How strong is our de­sire for change in Toronto?

Toronto Star - - GTA - Royson James

In his book Cam­paign Con­fes­sions, tales from the war rooms of pol­i­tics, John Laschinger says the de­sire for change is the “strong­est and most un­pre­dictable emo­tion in elec­tion cam­paigns.”

So, is there a strong enough de­sire for change in Toronto, ahead of the 2018 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion a year hence?

It bears watch­ing and test­ing fre­quently.

Over lunch with the veteran strate­gist who ran 50 po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns over 45 years and count­ing — Olivia Chow (2014 lost), David Miller (2003 & 2006 won), Mike Har­ris lead­er­ship race (won) and 1990 pro­vin­cial elec­tion (lost), Joe Clark (2000 lost) — at­ten­tion turned to Toronto Mayor John Tory.

It’s go­ing to be tough for Tory not to win, is Lasch’s con­sid­ered opin­ion, all caveats ac­counted for, of course. (Note the con­vo­luted con­clu­sion — and it had noth­ing to do with the Diet Coke or the cran­berry juice we drank).

For most cit­i­zens, life sucks, Laschinger says. And it may have lit­tle to do with the mayor.

Wages are not ris­ing as fast as the cost of liv­ing. Prop­erty taxes may be go­ing up only marginally, but gas prices jump nine cents overnight, and the angst re­turns.

“Who­ever’s got his head up, they will smack it,” says the ul­ti­mate po­lit­i­cal in­sider, with a .600 win­ning per­cent­age that would make our sports teams drool. “In these days of volatile pub­lic opin­ion, ev­ery­thing’s very fluid.”

So there is al­ways a la­tent de­sire for change among a base group of cit­i­zens. But how strong is this in Toronto now?

What’s driv­ing it — gen­eral angst, eco­nomic down­town and in­sta­bil­ity, or per­sonal be­hav­iour and poli­cies of the in­cum­bent?

Opin­ion polls show Tory is sit­ting pretty — win­ing a hy­po­thet­i­cal head-to-head matchup with Doug Ford (the man he beat in 2014) by 20 to 30 points, and still on top in a three-way race in­volv­ing left-wing Coun­cil­lor Mike Lay­ton, through by a smaller mar­gin. But he’s not un­stop­pable.

A Ford-Tory re­match is a slam dunk Tory vic­tory, un­less the spread­ing ten­ta­cles of #MeToo or other scan­dals emerge where Tory has been blame­less. But Tory’s sup­port isn’t so rock solid as to re­pel all com­ers — es­pe­cially if his pro­gres­sive sup­port­ers feel they can aban­don him for a real pro­gres­sive and not risk los­ing the city to Dooms­day Doug.

Tory won in 2014 be­cause many vot­ers in­tent on rid­ding Toronto of the sub­stance-abus­ing em­bar­rass­ment of a mayor, aban­doned their pre­ferred Ford­slayer in Olivia Chow and backed Tory when it be­came clear he was best po­si­tioned to de­feat Ford.

This is how Laschinger ex­plained it in his book, an ex­pla­na­tion that de­fines the typ­i­cal Toronto mu­nic­i­pal voter as a fis­cal con­ser­va­tive.

“In the mid­dle of the sum­mer of 2014 our pro­gres­sive base in down­town wards started send­ing us a mes­sage. They were leav­ing Olivia to sup­port John Tory. They felt that he was a real con­ser­va­tive who would con­trol spend­ing, and at the same time he was pro­gres­sive enough, at least com­pared to Rob Ford, to sat­isfy their de­sire for a pro­gres­sive mayor.”

Tory has de­liv­ered ac­cord­ing to ex­pec­ta­tions, more or less.

He’s scan­dal-free. He is Mr. Ev­ery­thing though not enough to enough peo­ple. He’s re­stored sta­bil­ity and nor­malcy to city hall. He’s kept some of the big­gest of his prom­ises and bro­ken some mem­o­rable ones like “no TTC fare in­crease” and a prom­ise to de­liver 22 SmartTrack tran­sit sta­tions in seven years (then again, you didn’t re­ally be­lieve that one). Why would one be mad at Tory to the point of toss­ing him from the mayor’s of­fice after one term?

Some­one such as ac­tivist Desmond Cole could have a field day against Tory, press­ing him on the di­ver­sity file: blind spots with the po­lice, em­brac­ing of the racist card­ing prac­tice un­til his own base of sup­port had to demon­strate their op­po­si­tion out­side his of­fice and burned sense into his brain.

On tran­sit, Tory’s one-stop sub­way is a dis­as­trous piece of pub­lic pol­icy. It’s an over­build, over­reach, waste of lo­cal tax dol­lars — but is op­pos­ing it a po­lit­i­cal win­ner in Scar­bor­ough?

Be­sides, most vot­ers pay lit­tle at­ten­tion to the de­tails. They be­lieve sub­ways are good. They want more sub­ways in Toronto. They care lit­tle to con­sider if a pro­posed line goes through the cor­rect cor­ri­dor or sat­is­fies de­mand des­ti­na­tion. “Just build some­thing.”

That, I think, is why his ab­ject fail­ure on the SmartTrack and sub­way file might get him a pass.

Know­ing all that, who might pose the big­gest elec­toral risk? It’s not Doug Ford and his hard­core right-wing Ford Na­tion sup­port of about 20 per cent plus an­other 10 per cent of dis­af­fected vot­ers.

Iron­i­cally, Tory is best served by polls show­ing Ford as a vi­able and omi­nous force. The threat alone keeps the pro­gres­sive vot­ers united be­hind Tory. But should Ford fal­ter badly, look for the real left-wing vot­ers to peel away from Tory to­wards a gen­uine pro­gres­sive can­di­date.

Is there such a can­di­date out there who is bold enough to run as the pro­gres­sive place holder, just in case Ford fades badly or a calami­tous scan­dal rocks Tory? The city needs at least one.

An­other of Laschinger’s lessons from Cam­paign Con­fes­sions is that once vot­ers de­cide they want change, they ex­press it in a de­ci­sive way, search­ing for a clean break. If Tory reads Laschinger’s ad­vice, for the next six months he’ll ef­fec­tively be run­ning against him­self.

He’ll con­stantly re­mind cit­i­zens how great a change agent he’s been. Change you can vote for. Again. Royson James’ col­umn ap­pears weekly, rjames@thes­

Mayor John Tory is run­ning for mayor again and all signs point to a se­cond term for him, Royson James writes.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.