In latest Toronto politics scandal Sarah Thomson is at least more interesting than Rob Ford?

Mar 13th, 2013 | By | Category: In Brief

Little Richard and his band in the 1956 classic film comedy, "The Girl Can't Help It,." starring Jayne Mansfield and Tom Ewell.

I was asked by the editors to make a few remarks on the latest alleged big municipal politics scandal in the Canadian big city everyone loves to hate (including many who live there). This is meant to draw attention to “Monday 11 March 2013 : The Mayor Can’t Help It????” —  the latest episode in the Streetcar Named Rob Ford saga, on the bar at the top of the home page here.

For those who may not know, the scandal is that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been accused, by a female opponent in the 2010 election campaign, Ms Sarah Thomson, of making a rude remark and grabbing her ass, at a recent Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee Action Party. Mayor Ford has vehemently denied Ms Thomson’s allegations, and said he has always believed she is not “playing with a full deck.” Ms Thomson has said she cannot prove Mayor Ford was on cocaine when the incident took place, but is convinced that something was wrong with him.

I’ve had some trouble figuring out just what further remarks I can add to all this. The recent relevant commentary elsewhere I identify with most is Matt Elliott’s “So much to hate about the Sarah Thomson and Rob Ford story,” which appeared in Metro News also on March 11.  The mayor’s adventures,  Elliott complains, “have turned routinely boring. And they’re discouraging for their ability to distract from the issues and take the city’s collective focus off its future.”

Yet as I’ve dug around on the net for a little more about this latest not-really-so-big Toronto municipal politics cacophonism, I do seem to have stumbled across something I did not really know before. I am not a big fan of municipal politics, and I did not pay any excessive attention to the last Toronto municipal election campaign in 2010.

Sarah Thomson and Rob Ford at Harmony fundraising dinner for 2010 mayoral candidates. PHOTO: FACEBOOK.

I knew that Sarah Thomson “was the sole female Toronto mayoral contender in the top tier of hopefuls,” and that she finally “bowed out in … an effort to thwart a Ford victory,” throwing “her support behind [Ford’s main rival] George Smitherman.” But that was about it.

Now, as a result of this latest alleged Fordist scandal or circus act or whatever it is, I have dug into Ms Thomson’s background a little deeper. And beyond sharing Matt Elliott’s “routinely boring” views, my main reaction is, hey, whatever else may or may not be true in all this nonsense, Sarah Thomson is at least a more interesting person that I thought she was.

A few Wikipedia  notes


Sarah Thomson as a Liberal candidate in fall 2011 Ontario provincial election campaign.

Consider, eg, these random quick and dirty points from the Wikipedia article on “Sarah Thomson (publisher)” :

* “She began working at a gas station at age 16 and progressed through the ranks to become manager, franchise dealer, and eventually leaser of various service locations. After this, she formed a company to benefit under-performing gas stations and was one of the first to introduce retail stores to service stations. The company grossed over $30 million a year for various stations.”

* Then “she returned to McMaster University, studying philosophy and English … became involved in restoring old homes … ran the following year for the Hamilton Council … lost by just over a thousand votes  …

Tom Ewell and Jayne Mansfield in the 1956 movie “The Girl Can’t Help It.”

* After running a community newspaper in Hamilton, the Examiner, she sold it and established the Women’s Post in 2003. The Women’s Post prints every other month and has a weekly website with a community of over 50,000 unique visitors.” (And on the website at the moment it says : “The Women’s Post is a magazine designed for professional women. We are now reaching more mid to high income professional women per issue in Toronto than the Globe and Mail, The National Post or Toronto Life.”)

* In the 2010 Toronto mayoral campaign Ms.Thomson’s campaign “was endorsed by Conrad Black …  An April 2010 poll by the Toronto Star stated that Thomson had the support of 7% of respondents, but by June a poll showed her support had risen to 17%, putting her in third place … Thomson was [also] supported by former mayoral canadidate John Tory’s two sons. George Tory was appointed her campaign manger while John Tory, Jr., was a key campaign strategist.

A few more notes from the Toronto Star

Sarah Thomson participates in a candidates' discussion at University of Toronto during Toronto mayoral campaign, Sept. 14, 2010. MEEGAN SCANLON/TORONTO OBSERVER.

On Friday, March 8 Mayor Ford’s favourite newspaper [and that’s of course deep sarcasm, if you aren’t really into all this], the Toronto Star, offered a few more details about a Sarah Thomson  pulling “up her chair to a computer, readying herself to face a barrage of online questions during a live website chat” :

* “It was the first time many had seen the now dreadlocked 45-year-old publisher of the Women’s Post, and mother of two young sons, in such a glaring spotlight since her two failed political campaigns.”

* After her Toronto mayoralty bid in 2010 : “She went chasing political office again one year later in Trinity-Spadina with the provincial Liberals, a contest she lost to incumbent New Democrat Rosario Marchese … She’s now chair of the Toronto Transit Alliance, a role that recently saw her hosting a mayors’ roundtable forum.”

* “Greg Sorbara, the former provincial Liberal campaign co-chair who helped Thomson get the party’s nomination in Trinity-Spadina, came to her defence Friday, saying it is simply not in her nature to falsely smear Ford’s name.”

* “Thomson says she has made a renewed dedication to authenticity since the political campaigns … The polished, professional style she was sporting has been replaced with something more casual: jeans, clunky winter boots and those waist-length dreadlocks …’I got polished over when I ran for mayor. And people said, You’re not as authentic as you are one-on-one … She [subsequently] talked to ‘a really good pro’ who advised her that if she wants to run for politics again, she needs her authenticity … Thomson vehemently denied that she was using the alleged interaction with Ford for political gain. If anything, she said, the move could hurt her.”

Two faces of Sue-Ann Levy at the Toronto Sun … 2013 … 2010

The photo Sarah Thompson posted on Facebook of her and the mayor at the Arcadian Court on the evening of Thrusday, March 7, 2013. Her caption was “Thought it was a friendly hello to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford at the CJPAC Action Party tonight until he suggested I should have been in Florida with him last week because his wife wasn't there. Seriously wanted to punch him in the face. Happy International Women's Day!”

It won’t surprise anyone that the Toronto Sun — a Rob Ford supporter, for all practical purposes — has come out with various forms of critical commentary on Sarah Thomson. On Tuesday, March 12, 2013, eg, Sue-Ann Levy offered “Sarah Thomson certainly doesn’t speak for this assault victim.”

This was mostly about Ms Levy’s own two historic experiences with (quite serious) “assaults” by men. She feels strongly that whatever indignities Sarah Thomson may or may not have suffered at the hands of Mayor Ford are in no way comparable. (And that would seem true enough, on Ms Thomson’s own testimony.) Ms Levy concludes : ”She [ie Ms Thomson] certainly doesn’t speak for me and I would venture to say, other women are cringing at the sight of her media circus …  I’m guessing there are many of us who wish she’d just shut her yap.”

At the same time it is intriguing to set this March 12, 2013 piece beside a January 25, 2010 Sue-Ann Levy report headlined “Sarah Thomson —  fringe or force? … Publisher, political outsider and the only woman in the race isn’t worried her mayoralty bid will flop.” This takes, I think it is fair enough to say, a more positive approach to Sarah Thomson than Ms Levy’s latest work. (She “approached Conrad Black and Leonard Asper for backing to create a serious magazine for business women …  when they declined —  saying her idea would never work — she started the Women’s Post anyway with the money she’d made from her earlier ventures … Eight years later, the publication has 45 employees, a print run of 70,000 and some 350,000 readers.”)

From Sunday’s Toronto Star, whose caption reads — “In happier times: Rob Ford, centre left, and Sarah Thomson, centre right, flanked by fellow mayoral candidates Rocco Rossi, left, and George Smitherman in 2011 after the previous year's election.”

Sue-Ann Levy’s January 2010 article also fills in a little more about Sarah Thomson’s earliest career: “Toronto-born Thomson says she left her Burlington home at age 15 and lived on the streets of the Church and Wellesley area, and in Vancouver for six months —  surviving by couch-surfing with the people she met and by periodically sleeping outside … For money, she said she panhandled and sold flowers she found on the streets.” And this sheds some additional light on a report about Sarah Thomson in the March 11, 2013 National Post (appropos of Ms Thomson’s speculation about Mayor Ford being on cocaine when he said rude things and grabbed her ass: “When Thomson was asked if she’d ever taken cocaine herself, she said she didn’t know, as she spent time on the street in her youth.”

Whatever else, Sarah Thomson is not just another pretty face in the left-wing conspiracy against Rob Ford

On the campaign trail in 2010, looking at John Tory, who had two sons working on her campaign.

Sue-Ann Levy’s January 2010 article on candidate Sarah Thomson also noted that : “She did say she will approach the race with ideas from the left and right —  giving a hint that her focus will be on the big issues that could save the city ‘a lot of money’ and pay down the debt, including the waste in the homeless file.”

The fact that such luminaries of the local right wing cause as Conrad Black and John Tory’s two sons supported Sarah Thomson’s 2010 mayoral candidacy similarly suggests that she is far from  the kind of local left wing activist who Mayor Ford often likes to blame for almost all his self-induced political and/or public relations problems.

The fact that Sarah Thomson ran for the Liberals in the 2011 Ontario provincial; election no doubt also confirms that she is not the same kind of right-wing politician as Mayor Ford himself. But it doers seem arguable that she has had more of a successful self-made business career than Rob Ford, who seems to have more or less inherited his status as a private sector stakeholder.

In my own recent adventures on the net, in quest of the real Sarah Thomson or some reasonable facsimile, I also stumbled across another intriguing posting from the 2010 Toronto mayoral campaign. It comes from one Roy Eappen, on a website which proclaims on its home page : “We should have the same desire expressed by Sir John A MacDonald to Queen Victoria, the Mother of Confederation, ‘to live under the sovereignty of Your Majesty and your family for ever.’ A Christian Monarchist Canadian Tory Blog”.

And here is what Mr. Eappen had to say: “I went to a campaign event for Sarah Thomson. The publisher, founder and CEO of the Woman’s Post is running to be mayor of Toronto. I think she will be an excellent candidate. She is a fiscal conservative. She is dynamic and experienced in business. My friend Wendy Stewart is her campaign manager. Best of all she believes in subways over trams. From what I see so far, she is the best candidate and would be a huge improvement over leftist miller. The event was well attended and she has a lot of enthusiastic volunteers.”

Little Richard in The Girl Can't Help It,1956.

So … my very last thought is just that, political non-pro that I am (a mere citizen, as it were), as I searched through Google Images for interesting photos of Sarah Thomson, I found her  “polished, professional style” of 2010 considerably more appealing than her allegedly more “authentic” recent replacement of “something more casual: jeans, clunky winter boots and those waist-length dreadlocks.” If what she’s trying to do is recover her mid teens “on the streets of the Church and Wellesley area, and in Vancouver for six months,” I think she may be making a mistake. It is probably true as well that “interesting” is not always a good thing for a politician to be. But what I nonetheless feel I’ve learned so far, from this latest Mayor Ford media circus etc, is that, whatever else, Sarah Thomson is certainly more interesting than Rob Ford!

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