Today is the last day to file papers to enter or withdraw from the municipal elections being held in Toronto on October 27. Never before has a deadline commanded so much attention. By 2:00 p.m. this afternoon, Mayor Rob Ford had withdrawn his candidacy for re-election and, instead, entered the race as councillor for the ward in Etobicoke he held for ten years. His nephew, Michael Ford, who had already entered the race for the councillor’s seat withdrew in favour of his uncle. And Doug Ford, the elder brother who has stood by his notorious younger brother throughout his four years in office, has replaced him in the race for mayor of the city.
Who would have guessed it? An abdominal tumour has felled Rob Ford, his prognosis is uncertain, but everyone wishes him well, and his family has rallied to champion his cause. Those who thought that a defeat would send Rob Ford packing may well have him around as councillor for another four years.
Now that Toronto’s municipal election is down to the wire, the field is clear. Karen Stintz, who first stood up to Mayor Ford on the transit file and later squandered the goodwill she gained by reversing her position on light rapid transit to Scarborough, has withdrawn. So has David Soknacki, who ran a thoughtful policy-oriented campaign which won great respect, but few supporters in the polls. In my view, his campaign established him as a solid, smart progressive who may well be a prime candidate for mayor down the road. Today, Rob Ford withdrew; he is in hospital awaiting results of a biopsy on a tumour in his abdomen. That leaves John Tory and Olivia Chow, who entered the race last spring, and Doug Ford, Rob’s brother, who entered the race today.
In the crazy world of Toronto politics, what happens next? The latest poll shows John Tory in a commanding lead, at plus 40%, with Rob Ford falling to 28% and Olivia Chow behind in third place. With Rob out and Doug in, how will the public react?
There are those who say that Doug Ford will carry “Ford nation” (whatever that means) regardless, and that he may be able to capitalize on a sympathy vote for the Fords. As Doug is a new candidate, he can benefit from the campaign expenses rules. Doug has spent nothing to date and can mount an expensive campaign throwing his entire allowable amount into the last weeks before the election. Those expenses which Rob has already incurred would, apparently, not be attributed to Doug. The other candidates are limited to what remains of their allowable expenses. So will we see an expensive television campaign touting Doug Ford for mayor? And will it make any difference?
Prior to these latest developments, I sensed that a consensus was developing that the public would rally to the candidate who had the greatest chance of ousting Rob Ford. Given John Tory’s lead in the polls in September, it seemed that an “anyone but Ford” desire would drive voters to support him at the expense of Olivia Chow. Tory’s campaign is managed by the same Nick Kouvalis who engineered Rob Ford’s “gravy train” victory four years ago. At the Toronto Region Board of Trade Mayoralty Debate last week, John Tory was pushing his “Smart Track” transit scheme which proposes using GO train lines and new inter-connected stations to provide Toronto commuters an alternative route downtown and take pressure off the subway lines. Since transit and the future of Rob Ford seemed the two big issues attracting voters’ attention, it appeared as if John Tory was on target for victory.
In a two-person race between John Tory and Olivia Chow, Tory’s “anyone but Ford” advantage would have disappeared, and voters could have focused on the policy issues between them. Is “Smart Track” really feasible? Is Chow’s emphasis on improving bus service in the here-and-now and restoring light rapid transit to Scarborough a better solution to the transit issue? Do Chow’s many years at municipal council make her better able to build consensus than Tory’s experience in the voluntary sector? Toronto’s municipal politics consists of a “weak mayor” system where the mayor has power to appoint councillors to committees but ultimately has only one vote, the same as everyone else on City Council. Building consensus is the name of the game. In a two-person race, it would have been a breath of fresh air to have the electorate decide between Tory and Chow, based on their respective merits.
That Doug Ford is on the ballot muddies the waters. Rob Ford says Doug is necessary to continue the work that Rob has begun. Others may consider Doug’s track record over the last four years and conclude that “anyone but Ford” remains a priority.
What is clear is that citizens of Toronto cannot be complacent. The one thing Rob Ford said at the Board of Trade Mayoralty Debate last week that was worth hearing is that advance polls open October 14 and voting opportunities extend until October 27. There can be no doubt that Doug Ford, like his brother, will rally his stalwart “Ford nation” using every means possible. In the current climate, when people of goodwill wish Rob Ford well, getting out their vote will be a priority. Those who think that the Fords’ time has passed have to do the same. The clock is ticking.