In some ways, this election has been the easiest ever for downtown, progressive types like me. Not only has there been an obvious target for our righteous rage, the apparent lack of a clear alternative has allowed liberal progressives to lazily wallow in depression and negativity while avoiding the difficult work of supporting a particular idea and by extension, a candidate as well as the painstaking work of defending their choice to others. This campaign is all negativity; from the leading candidate on down to his most ardent detractors. Negativity is so very simple because it’s purely reactive. Your opponent says or does something and you react. And thanks to Twitter and Facebook, you don’t even have to leave the house to be on the reactionary bandwagon.
To be fair, I’ve not only been on the Anti-Rob Ford bandwagon, at times I’ve been pulling it forward with my teeth. I’ve taken pot shots, at various times I’ve wished violence upon Rob Ford and/or his supporters and I’ve engaged in brutal arguments with good friends about the mental capacity of Ford’s supporters. And to be clear, in general it’s been great sport. Ford is not only an easy target, he constantly provides you with new material. A fact which makes attacking Ford a very hard habit to break. Truly, were I not deeply concerned about Ford’s chances of winning and the untold damage his mayoralty would do to our city, I might be inclined to keep the blinders on and hammer away on Ford until judgement day…or the election.
But the stakes are too high and I can’t bear the thought of even four years of Rob Ford. Under the Ford administration, every large project in the city will be at risk, regardless of its necessity and/or quality. Of course, items like Transit City will fall. Worse, Ford’s lack of enthusiasm about the waterfront could set Toronto back years on a project that’s already decades behind. His love of the car will stunt our progress towards becoming a more pedestrian, bike and transit centric city. And worse still, his style of divisive anti-intellectual governance would virtually assure us years of unrest in the city as Ford wages a personal war against trade unionists, downtowners and any other “elites” from whom his base demands blood. Add in the risk of a Conservative government at Queens Park (something that one might think unlikely, but would anyone have bet on Rob Ford two years ago?) and you have a perfect storm of anti-urban sentimentality. No, the risk is just too high to treat Rob Ford with the same bemusement Americans applied to George W. Bush in the run up to the 2000 election. It wasn’t until it was far too late that liberal Americans paid his political machine the credit it deserved.
So, if one is not satisfied simply being anti-Ford, one must be pro-someone. And without belabouring the difficulty of the decision or running through the individual debits and credits of the four non-Ford candidates, I’ll simply say that my choice for the next mayor of Toronto is George Smitherman.
Now, allow me to tell you why.
Reason #1 – He seems to have the best chance of beating Rob Ford
I’ll concede that Smitherman has run a terribly imperfect campaign. (Nice, eh? Starting an endorsement with a criticism?) His message has been mixed and he groped for the crown long before it might be raised above his head. All of these things are regrettable tactical errors, but they don’t dissuade me. It’s not easy to run a broad, issues-based campaign. This entire election is proof of that. All of the non-Ford candidates have stumbled, some badly at times. Rob Ford, on the other hand, has stayed consistent but he’s also stayed well clear of the issues. Why? Because it’s tough to run a broad, issues-based campaign. And while not always successful, I would argue that it’s relatively easy to run a narrow, populist campaign. Ford’s biggest credit is not that he picked the right style, but rather that he picked the right time to make such a run.
However, despite Smitherman’s failings as a broad campaigner, he still has the numbers to keep himself solidly in second place and a brand new Ipsos Reid poll suggest that he’d win a head to head. So, for purely mathematical reasons, I’d be inclined to pick Smitherman.
But wait, there’s more…
Reason #2 – Toronto does NOT have a spending problem, it has a revenue problem
Downloading has been breaking the back of this city for nearly 10 years and will continue to do so unless a new deal can be struck with the province. If I could highlight one major failing (the most significant in my opinion) of David Miller it’s that he was never able to create any kind of positive working relationship with the province. When faced with a situation in which he felt like the Ontario government was mistreating Toronto, Miller typically adopted his fighting stance, making demands for restitution or attempting to lay a guilt trip on the McGuinty government by repeatedly suggesting that he “do the right thing”. This strategy was clearly in error, hindsight shows us that clearly. Despite his efforts with the gas tax and Transit City funding, the city has still failed to make remarkable progress towards pre-Harris levels of funding. And maybe it never will, but creating an acrimonious relationship with the province is an effective way to ensure it won’t.
I will state this unequivocally. George Smitherman is a career politico, an insider; the kind of Teflon politician that makes some people squirm. Yet I believe that it is only with this type of person in the big chair at city hall that we have a chance of increasing provincial funding to the city. With Ford, it’s certain we’re dead in the water. With Pantalone, despite his admittedly wonderful platform, I’m confident of a continuation of Miller style wrangling. With Rossi or Thompson…well, they ought to get out of this thing before they ruin it for everyone.
Toronto cannot generate much more revenue on its own. Road tolls are a genius idea, but should Smitherman win, he wouldn’t dare propose something like that to a city that’s so politically fractured. So despite their merits, you can put road tolls out of your mind. If David Miller was too much of a chicken to touch them, expect no more from Mayor George.
So, without selling our assets and with the prospect of new taxes or tolls being essentially zero, the only source of new money is the Province of Ontario. So my vote goes to the guy with the best chance of getting that money.
And I accept that the Liberal government might be ousted in two years. All the more reason to get someone in there now that has a snowball’s chance in hell of squeezing out some cash.
And who can bear the thought of Ford in the mayor’s office and Tim Hudak in the Premier’s. Might as well just pack up Toronto and move it to another country. I’d suggest Sweden.
Reason #3 – He’s not likely to do anything rash
If you’re like me and think that Toronto is actually in a pretty good place right now, the last thing you want is anyone who’s out for massive change. Despite anything that George Smitherman might say on the campaign trail, it is my firm belief that he’ll be a very passive mayor. And that’s just fine.
I don’t want a mayor that has his or her own ideas about waterfront development. I want a mayor that will let the development that’s already been planned and/or started to continue as planned; with a little extra cash, if possible.
I don’t want a mayor who has his own ideas about transit. I want a mayor who’ll go to Queen’s Park, suck up to the Liberals and get Transit City going, with full funding restored. (PS…despite what he’s said, George is not going to build subways. You know why, because no one is going to build subways.)
And finally, I don’t want a mayor who’s going to get up on his soap box, shake his fist and “stand up for our city”. That brand of populism is just as useless as Ford’s suburban pandering. I want a mayor who’s going to calmly steer the ship, get the Provincial money going again and let the very positive work of David Miller continue to shape Toronto into a more people friendly, urban city. That’s not work for a barnstorming, change oriented mayor. That’s work for a reasonably intelligent person who wants to survive politically. No waves…steady as she goes. Between waterfront development and Transit City alone, there’s more than enough work to keep one busy. And with those projects quietly humming along, there’ll be plenty of time for other worthy and politically warm and fuzzy projects like bike infrastructure to progress. Imagine how much time David Miller would have had on his hands if he wasn’t always looking for an upper level of government with which to fight.
So there…I like George. My endorsement is both strategic and passionless. He doesn’t light a fire in my belly, but that’s probably a good thing. David Miller lit a fire in my belly and I supported his first campaign with great zeal. And what did I get in return? I got an enthusiastic Mayor who was great on long term thinking, a terrific planner and an ideal city booster while at the same time being perhaps the worst politician this side of Joe Clark; a man who could misread and misplay almost any situation. From passing needed taxes to playing chicken with the Feds over the streetcar purchase; from the gas tax campaign to the island airport. The man was full of passion and woefully light on savvy.
The upshot is that his wonderful long-term thinking has given us substantial, positive long-term development. The downside is we can’t pay for it without help. I’m voting for the guy who I think can get us the help. I encourage you to do the same.
Vote George Smitherman.