Has a right-wing tide really swept Toronto?

Oct 26th, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief

It is of course strictly a Toronto prejudice that the results of a Toronto municipal election mean anything to anyone in any other part of the true north, strong and free, la belle province qui n’est pas comme les autres (is that the right French – probably not?) : to say nothing of any other part of the global village, and/or especially the USA (or UK, Australia, India, etc).

Inevitably, however, there will be those who say the surprisingly strong victory of the old Tory Toronto throwback Rob Ford in yesterday’s mayoral race in Canada’s largest big city means that “he (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) is probably thinking: ‘There may be scope for me in Toronto. There may be hope for a Conservative foothold or breakthrough in Toronto.’”

All inclinations in this direction, of course again, have to factor in the parallel prospect that the surprisingly strong victory of Naheed Nenshi in last week’s mayoral contest in Calgary means there is hope for Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals in Alberta. And anyone who wants to take any of this even half-seriously must also somehow make peace with the instant-news headline in the Globe and Mail: “Right-wing tide sweeps Toronto but not rest of Ontario.”

We have to confess up front that we are among those who are, to put it mildly, disappointed by the success of Mayor-elect Ford. And we certainly feel it is worth underlining that, according to CP24 TV, as of 1:00 AM ET October 26, with more than 99% of the vote counted, the combined result for George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone was 384,366 ballots cast, compared with only  382,147 for Rob Ford. (And the 100% results on the Globe and Mail website at 8:00 AM show 385,314 for Smitherman and Pantalone combined, versus 383,501 for Ford.)

Or, that is to say, Bob Hepburn at the Toronto Star was quite prescient last week when he opined: “By staying in the race to the end, Pantalone and the hard-core NDP-led left in this city, as personified by current mayor David Miller, some progressive city councillors and several big city union leaders, may be denying Smitherman a victory and conceding the mayor’s post to Ford.” (Except, as of 8:08 PM ET yesterday, change “may be denying” to “have denied.”)

Nonetheless, the turnout in yesterday’s Toronto municipal election was a record 50% + (as in Calgary last week). Rob Ford has as a matter of stubborn political fact become Mayor of Toronto by a quite convincing margin. And if you respect democracy, you have to respect this fact.

Much work remains to be done, in analyzing the vote by finer grains of geography and socio-economic and demographic category – to confirm or at least further explore just where Mr. Ford’s somewhat surprising electoral strength lies. Meanwhile, it is suddenly very clear that there are a lot of people in Canada’s largest big city who are quite mad about something. (And the local “economy stupid” no doubt has a lot to do with all this.)  The US mid-term elections next week may show that this anger has much broader dimensions too. Whatever else may or may not be true, those of us who still believe in some kind of progressive future have to start reformulating our current political thoughts. The south will rise again (except this time it will be in the north). Meanwhile, as George Smitherman has already nicely noted on TV, democratic good manners demand some kind of congratulations to Mayor-elect Rob Ford!

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