Why I'm voting for George Smitherman

I'm voting for George Smitherman on Monday, and I hope you do, too. Especially you, my beloved left-wing friends, and of course those of you who may be wondering if you will even bother to vote.

The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear. When you're at the edge of a disaster, it's time to pull together instead of pulling apart.

For traditional lefties, choosing to lend your X to Joe Pantalone is a comfortable and righteous symbolic gesture. I get it. We are talking about a legacy political strategy with a lot of history and tradition behind it.

Well-loved as it is, the dark reality of the Rob Ford threat in this civic election screams that it's time to put that overtired baby to bed. The sun has set on the day when well-intentioned citizens could self-righteously pretend that compared to the value of self-defeating symbolic gestures, long-term political outcomes aren't really that important.

If we wake up to Ford as the mayor of this awesome city, it will be the electoral idealists who have tragically done us in again.

Democracy is not soul food. Elections are not some romantic ideal designed to inspire potential voters. They are duke-outs for the reins of real power. They absolutely have consequences that affect us all, and they demand a healthy, critical rationality.

God save us from the electoral idealists who want you to "vote with your heart." Time after time, they are the right-wing's secret weapon.

Pantalone, god love him, has to petition your spirit, because if you use your mind, you will not be choosing him. Voting from a place of passion has made the unconscious, lizard-brained bully Ford a phenomena. Mimicking that same black-and-white psycho stance on the left will only serve to make Ford mayor.

There are shades of grey, dear friends. And knowing what we know, voting for Pantalone just demands too much make-believe.

First, we must pretend that Joe really can still win this election. He likes to call this "the politics of hope, not fear."

But the threat of a Ford win is not a fear. It's an evidence-based likelihood. And the "hope" of a Joe Pantalone win means betting the future of the city against ridiculous odds (the polling margin of error is within 4.4 points, 19 times out of 20).

Dear Joe supporters, I think it is useful to remember that there is a reason why David Miller didn't run in this election. He wasn't expecting he would receive the love, and by the way, part of blame has to fall on Pantalone's shoulders.

As deputy mayor, Pantalone was a key part of the Miller team. But he brought little to the table in terms of extending the popularity of Miller's administration. Now Pantalone's own personal ability to grow support beyond the limited constituency of an even smaller base has been tested throughout the campaign.

And sadly, it's lacking. It would have been nice if it had turned out differently but like it or not, pollsters are pretty good at tracking election outcomes with only a few days to go, especially when a candidate is as far behind as Pantalone is.

But let's say there is a slender thread of chance that the seas will part for Pantalone. What kind of city builder plays election roulette when, if we lose, the whole city pays?

To justify asking us to bet on the longest of long shots, he must assert that losing the bet doesn't really matter. There really is no difference between Ford and Smitherman.

He actually said on Metro Morning this week that he would spoil his ballot rather than make a choice between the two.

Yes, Smitherman is a typical Liberal who has been comfortable with a right-leaning campaign. But he brings a significant public service record to the table, most notably, the Green Energy Act. His experience at City Hall was with working at the side of progressive former mayor Barbara Hall. His program equals Pantalone's in the key areas of the arts and the environment. He would carry on and extend the transit plans in place. He is smart and capable of complex thinking and he is engaging intelligent, progressive advisers like the team headed by John Sewell to help figure out useful ways to shake up a complacent bureaucracy.

If we elect a progressive city council, and we can do that (see our ward picks), these are the trends that will be supported and enhanced.

Ford, on the other hand, will use the heightened powers of the mayor's office to explode every arts, charitable sector and civil society initiative that dares to raise its head. He will set back every step of progress that Miller has made and make the next four years a time of anger, despair and depletion. And he will be a beacon, encouraging other angry tea-baggers into the public eye.

Pantalone's refusal to discern a distinction between choices as textured and distinct as Smitherman vs. Ford doesn't speak well to his ability to discern the best of hard choices that must be made at City Hall.

Any decision-maker who wouldn't go with a second-best over a slap in the face like Ford is letting self-importance get in the way of judgment.

Pantalone and his supporters will have a lot to answer for if Ford gets to unleash his tsunami of misery on the city because they have downplayed the risks.

There was a time pre-Mike Harris when leftists could argue convincingly that the differences between liberals and conservatives was just a mirage of self-presentation. Tweedledum and Tweedledee was the way we used to describe this and it is the term Pantalone used this week.

Well, back in the day, the right-wing was made up of people like the stellar city visionary and former mayor and former Progressive Conservative David Crombie. But the right-wing has transformed. It is not as it ever was, and Ford is a clear example. You have to be willingly blind not to see that.

As Adam Vaughan, one of our best and brightest city councillors, says in his endorsement of Smitherman, "You have to fight the election you're dealt, not the one you want."

Beware of politicians and commentators who ask you to vote with your conscience instead of your full consciousness. There is too much at stake to fritter away the franchise. The evidence-based election calculus says a vote for Joe Pantalone is very likely going to elect Rob Ford. That's an outcome I can't live with.

This article was originally published in NOW Magazine.

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