Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Finding it hard to get excited about Toronto’s mayoralty race

I’ve lived in Toronto for five years now after moving out from British Columbia for a journalism job, and I’m finally starting to feel at home. I still hate the Maple Leafs, but I no longer look away from the CN Tower in an effort to fool myself into thinking I’m not really in Hogtown. I even read the Toronto Star every now and again.

Still, I’m finding it hard to work-up the energy or interest to get excited about our race for mayor or to get engaged by any of the candidates. It’s not that I don’t care about any local issues – transit is my big one – but all the candidates thus far have struck me as either crazy, timid or panderers. It’s hard to be excited about any of them in the mayor’s office, and at this point I still have no idea who I’ll mark an X for in October.

I can safely cross Rob Ford off the list, for reasons so manifold and obvious I shan’t bother to list them. As much as some of his populist pap may strike a chord that is resonating in the polls though, I think his numbers have as much to do with the unimpressive performance of his opponents.

The two obvious choices for me to support based on my political leanings would be George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi. Sadly, I haven’t been much impressed with either of them.

I met Rocco a few times when he was briefly executive director of the federal Liberal Party. He seemed like an accomplished fellow, bursting with energy and ideas. I was pleased when he entered the race, even if he was leaving unfinished business back in Ottawa. But then he started making announcements.

I’ll give Rocco credit for one thing. While Smitherman has been too timid to say muchof substance as the (in his mind) frontrunner, as the scrappy challenger Rossi has been putting plenty of stuff out there. The problem is, I don’t really like any of it. He seemed to hew right so sharply when he launched I found myself wondering if it was really the Liberal Party he was formerly executive directing.

He supports empty populist pap that echoes the Reform Party of old and sounds nice but will do nothing to confront the issues facing Toronto, like cutting the Mayor’s pay or implementing recall legislation. Selling-off Toronto Hydro, besides getting rid of a valuable asset, just temporarily papers-over deeper budget issues. I can get behind putting garbage services to tender. But he loses me on the issue that matters to me most: transit.

First he wanted to freeze Transit City, a plan already funded and in the works that would see LRT lines soon crisscross the city, in favour of studying other options. We need more transit now, this plan is ready to go, and preferring an imperfect plan to more delay I opposed this. Now he wants to take the money from selling Toronto Hydro and put it toward expanding the subway. Subway is better than LRT, but a few problems. First, I don’t support selling off assets to do it. Two, subway is a lot more expensive than LRT, which means less of it, which means many areas will wait much longer for service improvements. Third, he assumes the other levels of government that have committed funding to Transit City will allow it to be ported over to this new plan. That’s a large assumption.

Still, while I don’t agree with most of them, Rossi is at least out there talking policy. Which is more than I can say for Smitherman. As someone who hasn’t followed the race super-close, the impression I have of George is that he seems very reluctant to take firm positions, sometimes gets angry, and went for a long walk down Eglington. So I went to a Web site and, while he offers a little more substance there, traffic wardens and service review don’t exactly set hearts a’flutter. And on transit, he seems to want to do LRT and subway but I don’t see how he’ll pay for it.

Then, there are a handful of other candidates. Apparently someone named Joe Pantalone is running; I know this only because Jack Layton just endorsed him (Jack appears no less than thrice on the front page of his Web site). There’s also a Sarah Thompson who may or may not be slightly conservative and has no political experience. And there was some guy that wanted to build a casino or something but I think he dropped out.

There are our choices for mayor in Canada’s largest city. Any race where people were excited about the prospect of John Tory's potential entry has problems. Maybe I should start averting my gaze from the CN Tower once more. Will any of the candidates step up and impress?

If voters like me are so uninspired we don't bother to vote, that's how Rob Ford wins. But just being the "not crazy alternative" won't cut it either.

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Kyle H. said...

Don't blame you, Jeff. Though I suppose Rossi (at least for the moment), none of the candidates really measure up.

We have the same problem here in Burlington; we have a Conservative incumbent, a Green main challenger, and an ambiguous-but-probably-Conservative, and less than underwhelming, "scrappy challenger." At least Toronto has some Liberals running!

jkg said...

Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't Toronto Hydro the result of municipal downloading from the Harris government? I remember reading in the Star awhile back that this was one of the few advantages of Harris' policy with respect to Toronto. It would seem foolhardy to sell that.

The Transit City rings awfully similar to Ottawa's attempt at expanding its light rail system. The current mayor campaigned on reexamining the light rail plan. Thus, when he and a new council were elected, the city of Ottawa reneged on the prior contract and had to pay about 37 million dollars to Siemens. The original plan was not as ambitious, but it was using old rail routes already in place.

They have proposed on a new plan, but that has resulted in creating an underground tunnel through downtown (and somehow bypassing the Rideau Canal). It is most likely that it will cost much more (1.8 billion versus 778 million), and it will be much longer before Ottawa sees the new system as they have to tender a new contract. To boot, their new plan involves actually building the system based on the original plan they rejected while adding another route much later. If they didn't renege, the city would have had the first part operational in September of last year. Finally, the mayor of Ottawa, similar to Rossi, hoped that other levels of government would make up for the increased price tag.

I fear that should Transit City be modified as you suggested (even if it is not done by Rossi), you may experience something similar to what Ottawa has.