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.