There are some people who will never vote strategically. I’m not one of them. There may be elections to come in which I might decide to vote for the lesser of the many evils on offer. But let me be clear: Toronto’s municipal election this time around is not one of them. I’m voting for Joe Pantalone and not because he’s the least of the evils: I’m voting for Joe because his vision of a city that leaves no one behind matches my aspirations for Toronto to be a great city of the 21st century. I know Alice Klein disagrees with me.
If I would ever have considered strategically voting for George Smitherman to keep Rob Ford out of the mayor’s office, I wouldn’t do it after watching him spend the last few months sliding farther and farther to the right. A man who once was a Barbara Hall-type of Liberal (which is another way of saying a fairly progressive one) has swung so far to the right that Isabel Bassett and Charles Harnick (Mike Harris era ministers) have no problems backing him.
Well, I have a lot of problems even “strategically” voting for the guy who’s backed by the people who brought us the Common Sense Revolution. That orgy of downloading in the 1990s is why Toronto is struggling to be its best version. Great cities are built on services, not on tax cuts. Great cities are compassionate homes for their citizens, not a stock exchange for their clients.
But the thing that bothers me the most about Klein’s piece in NOW is where she writes that “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.” Way to go, Alice. Don’t blame the people who would willingly vote with their eyes wide open for Rob Ford. Don’t blame the whatever percentage of Toronto voters who won’t bother to cast a ballot at all. Blame instead those progressive folks who looked at the platforms and voted based on policy (Joe Pantalone’s), rather than against personality (Rob Ford’s).
This election should be about the value of the services Torontonians get for the eight cents of their tax dollar that goes to City Hall. Ford has somehow convinced too many people that this is not money well spent and Smitherman has leapt on that bandwagon all too readily. Pantalone is the only one out there reminding us that for those eight cents on the dollar, our city offers us over a 100 distinct services — and all while manages to have the lowest property tax rates in the GTA.
So what we have is sorry tale of a political spectrum of the right-wing Ford offering to cut billions in city spending — though he won’t tell us where except to say that he will only replace one of every two retiring workers. In the so-called middle, you have Smitherman, who will freeze property tax rates, at least for 2011, and won’t tell us what services he will cut in order to pay for this freeze — except to say that he will only replace two out of three retiring workers. Yes, Alice, there is a difference, but it’s a difference of degree, not of kind. And that difference of degree isn’t — for me, anyway — worth voting for Smitherman because I have other major concerns with his policy stances… and so should you. He wants to sell TTC bus routes; notwithstanding all the problems other major cities have encountered in privatizing public transit. And let’s not forget that he would also consider privatizing garbage and recycling services and amalgamating Fire and EMS. Add those to a Ford-lite platform of downsizing the city workforce and I’m really not seeing much daylight between the two.
Let’s go through this one more time: the story is that Ford’s on the extreme right end of the spectrum; Smitherman is in the middle and Pantalone is somewhere on the left edge. The strategic voting folks would have you believe that there’s a great gaping space between where Ford and Smitherman are on this spectrum. The truth is that there is less space between Ford and Smitherman than between Smitherman and Pantalone. You don’t have to take my word for it, seeing as I’m a self-confessed progressive — here’s Royson James’ take on it.
Then there’s the small matter of personality. I won’t even tell you how many conversations I’ve had recently about how awful it would be for Ford — with his long history of public bad behaviour — to be representing Toronto to the world. The ghostly shade of Mel Lastman has been repeatedly resurrected far too often in this campaign. But I’ve not forgotten that before his re-invention as a proud dad in a purple tie, Smitherman was known far and wide as “Furious George.” If you’re voting on personality alone, there’s isn’t a nicer person running for mayor than the charming guy who released a series of campaign ads that mocked his own shortness.
So Klein’s plea doesn’t hold any water with me. I have more respect for David Crombie’s endorsement of Smitherman, where he makes it clear that he’s not pulling a Joe Mihevic or an Adam Vaughan. If Ford wins, he wins because he convinced enough people to vote for his negative, angry, punitive vision; if Smitherman wins, he’ll win because he convinced enough people that “nightmayor” Ford was around the corner waiting to lay the city to waste. It’s hard to imagine that a Ford will be able to carve out enough support from the other 44 councillors to do that; he just doesn’t have those negotiating skills. It will be a sad day for Toronto either way. So I’m planning on doing everything possible to get as many of the Torontonians who don’t plan to vote to come out on Election Day to support the only positive vision for Toronto that we have on offer: Joe Pantalone’s. Torontonians don’t want to lose the city’s services — seven in 10 don’t want to see their frontline services cut. If that 70 per cent understood what’s at stake in this election, they’d be out there voting for Pantalone, who’s the only candidate who seems to understand that a city’s needs should determine its budget and not the other way around. If Alice Klein — and everyone single Torontonian considering voting strategically — did the same, we might end up giving Calgary a run for its money for the most interesting municipal election ever!
Archana Rampure is a researcher and writer living in Toronto.