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Hope Hidden in the Lies

When serious people join the conversation and a real choice looms, Rob Ford might just fade away.

municipal election 2014

Of all forms of lying, making predictions is the most socially acceptable.

A few barely heard voices tell us there will be a provincial election within a few months’ time. But the only thing that anybody I know wants to talk about is who will be the mayor-elect of Toronto nine months from now. The Ford horrors have lent a completely unrealistic yet undeniable urgency to the question.

One is tempted to say that battle lines are being drawn early, except for that to happen the generals would have to be in the field. They would certainly have to exist. But so far, the would-be leaders prefer to skulk in the weeds while the war cry rises. Neither they nor anybody else has the foggiest idea of what will happen in the coming months. The polls are purely recreational.

Ergo, it is a perfect time to make predictions.

I predict that Rob Ford will fade away, so much so that he might not even have enough juice left by November to spoil anybody else’s chance of winning. I foresee a time when Olivia Chow, watching her lead diminish as right-wing voters get serious and fall in behind a legitimate contender, turns to defending the wounded warrior as a fellow champion of the anti-establishment. But much of his Nation defects nonetheless.

Today, studying polls that have no bearing on reality, we marvel at Ford Nation’s remarkable loyalty despite every wicked thing its leader does. Most new incidents inspire a poll that shows his support has only increased. The inescapable logic is that Ford can win simply by continuing to disgrace himself on a regular basis until November, at which time he will stumble stupefied into the mayor’s chair with a hooker on one arm and a needle in the other.

Really? The only credible aspect of any such scenario is that Ford will indeed continue to disgrace himself and humiliate Toronto. That is the one consistent pattern we can rely on, the stablest basis from which to make any predictions. But it is far less certain that voters will continue to be so forgiving.

Things change when serious people join the conversation and a real choice looms. Granted, nothing of that sort happened in 2010, when a weak field and an insufficiently disgraced demagogue combined to inspire a massive outbreak of civic irresponsibility. But that we will call an anomaly. The 2014 campaign is shaping into something much more like the 2003 contest that brought an end to the crazy and corrupt Lastman years—and that campaign remains the unquestioned highpoint of political discourse in 21st century Toronto.

The context was almost identical: Mel Lastman had repeatedly humiliated Toronto on the world stage and the city was aching for redemption. A trio of top-quality candidates vied to replace him, and the quality of their debate was remarkable. It was redemption in itself, a true contest of ideas led by three exceptionally articulate champions.

In response, dopey Melville got serious, the left swung with extraordinary discipline behind one favoured candidate, and the utterly unpredicted result (except by me) was Mayor David Miller.

Rob Ford’s best hope of winning in November is the bloodbath he predicted late last year, a multi-candidate melee in which the last man standing wins. But so far, there’s little sign of it. The spontaneous discipline that appeared a decade ago is showing itself again, especially on the left.

The most remarkable fact about the 2014 mayoralty campaign so far is not that it is already going strong but that there is still not a single declared candidate to represent hundreds of thousands of progressive voters. Dozens of legitimate aspirants, charismatic dreamers, dark horses, and crackpots alike are obediently sitting on their hands and biting their tongues as the left’s one and only champion slowly and portentously doffs her veils.

The performance may be irritating, but it’s no less impressive for all that. The left is looking very solid, the right dangerously divided. But to continue the 2003 analogy, Olivia Chow’s dominating semi-presence and spectacular polling numbers are eerily similar to the supposed advantages once enjoyed by Barbara Hall. And even if the rest of Toronto has forgotten, every politico remembers what happened to her.

There’s no reason to suspect that the right can’t benefit from the same sort of voter discipline that brought Miller to power a decade ago—dumping Rob Ford, in other words, in favour of a more respectable candidate like John Tory. That is arguably the only way forward for Ford Nation now, and you can be sure that the mayor’s right-wing rivals will be making that argument at every opportunity.

Will Rob Ford really just fade away? He remains so stubbornly dominant today, and the consensus among those who want to see him go has always been that he is much more likely to explode. But past evidence suggests megacity voters are not always idiots. Given how Ford has dragged us all through his muck, it would be wrong to underestimate the appeal of a fresh start under respectable leadership.


  • Clone8

    It seems like people are becoming aware that the more “articulate” and “respectable” politicians have been making a mess for decades and we are always left paying for it while they retire with their wealth. If Olivia didn’t have such terrible out of touch policies she might have a chance but but like all professional politicians her career overrides any knowledge of reality.

    • OgtheDim


      An examination of every election in Canada since the referendum on the Charlottetown accord indicates Canadians either want to throw the bums out or are voting in competency. There is nothing anywhere that indicates Canadians are voting against respectability and thoughtfulness. Quite the opposite, actually (google “Reptilian Kitten Eater”).

      The last city election was a throw the bums out vote (see Joey Pantalone’s results). This one is shaping up to be about competency (which is why Stintz is doomed – her flip flop on subways vs. LRT just reeks of opportunism).

      • Matt Patterson

        The 2010 election was not a referendum on David Miller. Rob Ford won because voters preferred him to Smitherman, Pantalone, Thomson, and Rossi. Miller was not in the race (though polls showed that he was more popular than all of the 2010 candidates).

        • OgtheDim

          Literalism? Really?!?! Are you Joe Clark in disguise? :-)

          Come on, the whole gravy train schtick screams “throw the bums out”. Joey Pantalone was the symbol of that and the rest didn’t differentiate themselves from the past regime enough to get any mental traction.

          As for those polls, again, they are as relevant as the ones who state Rob Ford’s approval rating.

          • Matt Patterson

            Joe Pantalone was a boring candidate who never excited even the most loyal Miller supporters. No one expected Pantalone to win, independent of people’s feelings about Miller.

            In my view, had Miller run again in 2010, he would have won – if for no other reason than a vote-split among all the right-leaning candidates. We’ll never know for sure, but I see at least as much evidence for this outcome as I do for Miller having gone down in defeat (by Ford or anyone else).

            However, by not running, Miller essentially allowed a panel of right-wing candidates (Smitherman, Ford, Thomson, and Rossi) write the narrative of his tenure. As a result, he’s remembered as a downtown elitist who raised taxes to finance fringe, downtown-focused projects. However, in reality Miller was an overall popular mayor (approval ratings typically above 60%) who won a large portion of suburban Wards against Tory, and all the suburban wards against Pitfield. Many of his major political initiatives were focused on extending additional services to the suburbs (priority neighbourhoods, transit city, tower renewal, etc).

            I’m not saying that Ford didn’t represent real anger (much of it directed at the provincial liberals), but I don’t think that anger characterizes the city as a whole.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            “In my view, had Miller run again in 2010, he would have won…”

            An Ipsos/Reid poll from August 2010 agrees with you.

    • Dogma

      “If Olivia didn’t have such terrible out of touch policies”

      What are her policies?

    • bobloblawbloblawblah

      ” but like all professional politicians her career overrides any knowledge of reality.”

      This could’ve been written about Ford, who himself is a career politician. What could be more out of touch than trying to kill the Eglinton Crosstown line in order to extend an underused stubway? It’s rubbish that people aren’t looking for respectable leaders. We’ve had four years of Circus Clown antics from Ford, I think we’re willing to give the articulate leaders a try again.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      Multiple polls strongly suggest Chow will win no matter who she runs against, so perhaps you’re the one out of touch.

  • Patrick_Metzger

    If the voters are choosing between left and right, and the right splits while the left coalesces behind a single candidate, we’ll get ourselves a new mayor. But if the relevant dividing line is actually between sane and insane candidates, and the sane vote is split….welcome back, Mayor Ford!

    • bobloblawbloblawblah

      Not likely. Running a campaign for mayor in a big city is huge undertaking requiring a lot of money and a good organization with smart people. Ford has his own money but a lot of those Bay Street types will be reluctant to fund another 4 years of crazy. Ford no longer has experienced politicos like Kouvalis or Ciano to run his campaign. Rob has Doug Ford as his manager. That’s pretty scary when one considers the loony ideas Doug brought to City Hall(think Ferris Wheels). Ford will contiue to get some 10 to 20 per cent of the committed voter but there’s a lot people who voted for him last time that won’t even give him a look in 2014. The blustring buffoon act doesn’t seem to hurt him but the drugs? that doesn’t go over with the conservative family types. Ford is walking dead.

    • JanMac

      I like the “If”. Who says we have to choose between left and right? Why can’t a candidate be fiscally responsible and support the programs the citizens require? Municipal politics is non-partisan so that councils can focus on the good of the whole city. What’s partisan about sewers, schools, police, transit, roads, parks, etc.?

    • AllanG

      Or more likely:
      a) Ford is charged for something
      b) He doesn’t have to resign and doesn’t
      c) He’s convicted and should resign but doesn’t because he’ll claim to be launching an appeal (if he’s re-elected which is doubtful imho)
      d) And so it goes up the judicial ladder as far as he can take it.
      Obviously this can’t all happen before the election.

  • Frostmoth

    Hopefully TPS makes their move before Oct 27 and Ford problem = gone.

  • Astin44

    I have little doubt that by the end of the campaign, the Left will have one viable candidate (be it Chow or someone else), and the right will have their strongest option AND Ford still going. Ford doesn’t know how to step aside or quit, and as such, he’ll be fighting until voting day. So even if, say, Tory and Chow are doing a masterclass on debates and pulling strong support, there will still be people who come out and vote Ford, handing it to the Left.

    Then there’s Soknacki. A more traditionally Canadian centrist, basing his policies on economic reality instead of wishes and sloganeering. He COULD pull a strong contingent in the middle, and if he thinks he has a realistic chance, could still be sticking around, really messing things up all over the place, but still ultimately helping the Left.

    This is all of course assuming that the Left candidate doesn’t do something monumentally stupid, or at least has the optics of stupidity.

    As for the Police, I don’t expect them to make a move on Ford until after the election. No matter when he’s charged it will be a circus, but it will be far worse if he’s Mayor, or if it affects the election.

  • NYCBoy2305

    Olivia Chow is no Barbara Hall.

    • HotDang

      Barbara Hall isn’t even Barbara Hall enough for you sometimes.

  • Dogma

    I don’t know, man. You’re more of an optimist than I am. When I talk to my parents, who live far out of province but follow Canadian news half the time I’m having to debunk Ford talking points. (No, that Star reporter wasn’t lurking in his backyard. That was a lie.)

    And I hear conversations in downtown Toronto where people are saying, “Well yeah, but Ford has saved us money.”

    We all laugh at the Fords interviews where they’ll tell the same lies over and over again. But those lies get out there and take hold in the public’s mind.

    Will Ford win? I doubt it. But I’m not prepared to count him out.

  • Konstantine

    Rob Ford might fade away? Sadly herpes doesn’t really fade away. We probably will continue to hear about his criminal activity when he is reduced to being private citizen.

  • Matt Patterson

    This is my general prediction as well – that Ford’s support slowly diminishes as the campaign goes on. However, I don’t think we can safely assume that all of Ford’s support transfers to another right-wing candidate. Ford and Chow share a populist appeal that distinguishes them from the other potential candidates on the field (Soknacki, Stintz, and Tory). IIRC, polls have shown that some Ford supporters (a quarter to a third) would shift to Chow.

    Also, as the political dynamics shift from right vs. left (e.g. Tory vs. Miller) to elite vs. populist (e.g. Smitherman vs. Ford), the political map begins to change as well. Recall that Tory captured some of Smitherman’s neighbourhoods in central Toronto, and Miller captured a lot of Ford’s neighbourhoods in the suburbs.

    • OgtheDim

      Serious question: is Chow that much of a populist? She is popular, but I thought it was due to competency, within the framework she practices politics. She doesn’t come across like a populist.

      • Matt Patterson

        A good example of Chow’s populism is her support for David Chen, owner of the Lucky Moose, after he made a citizen’s arrest of a shoplifter (position that aligned her with Harper). In general, Chow seems to present herself as a protector of families and struggling immigrants. Her major initiatives are bread and butter things like childcare. I can imagine that her campaign will focus a lot on helping people who are struggling to pay their bills – addressing the feelings of anger and exclusion that seemed to characterize Ford Nation, but from the left.

        This is quite different than the high-minded, leftist style of David Miller who is associated with things like the “creative city”, environmentalism, and the Clinton Global Initiative.

        Plus, in terms of optics, a visible minority woman who once lived in public housing seems much less elite than a Harvard-educated lawyer from High Park.

  • Doug Earl

    Since he was elected, Rob Ford has done nothing but lose supporters. In the past year, he has shed them at an accelerating rate. He is, week by week, alienating the centre-conservative voters he needs to win. Once a credible, viable centre-conservative alternative enters the race, they will be gone for good. At that point, Rob will be maybe in the mid-to-high teens in the polls, where he will likely stay for the rest of the race as die-hard Ford Nation digs in its heels. But having alienated everyone else, Rob will have no place to grow. He is already in a situation where every Rob Ford voter who will ever be in his camp already is. As it becomes more and more obvious through polling and through observing the merits of the other candidates that Rob hasn’t got a chance of actually winning, members of Ford Nation will become less and less likely to get off their front porches and turn out for a lost cause. So Rob Ford ends up on election night with low turnout and–maximum–15 per cent of the votes cast.