What possible good could come from Rob Ford's mayoral win? Hard to believe there is any in the second coming of the Common Sense Devolution, but there is an upside: the lessons we can learn from his win.
It may be time for lefty Fiberals and New Democrats on council to consider the "c" word - coalition. Hate to disturb my friends among the Dippers, but it's time to wakey-wakey. A loose merger or a detente for the time being is unavoidable. Or to borrow a phrase offered by a former skeptic also known as the federal Liberal leader, a coalition if necessary, but not necessarily a coalition. Call it a caucus if you prefer. Some kind of union is necessary if we don't want a Tory-led Queen's Park calling the shots in the clamshell at City Hall 10 months from now. After all, they're the ones who control the purse strings.
Let's not kid ourselves. Ford's win is not the usual "correction" of the political landscape we get every half-dozen years or so. The political pendulum has swung way the fuck over to the right. Consider Mike Harris's attendance at Fordo's victory party. The former preem who brought us amalgamation is a fellow these days at the Fraser Institute, the right-wing think tank eager to shape an American-style future for Canada, complete with privatized health care and education. All of this means there's big money behind them thar hillbillies who'll be occupying the mayor's office starting November 30.
Fear is no antidote to runaway populism. George Smitherman's final numbers prove that, and that's why progressives should be pushing for a ranked ballot system. Fair Vote Canada estimates that 47 per cent of the ballots cast in this municipal runoff were wasted, which is to say they elected no one. While we're at it, let's push for Internet voting, too. Some young guy named Adam Giambrone had the idea before his mayoral bid crashed. Both ideas are worth pushing if the left is to have a chance in 2014. And McGuinty's Libs might be amenable, seeing the way the winds of change are now blowing.
If lefties come away with anything from this campaign, it's this: never underestimate your opponent - or the public's capacity for political amnesia. The two together make a potentially volatile mix, as the election results show. Ask Warren Kinsella. The Liberal spin doctor, modern-day Machiavelli and general of many a political war room has declared that if a repeat offender (and liar) like Ford can win, then the politics of scandal is over. As a side note for future elections: please, no more bad YouTube remixes of political faux pas like those we saw ad nauseam featuring Ford. They're tired and depress the level of political discourse.
Reality check: perception is reality in politics. Cliché maybe, but not when you consider the huge disconnect out there. The city's not descending into chaos, as conservative fear-mongers and their online army of commentators would have us believe. The perception, though, is that it is. The solution? If the medium is the message, then it's time to find new ways to exploit the only medium left that's not controlled by powerful conservative interests: the Internet. Joe Pantalone's campaign had some success in this regard, outdistancing his main competition on both Facebook and Twitter with the help of some creative advertising. Those telephone town halls (as annoying as they are) aren't such a bad idea either as a means of reaching those the left might not connect with otherwise. A good way, too, of building voters lists, especially in the burbs.
There's no reason to despair, all of the above notwithstanding. The so-called Ford "phenomenon" is more steam than Tea Party-like revolution, really. Even blah Jane Pitfield, who ran an awful campaign against David Miller in 2006, managed to score 30-something per cent of the vote. Fact is, there are a lot of conservatives in this town; they just don't always vote that way. This time they did.
Don't blame David Miller for selling us the big idea that municipal politics can be about the vision thing. It still can be. Ford's win doesn't prove that people just want their garbage picked up, or that government is an unnecessary evil. Ford collected almost half of all ballots cast October 25, but in reality only 15 per cent of the population voted for him. For all the talk of a better turnout, half the eligible voters in the city didn't bother to participate. That's a big number. There's still hope for the Toronto as city state Miller envisioned. 'Scuse me while I kiss the sky.
Public opinion polls may be an affront to democracy, but their power to shepherd people into voting how the mainstream dictates can't be underestimated - or ignored. Polls shape opinions more than they reflect them. Which is why there should be restrictions on their use in municipal elections as there are at the federal level. Perhaps we should be fighting for a moratorium on public polls for up to two weeks before election day. Quick. Write your local MPPs early, and often.
That newfound air of legitimacy surrounding Ford now that he's mayor? Don't be fooled. It's the post-election stress disorder talking. Have faith. A guy with base political instincts like Ford is bound to meet with controversy sooner or later. Members of his campaign are already bragging about the dirty tricks they played to save Ford's ass time and time again. There's more where that came from, like, for example, the sad anti-immigrant types and Toronto Party loudmouths gravitating to his anti-government cause. That grenade found on Bay Street the other day may have been left by a Halloween prankster, but a few of those will be certain to go off all over town, figuratively speaking, of course, when people start realizing what the $1.7 billion in service cuts he's promised start happening and councillors start feeling the blowback from residents in the burbs who swept him into power.
Don't pack up that Rob Ford voodoo doll just yet. There's plenty of needling to be done. The proper response for progressives deflated by Ford's win is not to turtle, but to fight the bully every step of the way. There'll be a temptation among a few on council to compromise in the interest of, er, common courtesy and getting things done. My question to them: since when did the right give in on anything?