart toward all the things that made a city great. Arts and culture. Architecture, heritage and forward-thinking urban planning. That the two impulses have never quite meshed into a seamless vision was not the fault entirely of Team Thomson. The exact problem has plagued both the George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi campaigns as well.

Sarah Thomson boldly introduced the idea of road tolls into the mix. Unfortunately, the implications of her idea weren’t well thought out. In addition to which, it was part of a transit plan that insisted on building subways. That Ms. Thomson as recently as last night’s debate was rethinking the matter and publicly admitted that the planned LRTs might be the best way to go goes as both a credit to her personally but a detriment to her campaign. She appears willing to listen to others and reposition herself accordingly which might make for good mayoral material but undercuts her campaign by making her look like a wishy-washy flip-flopper.

Taking us to the overarching problem of Ms. Thomson’s candidacy. Perhaps she should’ve taken the time to ground herself more thoroughly in the issues facing Toronto before jumping into the fray. Pluck was simply not going to be enough. Too many times during debates, she was caught flat-footed and at a loss for answers. Responding to questions about urban planning and design, she constantly said, “I love Jane Jacobs” and little else.

Well, everybody loves Jane Jacobs, Ms. Thomson (except for maybe Rob Ford). So what? An inability to follow up on that epitomized a candidate who hadn’t really thought much past the platitudes and therefore couldn’t generate a base willing to believe she was up to the task of running a city.

So, perhaps prematurely but quite possibly long overdue, R.I.P. Thomson For Mayor. You were plucky. Everybody hates pluck.

crustily submitted by Cityslikr


Toronto Life. Toronto The Bad.

September 21, 2010

Rob Ford’s Powers of Persuasion. Persuade (tr.v.): To induce to undertake a course of action or embrace a point of view by means of argument, reasoning, or entreaty. Entreaty: (n.): An earnest request or petition; a plea.

In her Editor’s Letter in the October issue of Toronto Life, Sarah Fulford tries to unlock the key to Rob Ford’s mayoral appeal that now has 46% of committed voters on board. For someone who assures her readers that not only wouldn’t she vote for the guy but she wouldn’t even be his friend, Fulford certainly carries a lot of water for TeamRobFord in a few short paragraphs. With enemies like this, who needs friends?

From the get-go, Fulford paints Toronto in the dystopian hues that Ford (and Smitherman and Rossi and Thomson) want you to believe it’s become. Outrageous taxation, infrastructure crumbling, civic strikes and hellacious transit are portrayed as the norm. And, dear reader, do you want to know whose fault it is? Current mayor, David Miller, and current mayor David Miller’s alone. That’s who. In Sarah Fulford’s view, all was well and good in the fair city of Toronto before we went and got goofy and elected that completely inept and ‘ineffectual’ Miller as our mayor.

Exactly how old is Sarah Fulford anyway?! Can she remember as far back as 2003? Hey, Ms. Fulford. Remember Mel Lastman? Everything wasn’t all roses and sunshine back then either.

Are there problems the city faces? Yes, of course there are. Some that David Miller didn’t deal with and may well have exacerbated? Yes, very likely. But when Fulford suggests that “the union pretty much got what it wanted” as a result of last summer’s strike, she is truly blowing smoke up her readers’ collective asses. It’s nothing short of campaign rhetoric and a patented fantasy recasting of the scenario. Not a supporter of Rob Ford? If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

It bears repeating every time someone tries painting the bleakest picture of Toronto under the mayoralty of David Miller that not everyone sees Toronto in such unflattering light. From The Telegraph UK: “Toronto nowadays is a progressive and welcoming city with a thriving economy, flourishing arts scene and renowned cuisine. Its education and healthcare provision are among the best in the world.” A tale of two cities?

I know the article’s author, Saundra Satterlee, a ‘property expert’ writes ‘a buyer’s guide, ostensibly to promote Toronto. She is an outsider who wasn’t subject to the indignity of having to deal with her garbage for a whole 6 weeks and probably didn’t spend a lot of her time in our city’s less desirable neighbourhoods. But has Sarah Fulford? Call me skeptical.

Now, I’m guessing Ms. Fulford was trying to bring balance to the representation of this election’s front runner since the issue has an article about ‘The Messy, Angry Life of Rob Ford’ written by Gerald Hannon. Heaven forbid that she and the magazine be seen as downtown, liberal elitist, just trying to deliver a hatchet job. Fair enough, I guess, but does that mean it has to come at the expense of a balanced portrayal of the state of the city and the performance of the current mayor?

Sarah Fulford ends her Editor’s Letter with the following paragraph: It was enough to make this voter wish at least one of the candidates was hyper-articulate, someone who wouldn’t embarrass us on the world stage, maybe someone with a law degree from Harvard. Oh, wait. We voted for that guy twice already, and look where it got us.

Where exactly is that, Ms. Fulford? In a city that made it through what was the biggest global economic downturn in nearly 80 years in relatively good shape albeit with numerous problems to deal with? A city still suffering under the weight of an ill-advised and ill-thought out amalgamation while attempting to make it as fair, equitable and livable a place for all its citizens? Or the mean, nasty, out of control, bureaucratic heavy city of our nightmares, hitched to a down bound train heading straight to Pottersville?

Endeavouring to be fair-minded and even-handed is admirable. How about applying that journalistic rigour to both sides of the story, Ms Fulford? It would be a good place to start as we draw nearer to electing our next mayor.

persuasively submitted by Cityslikr