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Candidates for mayor of Toronto must offer a vision for citizens

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The Toronto municipal election is many months away, but so far the mayoral front-runners have offered nothing inspirational.

George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi, both Liberal in name only (LINOs?), are in a heated race to the bottom over who can say "privatize" the most, who can more adeptly lambaste unions, who can continue to repeat that insidious fabrication that government shouldn't be in the business of being in business.

Rossi, while the rest of the western world eyes enhanced public transit and more (and safer) bike lanes, wants to dismantle the former and relegate the latter to winding bucolic backstreets, where one's trip from say Danforth and Broadview to Yonge and Bloor becomes nearly impossible or at least hellishly long if arterial roads are verboten (maybe Rossi plans a bike barge crossing the lazy Don River...)

The ever-peevish, thin-skinned Smitherman hears Rossi's promises to privatize public assets and interests, a policy plank that gets the right-wing suburbanites giddy (either because they dream of profiting from sold off public assets or because they collectively wet their pants anytime unions and municipal employees are bashed), and Smitherman, neo-liberal metamorphosis complete (which I suppose makes him an actual neo liberal), bellows louder that no, he likes privatizing stuff more!

Joe Pantalone stands as the lone progressive candidate for mayor after the gentle giant Adam Giambrone was sunk by the hectoring, righteous voices of the city's puritans.

However, Pantalone hasn't ignited the passions of progressives. We are still casting about, hoping that someone with a vision, ideas to make this city great, and not just a dour minder of money, obsessed with administrivia, will come forward. Or, since the election is some months off, Joe Pantalone will suddenly inspire.

This morning we were teased by an announcement that Mayor David Miller would be holding a news conference, the details of which were scant.

The absence of details, because nature abhors a vacuum, caused some to speculate that Miller would reverse his decision to run again.

Just a few months ago, Miller, shedding tears, said that his career in municipal politics would be over come next election and that his family is his priority. Although I was saddened to see him go, I couldn't have agreed with him more - his reasons were sound.

As we approach the Ides of March, this announcement, had it been about Miller's decision to run again for mayor, would have had Pantalone asking "et tu, Brute?"

But it was not to be. Miller announced a budget surplus of $100 million. Good news, but not the news many were expecting (Councillor Rob Ford could barely contain his glee when he thought the press conference was to announce Miller's intention to leave post-haste because Miller had found a new job).

We have until October 24 to push our candidates for mayor to make this race about ideas and the vision thing and not merely a cynical ploy to pit suburban against urban, cyclists and transit users against motorists.

We must demand to hear positions on social justice and the rights and participation of citizens rather than the corporatization of government and the granting of democratic power to unelected businesses.

The Toronto Star has launched "YourCityMyCity" where bloggers and columnists aim to "ignite a debate about how to make the city great".

This is a welcome initiative. But it won't mean anything unless citizens become engaged. We must push all municipal candidates to unveil interesting and perhaps unconventional ideas rather than offer the monochromatic vision of privatizing stuff.

We have to make sure this election is one about the people of Toronto.

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