Former councillor and budget chief wants to usher in a new era of transparency at City Hall.
“Toronto is facing serious challenges. It’s not only transit gridlock, but also political gridlock.”
David Soknacki thinks he is the candidate who can help break that logjam. The 59 year old former city councillor from Scarborough—a conservative who was also David Miller’s pragmatic choice for budget chief, and who currently runs the spice company he founded nearly 30 years ago—is now officially running for mayor. The theme of his campaign on its first day: I am the sensible guy who can keep it together.
He didn’t need to utter the words “Rob Ford” for the message to be clear.
“If we’re going to change our city for the better we need to have levelheaded, practical, and productive leadership,” Soknacki said. “The first step in bringing a new, positive agenda to Toronto, and bringing responsible management to the office of the mayor, is to be transparent, so the public can see clearly that City Hall is operating with the standards that they expect and that they deserve.”
To that end, Soknacki launched his campaign not with soaring rhetoric, pithy slogans, or detailed policy pronouncements, but with some promises regarding the ethics of his mayoral bid. Among them:
- Pre-emptively disclosing campaign donations. Candidates must by law disclose all donors who contribute more than $100; that information is made public a few months after an election is held. Many candidates voluntarily disclose their donor lists just prior to election day; in 2010 this included Rob Ford and Joe Pantalone. Soknacki’s promise on this issue, therefore, isn’t breaking major new ground, though he is promising to release information as he goes—with quarterly in March and June, and then real-time updates as of Labour Day—rather than doing one big release of information right before we head to the polls.
- Disclosing any meetings with lobbyists during the campaign period. (Legally, this only needs to be reported once someone has been elected.)
- If elected, Soknacki says he’ll have an arms-length relationship with his own business. Given the nature of that business he says its unlikely anyone would have worries about conflicts of interest, but he adds, “Torontonians have a right to expect that my business headquarters will not be used as a private city hall by myself, my friends, or my political allies.” The suggestion that other mayors with large private businesses might do so was unspoken but clear.
- If elected, maintaining and publishing a detailed schedule, so that “citizens, reporters, and watchdog organizations will never have to make freedom of information requests to access this information ever again.” Once more, the implied contrast with Ford was clear.
Soknacki quickly acknowledged that he’ll have an uphill climb—most Torontonians haven’t heard of or don’t remember him—but maintains that in a 10 month campaign, it’s certainly possible. (There’s some precedent for this: a little-known councillor named David Miller was polling in the single digits when he launched his run for mayor in 2003.) The silver lining his campaign staff is counting on: analysis of existing polls shows that of the people who have heard of Soknacki, a significant percentage of them like him and would consider voting for him.
At the end of his press conference came a question that seemed to take Soknacki by surprise. “Have you ever smoked crack cocaine?” asked the Sun‘s Don Peat. Soknaski’s answer: “Zero. No.” And then: “No, I’m not nearly that interesting.”
It’s not usually a good sales pitch. But in Toronto in 2014, it actually has a shot.