Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mayor Ford... Ugh

Quick thoughts from a quick election night:
  • I'm putting the over/under on strike days during Rob Ford's four years as mayor at 150 days
  • Toronto's political scene is going to have a giant hole without George Smitherman around
  • Jack Layton, leader of a federal party and would-be Prime Minister, spent his morning at a subway stop campaigning for a city council candidate in one of the smallest wards in Toronto. Yes, Mary Fragedakis won (thanks to a huge vote split from Jane Pitfield and Jennifer Wood), but really? Layton doesn't have better things to do?
  • Apparently, Jim Flaherty doesn't have anything better to do either. He was hanging out at the Ford victory party. Can we stop the charade and just have political parties in municipal politics in Ontario?
  • Sandra Bussin was humiliated. Some good news.
  • Paula Fletcher escaped. Not good news
  • Chantal Hebert should probably visit Mississauga. Hurricane Hazel is back. If you want to limit yourself to three cities and not count the two female mayors Toronto elected back-to-back in the 90's... Well, gosh darn, there are no female mayors.
  • Ms. McCallion was punished by the voters for her ongoing scandals receiving a paltry 76% of the vote.
  • Oh and Ms. Hebert forgot to mention that aside from Mme. Marois and Ms. James (who are near locks right now), Danielle Smith is seen as a strong contender to be the next premier of Alberta. So, if Alberta, BC and Qu├ębec all elect female premiers, will Chantal complain because Andrea Horwath loses in Ontario?
  • We need more women in politics but it doesn't help the cause when columnists make transparently weak cases for it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Six Cities, One Mayor

In a couple days, Toronto will elect it's third Mayor since amalgamation. Six cities with different political cultures merged over a decade ago, but the differences still linger. It's too simplistic to say that this is a race between Rob Ford's suburbs and George Smitherman's downtown core but there are elements of that. Rob Ford comes from Etobicoke: the western edge of the city sandwiched between Toronto and Mississauga in more than just geography. Ford's tax fighting approach has always appealed to his constituents who have looked enviously west at Hazel McCallion's thrifty city for years. Etobicoke has 13% of Toronto's population but 20% of its landmass making it more less dense and therefore more suburban, then the packed condo towers of downtown.

Ford's surprising strength among ethnic minorities may come in large part due to Etobicoke's eastern cousin Scarborough. Toronto's much derided Eastern half is a majority minority inner suburb with whites making up just 32% of the population. Still, as demonstrated in Calgary, people don't need to vote for someone who looks like them. Particularly, if they are speaking to their issues. The TTC is a joke in Scarborough, with 600,000 people served by just 6 LRT stops and patchwork maze of buses. Scarborough is an excellent portrait of the new Canadian experience: semi-successful, semi-peripheral. City Hall can feel a long way away when you're standing on the banks of the Rouge River and Ford speaks to that and hey, at least he acknowledges that they work hard (okay, yeah, a lot of political analysis is trying to explain the inexplicable and trying to explain Ford's success among visible minorities is one of those moments). There may be some Torontonians who like to forget Scarborough and Etobicoke exist but they do and electorally, they matter.

A lot of people may have forgotten the tiny borough of East York ever existed. Just 100,000 people call the former borough home and East York covers just 21 square kilometers. However, it has its own political dynamic. East York was always a tiny, slightly right wing version of the bigger city. It produced right wingers like the retiring city councillor Case Ootes, deputy mayor to Mel Lastman and right wing NDPers Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue who served as its last mayor. East Yorkers are proud of their corner of the city and local issues have always been top of mind in this part of the city. From wealthy Leaside to the poorer Thorncliffe Park, tiny East York is not homogeneous by any stretch. It may surprise some outsiders to know that the borough is over 12% Muslim and about half of it's population is foreign born. In 2003, the three wards which contain the former city, voted for Miller over Tory by a margin of about 5:4.

East York is not the only former city to have faded from the memory banks. The old city of York, sandwiched between North York, Toronto and Etobicoke, is often similarly forgotten. In 2003, John Nunziata carried his only ward in York where his sister, Frances Nunziata (now on city council) was wrapping up as York's last mayor. York is far too familiar with crime making law and order an issue here. Almost as small as East York, at just 120,000 residents, York's electoral impact may not be as large its neighbours like Etobicoke, and North York.

North York
provided Toronto with its first mayor in the post-amalgamation era and much of what we are talking about today has something to do with Mel Lastman. The political juggernaut from North York brought his populist sound bite brand of driven brand of politics to new city hall. Whatever Mayor Mel did or didn't do, he was certainly a big enough personality for the new big city. Lastman's North York is famous for its high level of service, for not a lot of taxes. How to deal with some of those legacies (like city-shoveled sidewalks) has been one of the challenges for the new mega-city. North York straddles the rich and poor divide like no other part of the city. It encompasses the ostentatious Bridle Path and the troubled Jane and Finch. North York is almost as large as the old city itself and neither Ford nor Smitherman can afford a poor showing in North York.

The old city of Toronto, generally seen as Smitherman's strength is a strange political animal. The NIMBYism which saw Miller's opposition to a tiny bridge to the island airport is part of the dynamic here. But the champagne socialism of Miler has not gone down all over the old city. The dense townhouses and semi-detached houses made for resistance to Miller's new garbage bins which often have to be left on front porches for lack of options. The money made on Bay street and enjoyed in Rosedale is part of the mix too. The old city may be what most outsiders think about when they think about Toronto, but it is a small part of the city. It's voters may find themselves on the outside looking in if Rob Ford is able to win.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Garbage Fallout 2010 Rocco Rossi Edition

Rocco Rossi has finally realized that he has no chance of becoming Toronto's next mayor. Rossi's campaign was highlighted by excellent media savvy and lots of ideas (ranging in quality). Problem was nobody really knew who Rocco Rossi was. With Smitherman and Ford now apparently deadlocked in the polls, Rossi's departure from the race makes the race a lot simpler. Torontonians can vote for George Smitherman, they can vote for Rob Ford or they can throw their vote away and vote for Joe Pantalone. I think the choice is pretty obvious. Smitherman has been a men amongst boys (and Sarah Thompson) in this race and is the only person capable of leading Toronto into the next decade. You can vote for anger and vitriol or you can vote for a man of substance and character.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Harper Wins Win-Win Scenario

Stephen Harper is not a tactical genius, but he did pull off a tactical victory in this whole UN mess. Really, he couldn't lose. If he had gotten a seat at the security council it's a diplomatic feather in his cap. Canada's at the big boys table etc. etc. However, he always had the other side to play. The UN is not a very popular organization among the core of the Conservative Party. It's even less popular with the pro-Israel wing of the Conservative party who view it as a fundamentally anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian organization because of the numbers the Muslim world can bring to bear at the General Assembly and other UN bodies. Harper couched his withdrawal by making it about Israel.

I don't think he expected to have to force the issue as much as he did by conjuring up some story about deepening and expanding the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA). However, it did the trick. Harper comes off to his base as 'a friend of Israel who wasn't willing to sell himself to the evil UN just to win a seat at the ineffective Security Council'. Of course, Harper already made nice with most of the same Muslim leaders when he was still trying to win the seat, meeting with leaders like Pres. Abbas, but pay that no mind.

What really gets my goat professionally is seeing him talk about expanding free trade after allowing the Colombian and Jordanian FTA's to die not once but twice on the order paper. All those wonderful things they were telling that we're getting out of CIFTA we could be getting out of trade with those two countries as well. Harper, of course, preferred to prorogue parliament than do something good for the country. CIFTA, of course, was brought in by Jean Chretien's government back in the mid-90's. It was deepened slightly in the last years of Chretien's government. How exactly you make it any deeper is anyone's guess. There are some goods that it could probably apply to in each country that are currently not on the list but this is not a weak FTA. There's not a lot of room for big economic gains there... at least without touching the agricultural sacred cow... all puns intended.
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