Calgary’s historic election of Naheed Nenshi, a Muslim, as that city’s next mayor makes Toronto’s motto, “Diversity Our Strength”, sound a little hollow with the three frontrunners for mayor in our municipal elections all being White males. Canadian-born Nenshi who, at 38, is a tenured professor and whose immigrant parents are from Tanzania, took 40 per cent of the vote in a turnout that showed interest in elections is again growing.
Comparisons to the historic presidential campaign win by Barack Obama in the U.S. are already being made. Capitalizing on the youth vote by using social media – YouTube, Twitter, Facebook – as Obama’s team did, Nenshi moved from last place in a field of three frontrunners to become mayor of Calgary.
In Toronto, the most multicultural, multiracial city in Canada, the odds that we will wake up the day after the Oct. 25 vote with African Canadian lawyer Rocco Achampong as mayor is highly unlikely. Top picks for next Tuesday’s municipal election, according to the many polls cited, are Rob Ford who gave up his seat on City Council to run for mayor and former Ontario Deputy Premier George Smitherman. Trailing in the polls, Joe Pantalone, also a veteran city councillor, points out optimistically that Nenshi was also in third place going into the Calgary vote.
Nenshi’s win, while surprising to many, is a clear demonstration of the desire for change that has been sweeping across the political landscape of North America. This may partly explain Ford’s successful campaign.
The penny-pinching Ford has been a lone voice, an irritant and a counterpoint to the bigger city-building vision of outgoing mayor David Miller.
During this mayoral campaign, the candidates have been speaking with certainty about their plans for Toronto, but whoever becomes mayor will still only have one vote on City Council. As Obama no doubt can attest, winning a campaign is not the same as heading and managing a government, be it federal or municipal. The success of the candidate who takes the most votes in the race for mayor will not just be wearing the chain of office, but will rest on his ability to gain support from a majority of the other 43 members of Council to carry through his vision. So Ford may promise that “the gravy train will stop” when he is elected, but he will have to get a majority of councillors on side, willing to vote to give up those “perks” and/or cut certain taxes.
If Ford becomes mayor, we can look forward to four years of divided forces and infighting at City Council, given what one councillor has described as Ford’s 10-year history of “simple one-liners, an angry persona and a divisive disposition”. Ford would need more councillors on side than Giorgio Mammoliti, Peter Li Preti and Francis Nunziata (and it’s not a given they will be re-elected).
So winning the election is not the end of the story; it’s only chapter one, whether your name is Ford, Smitherman or the history making Nenshi in Calgary.
What seems very clear in this election is that Torontonians want to be reassured that the tax dollars they are hard pressed to pay are being used respectfully and prudently.
It is reassuring to see so many candidates from our community getting involved in this election. Especially young candidates. Some of them have very good chances of winning.
For far too long we have urged members of our community to get involved in the political process. We are proud of all of them and wish them well.
We have also for far too long urged members of our community to get out and vote. This is our city, province and country. When others complain that their taxes are being wasted by the various governments, for example, guess what, those are also our taxes.
As long as you are a Canadian citizen, over the age of 18 and living anywhere in Ontario, it is your duty to go to the polls and vote next Monday, October 25.
The people who are elected as mayors across the province, councillors and school board trustees (public and Catholic) will govern our lives – and those of our children – for the next four years.