On September 25, 2009, David Miller announced that he would not seek a third term in office leaving many, including me, in a state of shock and mourning for the incomplete work of his Mayoralty.
TTC Chair Adam Giambrone picked up the torch, but his campaign flickered out a few months later thanks to a personal scandal. At issue was not his love life, but how he handled the revelations. His apparent treatment of his public partner as an election prop raised serious questions about integrity and trust. The final blow was his incomplete withdrawal speech where page two, the vital end of the statement, had to be read by his aide Kevin Beaulieu.
Enter Joe Pantalone, Deputy Mayor and 30-year Council veteran, as the man who would carry on the Miller legacy. More about Joe later.
Miller’s departure opened the race to many hopefuls who wouldn’t run against “his blondness”, but were happy to contest an election against others. Fairly quickly, the frontrunners emerged.
Sarah Thomson, who now supports George Smitherman, gained early attention because she talked about road tolls, but she never rose above the level of a fringe candidate. Only her unique position as a young, female would-be mayor gained her a place at an already crowded table.
Rocco Rossi was, for a time, an interesting addition to the mix. I was introduced to Rossi through a mutual friend, and met with him at his then-new campaign office for an extended chat about transit, and the city in general. We don’t agree on some policies, notably the relative importance of subway building, but Rocco is a decent man, intelligent and committed to what he is doing. At debates, he has easily been the most articulate person on the stage, and for a time I at least respected his campaign.
That respect evaporated as Rossi slid further to the right, trying to bite off a chunk of Rob Ford’s support, and the final blow was a proposed highway tunnel from Eglinton to downtown to “complete” the Spadina Expressway. This is folly on two counts. The first is the complexity and disruption of such a project and the difficulty of fitting access to the highway into the existing city. More importantly, the scheme misses the basic fact that the vast majority of people travelling to downtown are already on transit, and there is no place to put more traffic downtown even if it could get there. People complain about congestion and commuting times, but these are overwhelmingly problems of the suburbs with an overcrowded highway network where there is no transit alternative.
Rossi’s tunnel, and the shift of his campaign into attention-getting mode leaving reason behind, demolished the very foundation, such as it was, of Rossi’s position as a thoughtful, intelligent candidate. The polls concurred, and Rossi retired from the field.
This left Joe Pantalone, George Smitherman and Rob Ford in the final stretch.
I have known Joe for a long time. Anyone who has been around City Hall working on advocacy in any role for the past decades could not help but meet and come to like Joe, and he has always been supportive of improving the life of Toronto, and of transit in particular. Joe had one big, black mark against him, however. His long-standing support for the Front Street Extension simply did not square with a pro-transit platform, and his view of what was good for his ward could seem at odds with what was good for the greater city.
Transit planning for the developing west waterfront from the railway lands out through Exhibition Place and beyond has been fragmented for years, and transit always took a back seat. Indeed, the main streetcar access at the CNE was relegated to the north end of the site, between the Horse Palace and the Gardiner Expressway, to make room for the National Trade Centre (now known as the Direct Energy Centre).
Transit to Ontario Place, a major attraction now attempting to find relevance in a competitive entertainment market, has never been good, and travellers often faced long walks across a hostile environment littered with whatever show was in progress in Exhibition Place just to reach the lake.
There has never been a real vision of what transit could do for Exhibition Place, the very organization Pantalone holds up as his pride and joy.
In embracing Transit City, Pantalone showed he would continue along the path Miller started, but “continuing” is not enough in someone who would lead the city. Transit City has its faults as I and readers here have discussed at great length, and it’s not a perfect plan. “Leadership” requires the acknowledgment that what has gone before may be good, but that the city can be even better. In failing to address what transit might become, Pantalone by implication accepts the shortcomings of what it is today.
That said, I would love to vote for Joe because the people who would form his core team do have the vision of what the city can be, do care about Toronto, its transit system and so much more. But the polls have been clear for weeks that Joe is not going to win, and his standing has dropped as the “anyone but Ford” campaign forces people to think about the future of Toronto.
This leaves me with a choice between Rob Ford and George Smitherman. As regular readers here know, I come down rather hard on those who make ad hominem attacks in the comment threads. Discuss issues, briskly and with conviction if you must, but stick to the issues, not the people. In that context, I will not launch into an attack on Ford’s personal character and behaviour, but must observe that his combative style, his one-man-show, his repetitious sound-bites, “facts” that do not stand up to scrutiny, all these reveal a man profoundly unsuited to the Mayor’s office.
Ford’s approach is to polarize the city and its issues, to appeal to the “what’s in it for me” feeling in voters rather than speaking to “what’s in it for us”. That “us” includes Rexdale, Malvern, Leaside, Parkdale, downtown and everywhere in between. It includes the area beyond the 416 whose growth and policies drive and shape many of the problems faced by Toronto itself.
His transit plan is a simplistic joke that will spend every penny available, in theory, from Metrolinx on a small expansion of the subway (SRT replaced by a BD extension, Sheppard completed from STC to Don Mills, and from Yonge to Downsview), but will eliminate the Eglinton line which is a subway in all but name through the heart of the city. Streetcars will disappear in the name of giving more road space to cars, even though congestion is rampant downtown on many streetcar-free streets. Throughout the larger City, streetcars are nowhere to be found, but congestion is a fact of life.
Ford’s approach to leadership is to listen to what neighbourhoods want. Sadly, neighbourhoods will not always agree, and an approach that might work in a community hall in Rexdale does not scale up to an entire city. Even neighbourhoods may be divided, and listening to only one faction does not guarantee the best outcome, only a pool of potential supporters (and a few enemies) for the next election.
Leadership requires looking at the larger picture and even, at times, taking a stand that is not, at first, supported by a majority. Make your case, win over support with demonstrable benefits, and lead Toronto to a better future. That future does not include Rob Ford.
George Smitherman launched his campaign with a roomful of supporters and his first big policy announcement, a transportation plan. I was not complimentary about that plan whose shortcomings did not fit with the hoopla surrounding its presentation. Back in June, I wrote:
There are too many vague statements, too much glossing over of major issues, too many examples of bad advice from a policy team that should know better. Smitherman is a leading candidate for Mayor, and I had hoped to see “Mayoral” quality platform material. Candidate Smitherman has taken on the most important issue in current political debate, and produced a platform worthy of a junior Councillor with keen, but ill-advised staff.
In time I came to learn that this was largely George’s own plan, and that’s even more troubling because candidates and politicians who present their own plans have big problems accepting the need for change.
As I have talked about the dilemma of a lefty voting for Smitherman with various people, curious arguments emerge.
Some claim that with Ford, what you see is what you get, and that his worst characteristics would be tempered by Council. He’s an “honest man”. Bunk. An honest man would actually engage in a dialogue about the future of our city rather than repeating worn-out nostrums as a canned response to any question. Derailing a train is easy. Building a line to the future is much harder.
Some claim that Smitherman would be even worse than Ford, that he can’t be trusted, and even dally with the idea that Ford would be good for the left in that it would force a coalition to throttle his platform at Council. Sounds good, but this only works if the left can control Council, a dubious proposition given the numbers in the “mushy middle” who will suck up to whoever holds power.
I must return to the question of a vision for the City. At times, George sounds like a trucker who is still working through his first coffee of the morning. His “furious” nature is well known, and a reputation for high turnover of staff in his offices at Queen’s Park is legendary. That’s a recipe for short term effectiveness, but long term loss of continuity and alienation of support. Being Mayor requires that long view and the embrace of opinions that may not be completely supportive. It’s fine to be Ringmaster, but if the audience and the actors have all left the tent, the show will not go on.
That’s the “furious” side of Smitherman, one that must be tamed if he is to be a successful Mayor. But there’s more to George than this.
He talks about Toronto in all its parts. Downtown and the suburbs are not “us” and “them”, but part of a whole. Many different communities and interests are part of the city, and each contributes in its way. A Mayor’s job is to bring those communities together so that the city is better for all of them.
Is George my choice for Mayor? Well, I must be honest and say that the woman I would rather see on the ticket is Shelley Carroll, the outgoing Budget Chief, but she ruled herself out of the race. Too many Liberals were already soaking up support from the provincial and federal parties. Smitherman would do well to give Carroll a prominent role in his administration. This would preserve a link to the Miller years and a deep knowledge of the City’s financial situation, but through someone who is not seen as a downtown, NDP-based lefty.
We must put the divisiveness of the election campaign behind us to face the much harder problems and goals of Toronto. We must find how we, together, will make a better city without simply destroying everything in a blind war on “waste” and a vindictive desire to erase the name “Miller” and all it represents.
My hope is that Smitherman will grow into the Mayoralty, that he will seek out good people who care about Toronto to form his inner circle, that he will embrace intelligence, talent and dedication from across the political spectrum on Council.
That’s why I’m voting for George.