Protest vote ignores the bigger picture

By PAT WATSON

It is worth contemplating that the same reasons so many Torontonians are gravitating towards voting for Rob Ford as Toronto’s next mayor bears some similarities to why American voters gravitated to Barack Obama during his historic presidential campaign.

Now, before people get into a snit about parallels being drawn between the urbane, intellectual Obama and the often ungracious Ford, it is the public discontent over an aggregate of circumstances that bears comparison.

In the U.S., the previous Republican administration, headed by George W. Bush, hopelessly mired America in problems: two very expensive wars and profligate spending that put America heavily in debt to China contributed to that country’s current economic predicament. And there was that nagging international image problem.

Americans had begun to lose faith in their country and needed to do something that at least on the surface appeared to be thoroughly different, even radical. Obama’s timing couldn’t have been better in that sense.

Similarly, the awkward coordination that seems to have plagued Toronto City Council for the past few years, the garbage strike that satisfied very few when it concluded, the weaknesses in the public transit system, overspending on the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way, City Councillors voting themselves a raise while seeking to freeze wages for non-unionized municipal workers all have added up to a feeling that there is a need for radical change. And, really, how much more radical a change away from David Miller’s leadership could there be than Rob Ford – that is, at least in terms of the media anointed frontrunners.

Which brings back an ongoing sore point: Mainstream media have so far given negligible space to other candidates trying to get their platforms heard by the electorate, which is why so many are under the impression that all we have to choose from is this less than inspiring slate. The point of departure, however is that Obama wasn’t just a protest vote, many were convinced that he ‘looked presidential’.

Looking again to the Obama model, there is a candidate running for mayor, who, although he does not have a White mother, does have an African father. In fact both his parents are Ghanaian born, as is he.

Like Obama, Rocco Achampong has a law degree and was a student, not at prestigious Harvard University, but prestigious Trinity College at the University of Toronto. His law degree is from Osgoode Hall. He could also be said to not have a lot of political experience, although he was president of the University of Toronto’s Student Union and U of T’s Black Student Union before that. Achampong is, however, not lacking in ambition and moxie.

On a less fanciful, rather more critical matter, the unanswered challenge for City Council is that it has not been able to find its balance over the 10-plus years since we became the amalgamated City of Toronto. Scarborough, for instance, has not had its fair share of support since Mike Harris sought to offload some provincial expenditure by creating the megacity. This, over the loud protests of those most concerned – Torontonians.

To date, the new Megacity of Toronto is still contending with holdovers of old rules that still separately govern the functioning of what used to be the City of North York, for instance. So while Ford continues with a one-note campaign focusing on a tight budget, the skills required for the coalescence and subsequent success of this city will require more than that of a one-trick pony, no matter how well-meaning.

When voters go to the polls, just over one short month from now on October 25, their individual decision ought to take into consideration not just their own ward. People need to consider the good of the entire 2.5 million population of the city from Scarborough to Etobicoke, and from Steeles to the Lakeshore.

A note on the political drift from the south…

When Conservative House Leader John Baird blamed “Toronto elites” for the push to save the long gun registry, he became some kind of American, the kind that has made ‘elite’ a bad word. We know it can be, but when Canadian politicians start sounding all ‘red, white and blue’ when they refer to the ‘elites’ then the rest of us need to stop napping and to take very seriously the political culture that is actually in effect here. Already, there is a creeping call for a tea party-style movement to get going here in Canada.

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