Ah, the fringe candidate -- in principle so very necessary, in practice so often hilarious.
"This is my seventh and last election," declared Scott Yee, one of the 20 or so mayoral candidates on the stage at the St. Lawrence Centre on October 4. "I've had three goals: to become the prime minister, to become president of Earth and to usher in the United Federation of Planets." And he's giving up after seven tries?
The Who Wants To Be Mayor? debate, organized by Who Runs This Town?, Dave Meslin's new project, featured 38 registered candidates, and while I really want to elect a mayor who wears a Mohawk flag as a cape, I wasn't entirely certain what candidate Sonic Dave DuMoulin's "global peace cyber-powwow" had to do with the issues at hand.
Some of his critique, though, stuck. "Cancer fundraisers make money for the pharmaceutical corporations that are killing us." On the one hand, Sonic, that makes perfect sense. On the other hand, your first name is an adjective.
Sadly, most of those assembled ended up simply providing fodder for the judging of front-runners David Miller and Jane Pitfield.
After speaking of the need for lower taxes, cleaner subways and employee morale (so far the closest things she has to platform planks), Pitfield was hailed by miraculously delusional tax-dodger Stephen LeDrew, who intoned, "I agree with almost everything Jane just said," leading me to wonder if he's a Miller plant.
On a question from the audience on why she supported the Portlands Energy Centre, Pitfield stood her ground. "I think we need a reliable source of electricity," she said, and continued confidently over a cacophony of catcalls, presenting a muddled argument that Miller did not stand up for the people either.
"[He] asked [enviro minister] Donna Cansfield to waive environmental assessments on the [smaller] Constellation Energy Centre." She didn't have a point, but she did, for a change, have something new to say.
Miller, meanwhile, has stayed the course. Playing tortoise to Pitfield's hare, he's struck a more optimistic and measured note, but the unscripted nature of the event made him seem downright sedentary on a few points.
When asked what he would do about a crush of homelessness resulting from waterfront revitalization, Miller spoke on cue of his favoured Streets To Homes project, making a program that may have seemed proactive to some at its inception look unmistakably reactionary. Who needs planning when you can just mop up the diaspora of poor later?
He showed a similar fatalism when asked whether he would oppose future plans for the Front Street Extension.
"It will rise or fall with [the Gardiner plan]," he replied glibly, before continuing. "Smog is a problem. When you're talking about smog, you're talking about people's health, and it's time to take it seriously."
Maybe it's also time to start taking more of the questions seriously because that wasn't an answer.
When asked why we've seen a rise in police spending but not in social programs, Miller hedged. "We've created programs with the private sector to create a thousand new jobs for youth. Handguns and semi-automatic weapons have no place in this city."
Sad that unknown candidate Jaime Castillo rose to point out that Miller's answer wasn't, strictly speaking, an answer. "Guns are a problem because parents can't supervise their children when they're working 10-hour days," he said. "Mr. Miller, why make underpaid jobs but not heal the city?"
Sadder still that most of these simple questions haven't been brought up anywhere else, but encouraging that this mega-debate, which could have been a mere sideshow, was actually the occasion for some of the most thoughtful interventions so far.
When grilled on the recent landfill deal, Miller was unrepentant. "You need a landfill," he said. "It makes you secure." Always nice to see a politician actually willing to stick to his guns but awfully vindicating, as well, to hear this over thunderous boos and catcalls.
And saddest yet, perhaps, that the best enviro rhetoric came not from Miller, who has been running on green cred, but from candidate Rod Muir, who, if there were any justice, would be getting more attention than the commedia dell'arte of LeDrew and Pitfield.
"Miller can take no pride in his record on waste," said Muir. "It takes no vision to buy a hole in someone's backyard and dump your waste in."
Ideally, we should be able pick and choose Miller's diplomacy and mind for process, Muir's environmental focus, maybe LeDrew's eyebrows just for fun, and maybe some good ideas like this little gem from mostly silent candidate Douglas Campbell: "The answer is public ownership of land. Businessmen are going to nuclearize the planet. If you vote for a capitalist candidate, you're voting to kill children."
The focus on choosing a person instead of a vision means that workable ideas fall when offered by unrecognizable personalities, while recognized personalities can somehow rise on indecipherable ideas.