Illustration by Chloe Cushman/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
Is it fair to paint Toronto’s eligible voters as villains? What did they/we/you do to deserve it, after all?
By municipal election standards, October’s vote was a staggering success. Voter turnout jumped to over 53%, a considerable improvement in civic engagement from 2006, when only 39% of us cast a ballot.
Now for the finger-pointing.
Before we get too self-congratulatory, this still means that almost half of us couldn’t haul our butts off our Don’t-Pay-Til-2015 leatherette sofas to get down to the polling station and have a say in who we’re going to complain about for the next four years. Not only were we too busy on election day, but every day during the weeks of advance polls in which we could have voted.
Rob Ford got his mayor’s chair with 383,501 votes, versus 287,393 for Smitherman and 98,840 for Joe Pantalone. Had another 7% of eligible voters showed up to vote for Smitherman, we wouldn’t be putting a tarp over Transit City right now.
You don’t like Smitherman or Pantalone? Well, neither do we, much, which takes us to the next part of our argument.
Because it’s not that Smitherman would have been the best of all possible mayors—he just would have been…better.
To be clear, Rob Ford’s not the villain here (although he will be somewhere nearby). However, in order to direct the “j’accuse” at a million and a half people, we have to ask ourselves whether he’s really the best we could have gotten.
From all possible candidates in Canada’s largest city, we couldn’t have found someone other than a career politician from a well-to-do family who’s managed to brand himself as a working class hero? Who proposes to fund a multi-billion-dollar subway system by making city councillors pay for their own coffee? Who lets his investiture be hijacked by Canada’s most iconic lunatic, who in turn uses the occasion to get decked out like a circus chimp and test out his neo-McCarthyist stand-up routine?
So yes, right? We could have done better?
Voting for Ford, while it may demonstrate civic engagement, in some cases surely must evidence an attendant lack of engagement with reality. (We make allowance for the contingent who acknowledged that Ford’s platform was fantastical but voted for him anyway, because they found him most trustworthy or he once returned their phone call.) Notwithstanding endorsements from two Toronto newspapers who drank the gravy train kool-aid, there’s little evidence that our mayor has more than rhetoric to back his claims he’ll save hundreds of millions through unspecified budget cuts, while keeping taxes down and minimizing service reductions.
If he can’t do that, there’s not much left in his bag of election promises besides kilometres of unfunded subways. And a rudimentary amount of homework would have made that pretty obvious.
So this is why Toronto’s eligible voters get villainized. Firstly, only half of us bothered to vote, and almost half of those who did went for the candidate who promised easy answers that don’t add up, and whose divided City Hall looks to be taking us towards four years of literal and figurative gridlock.
Let’s face it: democracy doesn’t really work, but it’s the best thing we’ve got. And all that’s asked of the electorate is that we think, and then vote. Too many of us didn’t do either.