Why don't women's issues matter in the Toronto mayoral election?

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Photo: flickr/Olivia Chow

It's an almost perfect paradigm of the importance of women in municipal politics.

It's November, a year ago, and Rob and Doug Ford are roaming up and down in front of the gallery seats, taunting the members of the public who have come to watch Toronto City Council strip the mayor of most of his powers.

Just after the mayor has turned away, he hears a scuffle break out between his brother and a citizen; rushing around the tier of councillor seats in a frenzy to join the fray, the tank-sized mayor crashes into diminutive Councillor Pam McConnell and knocks her over, grabbing and righting her just before she actually hits the floor.

At no point does he even glance at her. Even when grabbing her, Ford doesn't seem to register her presence any more than he would a traffic cone.

Olivia Chow, the only frontrunner female candidate for mayor and the only one who addresses women's issues, has similarly been trampled by Fordian bigotries in this campaign.

Her policies about women's and children's services have been completely ignored by the men in the race, and she has been bombarded by explicitly racist and sexist insults --  being subjected to far more hateful comments online than either of the men.

At a live event, the two white male candidates stood by stolidly, without comment, while Olivia was racially insulted. Luckily, Chow's flash of genuine outrage gave her a chance to show her true mettle at last.

Misogyny -- of the kind that considers women as insignificant as traffic cones -- is notable in both conservative campaigns.

Former mayor Rob Ford never said a word about women, other than a few putridly salacious grunts directed at a colleague and at his wife. Mayoral candidate Doug Ford has said even less; perhaps his views can be extrapolated from his daughter's enthusiasm for playing pornified lingerie football.

And John Tory, who's currently in the lead in the mayoral race? He floats in a cloud of white male privilege, vague and amiable and totally clueless.

Can anyone believe that now, in 2014, a politician can say: "Young women, right now, learn to play golf. It's immensely advantageous to your career…"

Even worse was Tory's numbskull response to a question about wage inequality. When he ran a law firm or a business, he said, "Women [didn't] come as often to complain [about incomes]."

When reporters challenged him later, he sank even deeper into the bog of ignorance. He was sure that women's lack of wage demands was not because they'd been conditioned to expect or ask for less. "I've never heard of parents telling young women or young girls that they don't ask… that part is not my experience."

He rivals the Fords in his complete incapacity to grasp the concept or impact of gender conditioning, let alone systemic sexism or wage discrimination. 

Chow, to her lasting credit, has womanfully raised the issue of child care again and again, correctly insisting that lack of child care is the barrier for women seeking paid employment as a way out of poverty. She has pledged to raise $15 million to create 3,000 more child care spaces, half of them subsidized.

Chow's committed to LRT for Jane-Finch and stepped-up bus service all over town. Because more women than men rely on transit, and because fares take a bigger bite out of their lower incomes, improved services are vital to women's well-being. 

All the poverty issues, in fact, are women's issues, because women are the poor in Canada. In this mayoral campaign, only Chow has addressed the need for after-school programs, child nutrition (she plans to offer one healthy meal a day to a further 36,000 children) and affordable housing. 

Municipal politics have a huge impact on women's and children's daily lives, health and future prospects.

You'd think we'd be hearing many voices raised against the subway-obsessed blather of the male candidates -- or at least some resentment about their blinkered insistence on cutting taxes. But no.

At this point, with two white, conservative millionaires pitted against each other in the lead, even "progressive" voters seem to have fallen into a trance of passivity.

How have Toronto citizens allowed themselves to become so helplessly slack, as though they've all lain down across the tracks of the mythical gravy train? 

Even feminists have been heard grumbling about Olivia's campaign, or sighing fatalistically that they must vote for one Tory to stop another. (One 1%-er is nicer than the other. So what!)

It's a measure of how poisonously right-wing rhetoric has seeped into Canadians' consciousness that --despite the vigorous resurgence of feminism among young women -- so many seem to have lost belief in the possibilities of electoral politics, especially at the city level.

But women voters especially should rouse themselves from torpor.

Every day for the next four years, a Tory mayor (take that either as a name or a party) will ignore or deliberately push aside women and children in a hundred daily decisions. Women's second-class status, limited choices and diminished futures will be set in stone.

Regret and remorse for our wasted "strategic" vote will not help us then. 

Michele Landsberg was a Toronto Star columnist for 25 years. Her most recent book is Writing the Revolution.

Photo: flickr/Olivia Chow

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