John Sewell —
Less than two months to voting day and the municipal election has yet to heat up and create some genuine excitement.
The easy explanation is to blame Rob Ford. His continued presence demeans local politics, brings it down to a new low level fueled by scandal, corruption allegations, outrageous dishonesty, titillation. Some say it is hard to get out of the mucky playing field the Ford brothers have created.
Yet it is difficult to see how Rob Ford can be re-elected. He has his crew of those who will vote for a celebrity whatever he does, but it is less than 20% of eligible voters and keeps diminishing. The immediate future of the city rests in the hands of other mayoralty candidates and perhaps that is where the problem lies.
Of the previous four main contenders, only Karen Stintz (who has now withdrawn) has served on city council during the recent term and can be considered au courant with issues of the day. Indeed it was Councillor Stintz who took on Ford about his transit agenda of building only subways no matter how expensive they were and how poorly they served the target riders. She assembled a majority on council to defeat Ford and for that we should be grateful.
No other candidate for mayor has directly and successfully challenged Ford. But her election campaign, now over, had been a non-starter, fraught with mismanagement and mixed messages, so she is on the radar of only a few percentage of voters.
John Tory is by all accounts an admirable person, backed by a distinguished list of Toronto leaders, but he has never served on city council. It was in 1903 that a candidate with no council experience was last elected Mayor of Toronto, so he has a difficult historical legacy to overcome. Toronto voters seem to require candidates to first show their commitment by serving on council before becoming mayor.
Tory also has made some costly political mistakes both when he ran for mayor eight years ago and when serving as leader of the Conservative Party of Ontario. Some people worry he might do the same again before October 27.
Olivia Chow and David Soknacki have both served as city councillors, Chow before she decamped to Parliament almost 10 years ago, Soknacki more recently. Soknacki is one of the few candidates to raise a new and important issue, namely challenging the police budget by changing the shift schedule so officers are not paid for working 28 hours in every 24 hour period. He estimates the saving at $65 million a year. (I suspect it will be even larger.) But as strong as that issue is, Soknacki seems to be without a cadre of supporters, so he is seen as a loner. His campaign needs a good list of endorsers if it is to take off.
As for Chow, it certainly can’t be said that she has run an exciting campaign.
Her supporters are many, particularly among the progressive voices in Toronto, but too often she talks boiler plate, such as stale ideas about hand-gun control and unworkable ideas about affordable housing.
One senses that local councillors would find her mayoralty somewhat liberating, allowing a million flowers to bloom, but that’s energy she apparently has yet to harness.
There is no shortage of good issues—the future of the Island airport, the need for new taxing powers for the city, the need to demolish the Gardiner expressway, replacing the Scarborough subway with an LRT, a city plan which provides an alternative to more high-rise condos, a better structure than the megacity—but apart from different views on the subway, they haven’t figured in this election so far.
The problem is that the candidates are more interested in being elected mayor than they are in defining a better future for the city. To be creditable in defining a better future, they would need a track record of trying to do that at city council during the past four years, but none invested energy in doing that.
Of course the result of the election is important. As we know from the recent past, the person who fills the mayor’s chair can have an enormous influence on city life.
One only wishes that the candidates had convinced us by now that they would be terrific, rather than tolerable, for Toronto.
John Sewell is a former Mayor of Toronto.