With Reservations, George Smitherman for Mayor
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With Reservations, George Smitherman for Mayor

On a Tuesday evening early this April, an eclectic mix of progressive, civically engaged Torontonians gathered in a living room for an off-the-record Q-and-A with Joe Pantalone. The group included experienced activists, campaign veterans, and urban issues writers, all well-versed in the city’s affairs and all concerned about its future. It was, more or less, a mutual audition—Pantalone sussing out potential support and everyone else sussing out Pantalone.
It was not an inspiring night.
The charge most often levied against Pantalone is that he blithely goes on as though everything at City Hall is fundamentally alright when it isn’t. We understand the complaint and agree it has some merit, but our concern with him from the beginning has been a little different: not that Pantalone fails to see the problems that held Miller’s administration back, but that he fails to see how its programme could be extended further.
Many of those championing Pantalone now—claiming he’s the only real choice for those who care about social services, culture, the environment, and so on—are also glossing over some less progressive moments in his career: cheerleading for the Front Street Extension, implementing Mel Lastman’s disastrous tax freeze, campaigning for old friends instead of progressive candidates, failing to show up for the billboard tax vote.
None of these are deal-breakers. None disqualify Pantalone from office, and none make us reject his candidacy outright. But neither is he a dream candidate who deserves our vote at all costs, consequences be damned.

Those consequences have a name, and it is Rob Ford. We cannot deny Ford’s dedication to constituent service, nor the sincerity of his commitment to ending waste—these are strengths. Unfortunately they are Ford’s only strengths, and they’re not especially great ones given the job in question. The office of mayor is not, in the first place, about fixing potholes. It is about deputizing someone competent to fix them, and tackling the bigger and more difficult task of charting a course for the city’s development.
Ford’s fiscal plans are nigh-innumerate, and his grasp of policy can kindly be called superficial. More importantly, Ford appears to reject most of what makes Toronto, Toronto. He doesn’t like diversity and would put a halt to immigration if he could. He dislikes arts spending, doesn’t think we can afford waterfront development, and has suggested he’d like to pull funding for street festivals like Pride and Caribana. Ford doesn’t, by his own admission, like downtown Toronto much at all.
To be effective, a mayor must know not just how to lay out a policy direction but also how to advance it—to advocate, to persuade, to forge alliances. Ford has never given us the slightest indication he is able to do so; in meetings he is consistently bombastic, rude, and prone to throwing tantrums.
In the best case, a Ford mayoralty would be one of missed opportunities: he wouldn’t get anything done, but he also wouldn’t succeed in destroying many of the things we hold dear. The worst case is much grimmer.
Which brings us to George Smitherman. He has run what can only be called an extremely erratic campaign: first laissez-faire, then reactionary and conservative, and finally centre of the road. This lack of a compass has been extremely unsettling.
The major complaints against Smitherman: he wasted millions of taxpayer dollars by mismanaging eHealth, he negotiated an enormous sole-source deal with Samsung while energy minister, he leads by bullying rather than consensus. These are all very real black marks. But they are, at the least, black marks incurred while trying to build, to pursue new policies. Ford seeks only to stop, to cut, to do less. Whatever Smitherman’s sins, he is not guilty of the mortal one of wanting to dismantle the very thing our government was instituted to do: promote the common good.
Our biggest objection to Ford is this: he thinks of us as nothing more than taxpayers. He reduces our citizenship, our participation in the life of the city, to mere transactional relationships. In so doing he prizes small individual gains (through reduced fees and taxes) over large communal benefits. We reject this view—of governance, and of Toronto—outright.
Those who contend Smitherman is no better than Ford have convinced us only that they are sowing fear without due cause. In his time at two ministries, Smitherman showed no penchant for blindly taking an axe to services. His mayoral platform calls for significant staff cuts through attrition, which will be impossible to implement without affecting service levels. But Smitherman has not, in his political life to date, shown an appetite for the kind of wholesale withdrawal of support that Ford is contemplating.
Smitherman is free of many of Ford’s most disturbing traits. He defends our diversity, our culture, and our need for intelligent investment in the future. He has a vastly better grasp of the issues, and is better equipped to represent Toronto when dealing with other levels of government or trying to attract business to the city.
Recently, Smitherman has been running a measured, and in some cases progressive, campaign: endorsed by leading progressives, earning top grades from ArtsVote and the Toronto Environmental Alliance, and advocating for new growth and development.
In our view, there are thus two candidates worthy of consideration: Pantalone, and the moderate incarnation of Smitherman.
A great deal has been said in this election about the perils of strategic voting. Progressives are being exhorted to vote their consciences, their hearts, their real choice. The message is that for progressives the only honest vote is a vote for Pantalone, that voting for Smitherman is nothing more than giving in to fear at the expense of integrity.
We find this line of thought misguided.
Voting strategically means voting for someone other than the candidate you think best able to do the job. It does not entail that you’ve betrayed your values.
Voting is and always should be an act of conscience. But our consciences must weigh many things: which candidate best represents our views, yes, but also the overall political landscape and the potential effects of each candidate’s victory or defeat. It is naive and simplistic to say that the only thing that matters, the only thing that should matter, is getting to vote for the person you like best, as though your relationship to the election ended as soon as your ballot was cast. It doesn’t. We live with the results of our voting for years.
Voting to block a horrible outcome, even at the expense of voting for the candidate you like best, is not a loss of integrity—it’s simply deciding that the dangers are, in a particular case, the most significant consideration, and that your values are best expressed by making a stand against that danger.
In light of all this, we are issuing not one but two endorsements today.
The first, and the one we make with our whole hearts, is for voting reform. That we are put in the position of needing to vote strategically is the unfortunate consequence of an electoral system which forces us to pick only one of dozens of candidates, and which will see our next mayor elected with well under 50% support. It need not and should not be this way. Under a preferential voting system the dilemma dissolves. With ranked ballots we could vote in favour of all the things we care about, and no candidate would be elected with less than a majority of support. (To learn more about the movement to institute ranked ballots in Toronto, click here.)
Our second endorsement is made with greater reservation. It is for George Smitherman. More precisely, it is for the moderate, measured George Smitherman we’ve seen in the latter part of this campaign. Smitherman represents the best chance we have of protecting what we value most.
And to Smitherman, we would like to say: if you are elected on Monday it will be because Torontonians united in rejecting a narrow-minded, neo-conservative programme which values money over our collective well-being. It is of the utmost importance that this continue to be your compass moving forward.