LORINC: There goes the middle

Well, that didn’t take long.

Just days into the allegedly serious part of the campaign, and the ideological middle has almost entirely vanished as an viable option for Toronto voters.

With George Smitherman’s craven promise to freeze municipal taxes on Tuesday, followed by Rocco Rossi’s bid to out-Ford Rob Ford with his own vow to halve council, the right has become as crowded as the Queen streetcar at rush hour. (And then, to make the whole tableau utterly surreal, all this right-sizing occurs precisely as SuperFord coughs up a $4 billion subway scheme, to be financed by copious applications of fairy dust and other political miracles.)

Given that Smitherman seems determined to cede vast tracts of his political messaging to Ford, I’m guessing there are now thousands of voters — many living in the older core areas – who no longer have any idea whom to support.

As a point of historical comparison, this is precisely what happened to Barbara Hall in 2003. Early in the fall, she unconvincingly tacked right with her fiscal policies, and her support rapidly collapsed. Smitherman’s fate could well be similar: he’ll never out-do Ford, but his eagerness to try will alienate the centre-of-the-road voters he should be assiduously courting.

All of which explains why Joe Pantalone’s campaign manager John Laschinger enthusiastically calls the tax freeze pledge “a gamechanger.” Suddenly, the current deputy mayor is competing against four right-wingers, and the math begins to look much more interesting than it did when Smitherman was still being true to his political roots.

I have been openly skeptical in this space about Pantalone’s prospects, and I remain unconvinced that the diminutive veteran from Trinity-Spadina has the energy and killer instinct to grab the opportunity which has opened up at his feet.

Indeed, as a matter of political tactics, the rapidly emerging dynamic raises tough questions about how Team Pantalone should proceed: Do they continue the nice-green-guy image he’s cultivated so far, or should they present a more scrappy, aggressive candidate who’s determined to fill the political vacuum in the middle?

But one point has become perfectly clear: Smitherman is running aimlessly through political no man’s land; he won’t survive out there for long.

20 comments

  1. How many elephants will mayoral candidates try to fit in this room?

  2. Pants seems to be going scrappier, but the content of the scrap seems mostly to be “the other guys won’t be able to get along with council” and “hey, I LOVE Toronto, how come no one else LOVES Toronto.” Weak sauce.

    Maybe time for a mass defection to HiMY SYeD?

  3. I am among the thousands you postulate, John. For a few weeks I’ve been unhappily mulling the prospect of an unsatisfying strategic vote for Smitherman vs. Ford, but as long as he’s promising a tax freeze, he’s taken himself clear off my ballot.

    Among the main candidates, Pantalone is my preference but I am waiting to see him show that he can make a move and seriously compete. Until now he seems to have been cruising along with the core NDP and four-more-Miller-years contingents (between which the overlap is presumably substantial) in his camp, which is not going to do the trick.

    I’m sitting in bed with a cold, shaking my head at Ford’s transit plan hoping that a credible voice can emerge to explain just how wrong-headed a “vision” for the city it represents. Just smiling with a twinkle in your eye and saying we don’t want to become Detroit doesn’t seem to be cutting it.

  4. John you said it right. Really I am at lost. Might as well vote for Sarah Thompson. Her subway plan might not be practical, but at least by pushing for road toll, she has the guts to put forward something that can be called visionary.

  5. Like others, I was convinced that Pantalone didn’t stand a chance and I should go with Smitherman to make sure Ford doesn’t become mayor. But now that Smitherman has become Ford-lite I’m reconsidering my assessment of Pantalone. The only thing people say against him is that he’s short and doesn’t give barn-burning speeches! Really, compared to the faults of the other candidates, this is a big problem?

  6. There is a deep unhappiness with all of the candidates. While I share the unease that has been expressed about Smitherman, unless the polls start to demonstrate a much stronger showing by Pantalone as we approach the election, I suspect that the anti-Rob Ford vote will start to coalesce around a single candidate as the month of October progresses (and I suspect that will be Smitherman, his disappointing campaign notwithstanding). Too many people are more worried about a Rob Ford mayoralty than they are about Smitherman’s right-wing tilt (esp. if Ford keeps releasing policy platforms that make as little sense as his transit plan – Smitherman’s dubious moves pale in comparison). I just don’t think that Pantalone will be that anti-Rob Ford candidate. Having said that, it’s still a long time until election day, and many things could happen.

  7. It’s time to face the fact that we’re all just talking to ourselves, or perhaps it’s gotten to the point where we could say that we’re commiserating. Ford supporters don’t read this blog, or any of the hundred other blogs where good writers like John make convincing arguments about why Ford is the “Disaster-in-Waiting”. We’re all just sitting around a campfire agreeing with ourselves and patting ourselves on the back for being so smart. But more and more, I feel like it isn’t worth a damn.

    And now the bad news gets worse. Not only is Ford in the lead and there doesn’t seem to be anything the left-wing media or citizenry can do about it, the rest of the candidates have abandoned us out of fear and stupidity. Not only does that leave us lefties in the weeds, it also virtually assures a Ford victory. When all the candidates seem the same, people go for name recognition and thanks to the dirty shills at the Star and Sun, no one has more name recognition than Rob Ford.

    24hrs and our hope for a White Knight dies…and with it goes any hope of avoiding the total calamity of a Rob Ford administration. 

  8. Since this campaign started, I’ve been stumbling around looking for someone to vote for. I figure I’d end voting for Pantalone but Smitherman would win and I’d tolerate that. Once Rob Ford entered the equation, everything changed and now Smitherman is pushing to the right and becoming less tolerable.

    Maybe I’ll still vote for Pantalone but if Ford is still polling in first come election day, I’ll vote for whoever is polling second. It doesn’t matter who it is. I’ll feel dirty about it though.

  9. JP gave us a tree policy that quickly became a joke.
    JP and pals have done a great job of decimating the Planning Department.
    JP is part of the culture of Ward Politics.

    JP is a big part of the problem.

  10. Sorry Peter but you’re going to have to provide more than inane sound bites if you want me to respect your opinion. Can you substantiate what you’re saying? Can you even explain what you mean (WTF is the “culture of Ward Politics”?)

  11. Your posts about David Miller’s legacy, voter recall and the above as well as Mr. Munro’s post about “Paying the Piper” outline a set of politics that I for one cannot believe any rational person would vote for. Starting with David Miller’s legacy you gave the Green Bin program, the garbage strike and transit city. The green bin program created compost that was unusable and had to be investigated by the province. The garbage strike had people driving to their local park to dump garbage and being harassed the entire time for the effort and Transit City has seen half of its funding delayed by the province. You came out firmly against voter recall in spite of the fact that a majority of council has broken the law and continues to break the law with respect to payouts to Councillors Heaps and Mammoliti. Recalling every Councillor that voted in favor of these payments should be a civic duty. Add to that Steve Munro’s pursuit of any and all revenue streams to finance transit expansion while simultaneously rejecting any referendum on how said money is spent and spacing is endorsing one of the most taxing and least accountable governments I ever recall being postulated. And yet everyone here argues with no sense of irony that Rob Ford supporters are ideologically blind. Whatever you say fellas…

  12. What is the anti-Ford strategy? Criticizing him for being dumb is not helping, his constituents don’t think that’s important. Instead, we’ve got to clearly and concretely argue that Ford has shown he’s:

    * dishonest (lying about being arrested on drug charges)
    * unethical (leveraging his councillor status to raise money for a personal project)
    * ineffective (council track record)

    And, given Ford’s cheapskate mantra does well among seniors, find some good Lastman-era anecdotes.

    Basically Ford is all hat, no cattle and anyone with half a brain can see he won’t be able to deliver on anything he’s promising… except to destroy downtown. Which for some is enough reason to vote for him, I guess.

  13. “What is the anti-Ford strategy?”

    They should call him “Fiscally irresponsible” over and over because his plans don’t add up. He can be compared to George W Bush whose tax cuts and foolish decisions cause the US government to go deeply in debt. You can lump him in with the Harris/Eves government who also put Ontario into debt with tax cuts.

    It will remind people tax fighters have a very poor record of success and Rob Ford is showing all the signs of being a disaster.

  14. Antony,

    it has been proven that an anti-Ford strategy, or any anti-Ford strategies don’t work. It just provides him more free press. What is needed is a pro-Toronto strategy, a vision where the city is going under the next mayor, and a plan of how to get there. So far we have seen none of those. There is no coherent vision, some cheap promises, very little feasible plan.

  15. If the middle is gone, it’s because Miller killed it. I can’t stand much of what Ford is advocating…but I think his success in the polls can be laid squarely at the feet of the current mayor and how his council operated. (That said, the Premier deserves some responsibility as well.) Maybe Spacing needs to take a good hard look at what it is about the outgoing administration that has resulted in the overwhelming majority of voters (with the exception maybe of a few downtown hoods) being in such a foul mood. As for Laschinger’s comment about the “gamechanger” for Pantalone, well, that wouldn’t be the first stupid thing Laschinger has said or done.

  16. “Maybe Spacing needs to take a good hard look at what it is about the outgoing administration that has resulted in the overwhelming majority of voters being in such a foul mood.”

    A recent poll suggested Miller would get 40% of votes if he was running.

    His opponents point to the increase in spending over his tenure, when it comes to specific cuts they would make all they can point to represents a few thousands dollars each and total a tiny fraction of the spending increase. If they pointed to the TTC Ridership Growth Strategy and say they want to cut that, that would be honest.

    The problem is that people see the $17,000 for a party as a big number and the millions of dollars raised by the land transfer tax as a big number, but don’t realize cutting office expenses won’t come close to paying for a tax cut.

  17. Darwin,
    If it makes you feel good to believe that poll about Miller getting 40% if he was running, good for you. But everybody knows that those numbers are based precisely on the fact that he ISN’T running (just as with Tory’s glowing poll results). If he did announce he was running, those numbers would dwindle significantly. Miller knows this very well…which is why he chose not to run. If Spacing and others who consider themselves part of the so-called “progressive” movement continue to think that the nasty mood voters are in can just be ignored (or written off as voter stupidity), then it’s no wonder the “progressive” candidate is doing as well (I mean as poorly) as he is.

  18. @Darwin

    Here’s what people understand: The guy and his supporters who drop $17,000 on a party aren’t the people who could make the tax cut work but the guy who won’t even expense his thumbtacks might be.

  19. Rob Ford boasts that they only thing he has expensed is some letterhead, but he still manages to screw that up, repeatedly. What is he going to do when he is in charge of a billion dollar budget? Seriously! Most of his promises are impossible or don’t make sense, so I have no idea what he’s going do.

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