Sarah Thomson speaking to press and supporters earlier today.
For thirty minutes this afternoon Sarah Thomson had a captive audience, eager to hear what she would do as mayor of Toronto. As the only declared woman candidate, Tomson’s official campaign launch drew significant media attention despite her upstart status. And frankly speaking, she blew it.
She began by holding a large cardboard key to represent her plan to “unlock” the city to “new opportunities.” Corny, but catchy. Unfortunately she didn’t follow it up with much more meat to her candidacy.
Thomson is likable—she is full of grit and optimism. Unfortunately, this city is big and so are its problems, and she simply does not seem equipped with the political tools to meet this challenge.
Thomson’s chosen symbol: a key to help unlock new opportunities.
A self-made business woman with her own “bootstraps” story, Thomson struck out on her own at fifteen, staying afloat by couch surfing and occasionally sleeping outside. After working as a gas station attendant she franchised a station at seventeen, was operating four stations by the time she was twenty-four, and started a home renovation business on the side. Meanwhile, she completed a philosophy BA at McMaster as a part-time student. Years later, Thomson ran for city council in Hamilton, narrowly losing to the incumbent. She also founded the Hamilton Examiner, later selling it to start Women’s Post, the women’s business magazine that she has been publishing for the past eight years.
Thomson has never held a political office, and her one-time candidacy in Hamilton is her only campaign experience. It shows. Her platform is based more on her personality than any real proposals. While this might be effective in the ambition-driven business world, Thomson does not seem like she will be a match for her politically savvy opponents.
At the press conference today Thomson levied criticism at the “opportunistic bureaucrats” and “backroom operators” at City Hall, promising to bring in “fresh ideas” to change the face of the city.
So what are these ideas?
Her “Best Service and Pricing Option” would open up city contracts to competitive bidding, opening the door to privatizing many city services. She would develop an “extensive subway” that would reach “all neighbourhoods.” She would remove red tape to promote innovation and evaluate city services for efficiency. (She named the Peter Street shelter as an example of poor management.)
To sum up: reduce the role of union labour to save money, and fix the TTC by spending unprecedented amounts of money. Not so fresh, and not so practical.
When pressed to say more, Thomson relied on feel-good jargon that took the polish off of her platform. Transit City? She would “re-jig” it. Union reaction to open bidding? “We’ll all have to sit down and work together.” Creating public-private partnerships? “As soon as you open the doors to an idea, people will come to that idea.”
Thomson’s blog on the Women’s Post website reveals the same general ignorance of what is required for a successful campaign. A two-part series entitled “How to Run for Mayor of Toronto” makes her campaign sound like a school project.
It takes a lot of guts to stand in front of seasoned media veterans and account for a freshly released platform. It also takes a strong narrative and strong proposals. Thomson seemed a bit stunned, unprepared, and unable to establish herself as a legitimate candidate. As the Globe pointed out this morning, this betrays an over-confidence, a naiveté about politics, or a self-destructive mix of both.
Catchphrases don’t cut it. It is a shame that Thomson cannot translate her business skills into a meaningful political presence.
Photos by Emily Shepard/Torontoist.