Month: September 2010

An Open Letter to George Smitherman

Dear Mr. Smitherman,

Toronto is where you have called ‘home’ for your entire life, so it is hardly surprising you would want to become its Mayor. You have been a stalwart pioneer of sorts, becoming the first openly gay politician elected as a Member of Provincial Parliament, and the first openly gay cabinet minister to boot.

Sadly, you have no shot at becoming Toronto’s very first openly gay Mayor.

When this campaign began you were considered the front runner in several polls. As the months ticked by however, your eHealth albatross proved to be the weapon of choice for your opponents, most noticeably Rob Ford. And while you have repeatedly taken responsibility for your role in the 1 billion dollar debacle, as well as rightly pointed out the roles of other politicians who also share the blame, that albatross became much too heavy for any mayoral candidate to carry. It is now ingrained in the public consciousness – Smitherman = 1 billion dollar loss of Ontario taxpayer money. As you know, politics can be cruel, but if you stood outside yourself for a moment and imagined someone else trying to shed that label you would see what the rest of us see (excluding your base of steadfast supporters) – a man with exactly no shot at becoming Mayor of Toronto.

Don’t take it personally. eHealth is your Howard Dean scream, as it were. It is your accidental branding in a game that can change overnight, provided you have an accomplishment that can overshadow the setback. Unfortunately, the campaign is almost over and the time for tangible accomplishments has long expired. You can’t  create policy that will un-brand you, so to speak. You can’t crunch numbers, hold them up and say “See?! See?!?!” in an attempt rightly discredit Rob Ford’s alien math when it comes to budgets and taxes.

So, what to do….what to do…

Drop out of the race. Yes, the time for officially withdrawing has come and gone, but you can still do the right thing. This just wasn’t your year. The words ‘too soon’ might as well be emblazoned on your forehead. That Furious George thing would have actually helped you if eHealth did not exist. Toronto, clearly, has an appetite for a fiery politician, but it just isn’t you. It just isn’t Sarah Thomson, and it certainly isn’t David Miller sidekick, Joe Pantalone. As much as it hurts you to hear this, and despite what the polls may say, the only candidate who stands a chance at defeating Mr. Ford is Rocco Rossi. I know, it’s crazy. He’s polling lower than you, had trouble resonating with voters and has an unsettling smile, but he has been consistently polling as the person voters would select as their second choice, meaning he is the only candidate left who can save this city from becoming Lastman 2.0.

Even when you drop out, it still is a long shot Rossi can pull it off. He will need to scare the shit out of Torontonians, asking them to imagine Mr. Ford at the helm, a lame duck Mayor from day one who can’t build consensus and will be barking his elementary orders from the king’s seat, a picture too disturbing for voters to allow. He will also have to convince your supporters to rally behind him, no small feat given the ideological differences between you two. This, by the way, can also only be successful if Rossi can shrink voter apathy, especially among young voters. If turnout can swell to 50% Mr. Ford will not become Mayor. Bet on it.

Take that love you no doubt have for this city and put it ahead of your political ambitions. You still have time to make your mark. It’s not like this eHealth thing will stick to you forever a la Bob Rae and social contracts. You got time to rebrand yourself. Take that time and help Toronto escape the clutches of Chris Farley…please.

And no, Mr. Rossi did not encourage or suggest I write this letter. In fact, I don’t think he likes me at all after the beating I have given him in my blog. This is just an honest effort to keep a buffoon out of office.

Sincerely,

James Di Fiore

Toronto Mayoral Candidate (who knows he can’t win…bummer, I know)

Welcome to Fat City (formerly Toronto)

Why Most of Toronto is Fear and Loathing Election Day, 2010

By: James Di Fiore

Three quarters of Toronto despise him, and yet Rob Ford may be the next mayor of the city.

‘But how can that be?’ says the uninformed Ford supporter, ‘After all, he is ahead in all of the polls with 45% support of voters.’

And that’s the answer – he has the support of voters, which is roughly 40% of the city. So, Ford has approximately 20% support citywide. How’s that for harsh realities?

Far be it from me to try to educate Ford supporters about percentages, apathy, splitting the vote and other items slightly more complicated than slogans like ‘End the waste at City Hall!’ Seniors gravitate towards slogans, suburbanites live in a bubble and the remaining Fordians are simply, tragically, uninformed. Christie Blatchford, who mused about City Hall employees being overpaid, is not uninformed. She is a hypocrite, however. On one hand she chastises councilors for making close to a hundred grand a year, all the while saying nothing about her own salary – $180 000/year for tapping keys on her laptop in the wee hours from her house in the Annex.

And Fordians say we are out of touch.

This whole election has been one folly after another. One man has cemented himself as the champion of seniors, suburbanites and the intellectually bankrupt, while the remaining four have shown our city to be a den of opportunists who couldn’t play politics to save their lives. If Rocco Rossi had been busted for DUI he would have been done. If Sarah Thomson forgot that she got busted for pot she would have been as irrelevant as Ellie Kirzner, the NOW Magazine flower-child throwback who thinks it is still 1969. And if George Smitherman had told an Iranian man that his wife should go back to Iran to get beaten and raped, we may have at least questioned his homosexuality.

And if any of these things had happened to Joe Pantalone, it likely wouldn’t matter. Sorry, but Joey Pants doesn’t resonate enough for even the worst scandals to make a difference.

But here we are; a city about to elect Chris Farley as our mayor. Who would have thought this could have happened in a post-Mel Lastman city? Most people look back at those years as some sort of dream, a Coen Brothers Production of what happens when the water supply is laced with LSD. Speaking of which, Hunter S. Thompson once ran for Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado on a platform consisting of removing all the roads and replacing it with grass, and renaming the town Fat City in order to deter an influx of elites from moving there.

Toronto might become Fat City. And while Hunter S. Thompson was making a statement, likely drug induced, about the repression of young, liberal citizens who were being forced out by the ultra-conservative bunch, at least he wore his blunt on his sleeve. Ford is the opposite; a Tea Party-ish buffoon running on slogans directed towards the old, suburban middle-class who are tired of the downtown, liberal hippies.

A cosmopolitan destination once adored for its inclusiveness and cleanliness, its friendliness and commerce, may soon have an alleged wife beater at the helm who calls journalists ‘socialists’.

No word yet if FOX News is suing for trade mark infringement.

What is clear, and this is an against all odds play, is that non-voters need to shed that apathetic skin, get off their asses and cast a ballot. A low turnout means Ford wins, but anything higher than 50% means Toronto does not have to experiment with yet another mascot mayor. The math is simple: and since Fordians aren’t very strong at anything that can’t be emblazoned on a foam finger, there’s still a shot at saving Toronto from 4 years of being known as the modern day Fat City.


Local Media Company Gives Election the Retro Touch

Creates Pac-Man style game to lighten the political mood in Toronto

By: James Di Fiore

My first glance was a quick one, mostly because my eyes rolled to the back of my head instantly. But sometimes we judge too quickly.

While taking a peek at Rocco Rossi’s Facebook page I noticed a post from Rocco himself – ‘A fun online game that incorporates mayoral candidate voting as a means of engaging a younger audience into the municipal election.’ His comments included a link to a site where one can play a Pac-Man style game featuring the main 5  mayoral candidates, their body-less heads munching on pellet-like ballots. You choose the candidate and the remaining 4 become the enemy who try to thwart your mission – to eat as many ballots as you can.

It was Rossi’s initial description that initially irked me – “…a means of engaging a younger audience to the municipal election…” Frankly, I thought it was insulting, and I said as much on the thread under his post. But, like any overzealous political junkie, I knew I should find the source and ask him what the deal was. Enter Michael Girgis, President and CEO of One Stop Media Group, the company responsible for turning our election into even more of a spectacle through a retro video game from decades ago.

I spoke to Girigis over the phone and asked him off the top whether or not the game was an insult to young voters.

“It actually wasn’t skewed towards the 18-34 year olds like some people have assumed,” he said. “we are trying to engage the non-voting groups in the city, but the underlying idea is ‘fun’.”

Girgis added that the public probably feels bombarded with platforms and agendas and are likely looking to be entertained in the run up to this election. Indeed, with a staggering 40+ debates already complete, and another 30+ to go, this election has become reminiscent of the political marathons we are used to seeing south of the border.

One Stop Media Group may not be a local household name, but chances are everyone has seen their company’s technology in action. They are the company responsible for the news and information screens located in subway stations in Toronto. With CP24 as their media partner, Girgis has been able to reach millions of people a day in the city, and Mayor Munch was intended to make light of an election that has the city politically exhausted.

“Again, the underlying idea is to have fun,” said Girgis. “The other idea was to keep the election on the minds of the people. If the game happens to result in people actually voting then bonus.”

You might not agree with Girgis’ contribution to this election, but perhaps it is a welcome break in what many are calling the longest and most polarizing election in Toronto’s history. While Rossi’s characterization of the game being a tool to mobilize young voters was incorrect, Mayor Munch still may be effective in getting the electorate to see the race through a lighthearted lens.  And, like the song on the radio replaying over and over again in our head, perhaps this game has an opportunity to have a cerebral effect on our young, apathetic voters.

So, like the unscientific Lick’s Hamburger poll that somehow chooses the winning candidate every four years, look to see if Girgis’ creation will be a presence in Toronto politics for our future municipal elections.

Political Posturing

Candidates gambling through dead ideas and quiet alliances


By: James Di Fiore

Labour Day has always been the unofficial start to what is often referred to as the ‘real campaign’ during municipal elections. Policies dreamt up months earlier are either tossed aside or proudly announced, depending on the mood of the electorate, the poll numbers and the advice from campaign strategists. Politicians roll up their sleeves, taking more risks and hoping those risks pay dividends.

So while it was not surprising to see Rocco Rossi announce that he had an upcoming policy announcement (redundant much?), the peculiar and downright recycled idea of extending the Allen Expressway by tunneling underneath the city from Eglinton to the Gardiner was desperate at best. In short, Rossi’s campaign appears to believe he and George Smitherman are on a path to split the vote, vaulting Rob Ford into the mayor’s chair at City Hall. So instead of creating a vision unique to his campaign, Rossi gambled and is now swimming in political quicksand just 5 weeks away from the election.

Smitherman, whose stagnant campaign has surprised even his most unforgiving critics, has the rare opportunity to position himself as the only realistic opponent to Rob Ford, but his first ad after Rossi’s blunder had a spelling error. You can’t make this shit up. It writes itself in what will one day be regarded as the most farcical election in Toronto’s history…guaranteed.

Meanwhile, Rob Ford continues to pull the string on his back, making the exact same few statements about spending cuts and transparency as he has throughout the campaign. Coincidentally, Ford’s unchanged messaging is mirrored by his poll numbers which have plateaued at around 35%. His supporters, who have been the most vocal of any candidate, were cemented long ago in the outskirts of the city and will likely not increase unless Ford extends an olive branch to the downtown population. Even if Ford does unveil a more inclusive platform, it is unlikely his numbers will grow due to a genuine dislike downtowners seem to have for the frumpy front-runner.

Sarah Thomson is also struggling to increase her support. In fact, the lone female candidate has now taken up her own renditions of Ford’s key talking points in an effort to reach the right-leaning citizenry that have thus far ignored her platform. Thomson, who positioned herself verbally as a social conservative, spent most of the start of her campaign cosying up to Toronto lefties through her environmental initiatives, abandoning her neo-conservative roots in the process. This deliberate attempt to disguise her true colours cost her credibility among informed voters while coming off inauthentic to everyday Torontonians. Her parroting of Ford’s positions on wasteful spending have become so obvious lately that one wonders if she will drop out of the saturated race and throw her support behind the Ford campaign, perhaps securing a spot in his administration should the current numbers hold.

Finally, Joe Pantalone is still in the race. Expect nothing notable from Miller’s concierge between now and October 25th. It would be nice to expand on Joe’s campaign progress, but the tiny City Hall lifer just doesn’t resonate with voters.

In the end, this election will be decided on how the vote is split, and whether or not candidates without a chance of winning will be stubborn enough to stay in the race. Time will tell…

The Nicer Side of Politics

Candidates should not be judged by the content of their supporters’ characters

By: James Di Fiore


Believe it or not, there is a genuine person behind the candidate you have strong disagreements with. In Toronto’s Mayoral election, a race that has seen no shortage of name calling, controversy and verbal attacks, sometimes politics can be put aside for a few moments of civility.

I have made no apologies for being both a candidate and a pundit in the election. Air-time is elusive for so-called fringe candidates like myself, and driving traffic to my own outspoken opinions of my fellow, more recognizable candidates is not only satisfying, but unique to my campaign. I spare nobody and feel obligated to speak on behalf of young people who are fed up with old-guard politics. That being said, I can certainly see why a few of the main 5 candidates are attractive to voters.

While much of my venom has been playfully spat on perceived front runner Rob Ford, I have also taken a few jabs at Rocco Rossi, whose campaign was sputtering until he announced a new policy platform that would see elected officials recalled if they did not live up to their campaign promises. I actually like the idea and believe it was probably the first act of Warren Kinsella, the Liberal strategist who volunteered his consultation services to help spark Rossi’s poll numbers. Kinsella, who resigned his position as Chair of the federal Liberal War Room in 2009, is one of politics’ more ruthless thinkers. His last two projects involving candidates saw short-term Liberal leader Stephane Dion, and the often discussed struggles of current Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. I tend to wonder if Kinsella’s status as punk rock hobbyist hasn’t deafened his skill as a strategist, but that remains to be seen. It does bring a certain ammunition to Rossi’s campaign that will prove to have little to do with positive politics, however. Just ask the Smitherman campaign.

Two weeks ago I accused Rossi of having a style that felt overly rehearsed. I still believe he has trouble convincing voters he is authentic, typified when he attempted to corner Rob Ford in the days following the now irrelevant comments regarding immigration. After spending time with Rossi at his campaign office last week, I walked away with my first glimpse of the man behind the microphone; he was generous with him time, engaged in the conversation and personable. We still have all the same differing opinions, but this wasn’t about politics. I didn’t see the smarmy guy I was used to seeing on television who came off phony and cringe-worthy. I immediately wanted to speak with Rossi’s media handler, but instead I shook his hand, took a photo and thanked him for his time.

I believe the same would be true if I had one-on-ones with Ford, George Smitherman, Joe Pantalone or Sarah Thomson. There must be an authentic, casual and even affable person underneath all that image work. I met Sarah Thomson once at an environmental function and she was pleasant, but in full shmooze mode. Same with Smitherman. I have not yet met Pantalone and have only exchanged emails with Ford, but there’s still time.

One thing hard to ignore is the unwavering support each of these candidates seem to have in their prospective camps. If you visit their Facebook pages and interact with them as I have, be prepared to taste the wrath of fans who not only believe in their candidate, but who also excuse their actions with as much vigour as they use when slamming the competition. And if it is pure hatred you are looking for, check out the comments section of any major newspaper, where only venom is posted these days.

Personally, I will continue to call out all of the candidates, both due to my natural urge to shine a spotlight on the facets of elections that some journalists and citizens take for granted, and because I am a candidate without the resources and cash of the front-runners.

And while this would not help me decide who to vote for if I wasn’t running – in the end, I’d be happy to sit and have a beer with any of them.

Ford stonewalling City over election signs violations?

Front runner not answering questions from municipal investigators

By: James Di Fiore

Rob Ford, accused of violating Toronto’s comprehensive election sign rules in the 2010 municipal election, has not returned the phone calls of investigators who have questions regarding the candidate’s March 26th rally. During the rally, caught on camera by the popular local show Breakfast Television, dozens of supporters are seen holding elections signs with ‘Ford 4 Mayor’ emblazoned on both sides. Ford, who is not personally holding an election sign, appeared to be navigating through a gray area of municipal by-laws that would actually see his supporters fined if the signs are found to be in violation.

Also unclear is whether or not Ford’s campaign supplied the promotional materials in question, an interesting facet given Mr. Ford’s second career as an owner of a company that manufactures signs and labels. If his business was the supplier, Ford would then be in clear violation of breaking election rules and forced to pay any resulting fines after a thorough investigation. Just one problem – Ford isn’t talking.

According to Stephen Moss, a Municipal Licensing and Standards Officer, Ford’s campaign is not yet cooperating with investigators.

“Our office put in a call but was only able to speak with a manager,” Moss said. “We haven’t received a response to our inquiries.”

Moss added that the statute of limitations for this type of infraction is 6 months, which means the city has just over 3 weeks to get Ford’s camp to answer questions. Moss added that candidates and their campaign staff are not compelled to answer questions from investigators. Moss also stated that Ford’s supporters may also be fined for violating a municipal bi-law that forbids anyone from promoting a candidate by holding or placing signs on their property or in public space.