Nominated for: showing us that political campaigns can be better than our worst impulses.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 5 p.m. on December 30. At noon on December 31, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
Going into the 2014 mayoral campaign, there was a faint hope that things could be different.
Maybe Toronto’s political discourse could be less about Rob Ford and more about the city’s needs. Maybe we could have an honest conversation about what those needs were, how they’d arisen, and how we could address them.
One mayoral candidate tried something different. David Soknacki came into the campaign with low name recognition and even lower polling numbers, but rather than shout about the Fords, he came armed with policies, spreadsheets, and pocket protectors.
Soknacki’s mayoral run proved quixotic, but it had an impact. He raised the issue of the cost and quality of Toronto’s policing when the other main candidates would not touch that third rail. After Soknacki and Ari Goldkind pushed the issue of lapel cameras—forcing other candidate to address it—the Toronto Police Service decided to introduce them in a pilot project.
Soknacki spoke intelligently about the City’s general budget and governance models and pledged to decentralize decision-making by granting more authority to community councils. He tackled another unpopular subject—on-street parking on streetcar routes—released the most thoroughly costed platform, kept the door open for new revenue tools on transit, and was the first candidate to call the proposed Scarborough subway out for being the vote-buying folly it is. Even when he proposed policies you disagreed with, you could see how he had arrived at his positions and that he was willing to have a discussion about them.
In a campaign that was generally long on personality and short on smart policy proposals, Soknacki was different and refreshing. By offering a thoughtful and principled platform, he showed other candidates how to up their games—even if his lack of charisma meant he couldn’t ultimately turn that into electoral support. As one online commenter observed, “If only his poll numbers were as high as his pants.”
That he was unsuccessful should not be an indictment of the candidate. He ran the kind of campaign we would like to see more of, and in a cynical election, reminded us that our politics can be better.