Month: October 2010

The Toronto Election 2010: An Analysis From the Fringe

The 11th hour recap from a guy who won’t be Toronto’s mayor on October 25th

By: James Di Fiore

The night before the election and I did what any fringe candidate would do. I went grocery shopping.

It’s been a crazy ride. Nobody expected me to win, which is probably a solid prediction, but I really can’t complain. I walked to the neighbourhood Metro with a thousand thoughts and flashbacks dancing in my head. I registered in August even though I told everyone I was going to register on January 4th. OK, that was actually pretty funny. But even though I waited so long to register, I was still able to garner a fair amount of press, especially for a fringe candidate.

Several people have told me that I am not qualified to be mayor. They might very well be right, but if you look at what qualifies a person to hold public office, and the general consensus is that most lifer politicians are generally untrustworthy, then I am certain I am different from the cast of characters vying for the top job in 2010. On paper I am a freelance writer and an events producer, but I have never misused public money, I have no criminal record (much to the surprise of anyone who went to high school with me), and I do not have trouble getting along with my professional peers. And since my entire campaign has been directed towards the daunting task of eroding voter apathy among young people, I think my qualifications are sound. I may not win this election, but I am one of many young Torontonians who have made it our mission to shine a spotlight on the one item that defines politics today – young people, the largest demographic in the city, have been left out of the process.

On October 18th, Calgary residents went to the polls in their own mayoral election. Ric McIvor, often compared to Rob Ford, was the right-of-center front runner in all of the polls. Barb Higgins, a former local news anchor, was polling a close second, and a political novice named Naheed Nenshi was a distant third, polling at a paltry 18% just three days before the election.

On September 30th I traveled to Calgary to attend an event and met with McIvor and his campaign manager to talk about the youth vote. I was given a surprising response when I asked what he thought the turnout among young people would be.

“We don’t really try to reach young people. They don’t vote, so why bother?”

Nineteen days later McIvor lost the election to Nenshi who credits the mobilization of young voters as the key ingredient to his victory.

Toronto does not have a Nenshi, and contrary to a sparsely held belief, Joe Pantalone does not resonate with young Toronto voters. Incidentally, Pantalone will still receive a higher percentage than the current polls indicate as there is a movement of anti-strategic voting taking place as you read this. People are growing exhausted at the political construct and the media alike. Toronto is being dictated to by pundits, smarmy journalists, political lifers and their handlers, all caused from a  subliminal consensus that has convinced them of the following: Rob Ford and George Smitherman are the only two politicians who can win this election.

Even the polls are showing a lack of depth as it pertains to critical thinking and execution of facts. EKOS, an otherwise reputable firm, recently admitted to using an automated dialer to conduct a poll that claimed Ford was ahead of Smitherman by 9 points. Of course, these robocalls cannot distinguish between the target receiver of the phone call or a 12 year old child. Additionally, this poll was conducted over a period of 9 days, an eternity in election time when many people change their minds about their choices more than once.

The Toronto Mayoral Election of 2010 is a first of its kind for the people of this city. We are seeing tactics normally reserved for American political races (Rob Ford has also used robocalls to reach thousands of voters) as well as a media who have become cheer leaders for particular candidates not just in their editorials, but in their so-called balanced reporting. So blatant has this year’s biases been that many readers have called for the termination of journalists who have openly endorsed a candidate, not because it hasn’t been done before, but due to the uniformity of opinions in the columns of their colleagues. Like it or not, the media is not only editorializing the election but shaping the outcome. Writers from The Sun took Rob Ford. Star readers think Smitherman is their guy. The National Post also selected Ford, and The Globe and Mail held their nose and took Smitherman. NOW Magazine still doesn’t matter.

And we sit here, looking at suspect poll results, sifting through each newspaper and countless online publications, listening to the incessant sloganeering of each campaign and gasp at how our electoral process devolved into something so blatantly artificial. A glimmer of hope can be found in the 34 candidates who are not projected to make the top three. Fringe candidates, while endlessly marginalized, include a handful of people who have surprised the media and turned more than a few heads in the electorate. What a statement it would be if these candidates collectively stole 25% of the vote. And while I include myself in that figure, the bigger picture is the libertarian idea that the individual still has the ultimate say over how he or she exercises their self given right to vote for whoever they please.

I don’t know how many votes I will receive, and frankly I don’t really care either. During the process of registering, campaigning, encouraging young people to vote, debating the mainstream candidates and writing about this election, I have learned one invaluable lesson: it is much better to be engaged in the political process, however flawed it may be, than to sit idly by and wait for the results determined by the mechanism itself.

On the way out of the grocery store I ran into Olivia Chow who was handing out leaflets for her son, Mike Layton, who is running for council in Chow’s old stomping grounds of Trinity-Spadina. We know each other from when I voted three times in her riding back in the federal election of 2004. I asked how Jack was doing in his cancer battle and wished Mike good luck in the election before sauntering away with my groceries. It was a fitting way to end my engagement in this exhausting political season.

Happy voting, and don’t believe anything you read in the paper today.

A Page From the Past

How a typical evening evolved into conversing with a voice from yesterday

By: James Di Fiore

Sometimes we are reminded of our past through the voice of a musician when their music served as the soundtrack to our lives. It is as universal as mathematics – the ability to be transported back to a time and place with relative ease through music. Similar to how certain fragrances take me back to my childhood, like how musty scents in houses remind me of my grandparents’ cottage, the feeling of abundant nostalgia is like nothing else I know.

Last night I met the singer whose voice was the sole representative of my life for a solid year. The year was 1994.

My father let me venture to Bella Coola, British Columbia, so I could work with my uncle who did government environmental work. I was 18, a shit disturber and reeling over what now seems like a meaningless broken heart. But I guess every broken heart has its meaning, hindsight be damned.

As a hip hop head I was easily able to keep my inner feelings under strict control, preferring a head nod over nostalgia music as a way of keeping my cards close to my chest. But, along with my change of scenery came a change in the soundtrack, so instead of packing Gangstarr and KRS I opted for Counting Crows and Skydiggers. Funny, I almost just lied about the Counting Crows, but whatever, August and Everything After is a great album. And Just Over This Mountain, the Skydiggers album, was an organic, emotional experience and spoke to my change in scenery. 

I went to Bella Coola, connected with my father’s brother, worked deep in the Rockies and traveled the BC coast. Andy Maize, the lead singer of Skydiggers, provided a sort of melodic commentary as the cassette replayed over and over throughout my trip and then for months when I returned home. He was there when I reflected on the prospect of never succeeding. He was there when my butterflies waved their wings over some girl who showed an interest. He sang lyrics that matched my mood seamlessly, and ever since, whenever I hear some of those songs, I am instantly transported back into the mindset of that 18 year old kid. Interestingly, I never really got sick of the album, I just put it to rest when that chapter of life was complete and then went back to the hip hop crate.

Thinking about life in my 30s, I am convinced the era of having soundtracks for life chapters are gone. Everything is so accessible that it can be best expressed through ‘Random Play’. Ever since I began this crazy journey of running for mayor I’ve noticed I am listening to everything from Nina Simone to Johnny Cash, Jazzmatazz to Hibernate. There isn’t just one voice serving as the backdrop and I don’t think there ever will be again, not until I am an old man perhaps.

So last night, after attending a beer tasting with a friend, I headed over to another friend’s bar (The Duke of York) and shot the shit with a few regulars. This guy with dark rimmed glasses steps to the bar and waits to be served, and I blurt out “Hey, are you a musician?” He says ‘yes’. He didn’t look familiar, he just looked like a musician. The girl on his arm then says “This is Andy, lead singer of the Skydiggers.”

I could opt for using a word like ‘trippy’ or ‘weird’ or some other adjective denoting a glitch in the pattern of my day to day, but I really haven’t found the appropriate word to describe meeting the dude whose voice was so poignant to me for so long. So I just told him the truth – that his album, while likely ancient history for him, paints a vivid picture of a time in my life when things were confusing, different and hopeful. I shook his hand and thanked him, adding “It isn’t every day you get to meet the guy responsible for the soundtrack, if you know what I mean.”

He and I talked for about 45 minutes. He bought me a pint and I returned the favour. I guess the best part of this particular story, and it is hardly surprising, is that he was just a regular guy. I went out for a smoke and ended up getting a light from Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies, and it all made perfect sense to me.

Page confided to me that Andy was his muse when it came to stage presence. So I told Page that his cover of Bruce Cockburn’s ‘Lovers in a Dangerous Time’ still hit the sweet spot of my soul.The three of us chilled for a little while, they gave me props for running for mayor and I left, preferring to be the guy who said goodbye rather than trying to unnaturally stretch out the evening.

I walked to the subway with ‘I Will Give You Everything’ playing in my head for the first time in years. When I finally got home I even took 4 minutes to watch the video for Lovers in a Dangerous Time. Two bands in the same vein as far as Canadian music goes, but who hold completely different meanings for me, all in one evening that went from a typical night of drinking to complete and utter reflection of where I’ve been and where I’m headed.

I just realized that there is still room for the chapters in our lives to have a soundtrack, but it might be the same voice we have heard in our heads all these many years.

A View From the Fringe

A fringe candidate’s experience debating the Toronto Mayoral front-runners

By: James Di Fiore

Who was that guy sitting beside Rob Ford, looking like the Mini Me version of Rocco Rossi? That was me, James Di Fiore, and I was asking myself that same question as the Mayoral Arts Debate commenced.

I arrived at the Art Gallery of Ontario where high brow members of the city’s creative community, representing the crux of cultural validity in Toronto from several arts-related sectors, milled about, sipping wine and fraternizing.

Three representatives walked Joe Pantalone, George Smitherman, Rocco Rossi and myself into an secluded area of the Member’s Lounge to go over the particulars of the debate. Rob Ford was missing, so we waited a couple minutes longer for the front-runner before making our way to the elevator that would take us to the the 450 people waiting for someone to champion their livelihoods, their scenes. When we took our seats in front of the audience Mr. Ford was still nowhere to be found, then finally appeared out of thin air as AGO Director Matthew Teitelbaum was making his opening comments.

Our moderator was Jim Fleck, a last minute replacement for one-time mayoral hopeful John Tory. He was both gracious and consistent in the way he handled the candidates during the evening, and when he introduced me first my butterflies waved their wings, to say the least.

On paper my experience sounds great, but as he introduced the others I noticed a line being drawn between my lack of political experience and their lifelong achievements. So I decided I would not try to fit in, nor emulate these politicians. Being myself was the only option, and one that eventually paid dividends.

Lead with a joke, I told myself. I scanned the two other Italians on stage and let rip what I thought was a decent, self deprecating effort. (I am short…and bald…with glasses)

“As most of you can tell by my appearance, I’m related to both Joe and Rocco,” I managed. Thankfully, the crowd reacted with some laughter and a brief applause. So far, so good.

The debate progressed with candidates vying for crowd approval, civil discoourse be damned. It was during the first real bickering session, this one between Joe, George and Rocco, when I leaned in towards Mr. Ford and quietly asked “Are they always like this?” Mr. Ford smiled, shook his head, leaned towards me and said “All the time…always…this is why nothing ever gets done.”

Listening to the candidates throw barbs at each other is bad enough, but to be in such close proximity to the bickering was eye opening, if not amusing. While I am miles away from Mr. Ford on policy concerns, it was still an honest snapshot of the candidate I had been trashing for months.

As the debate progressed I began to accept that I wasn’t a seasoned spin master (flubbing a question regarding city planning), but I was articulating my views, inexperienced voice and all.

Closing statements…and I felt unprepared. I improvised my way through 60 seconds of dialog, the voice of my girlfriend ringing through my head – “stay on message, stupid”. It worked, and the audience gave me a rousing applause.

I felt pride and relief when it was over. I was unsure if I was well received and heard, or if I was simply viewed as just a token candidate. The graciousness of the crowd made the experience a memorable one, and the up-close-and-personal sides of the main candidates gave me a new respect for the lives they keep. I shook hands with each candidate, except for Mr. Rossi, who gave me a Euro-Italian two cheek kiss in front of the stage. Mr. Rossi won the debate in my mind, outclassing and outperforming his competitors. He has since dropped out of the race after a  poll showed his support was just 4%. Salute, paison.

To my surprise, The Globe and Mail declared me the winner a couple days later. It was a surreal experience, and important to add that the mainstream candidates had participated in over 70 debates up to that point. That’s right, 70. Here I was, a fringe candidate beaming with pride over the one and only debate I appeared in, and doing my best to make the most of it.

I still have no shot at winning the election. Hell, I might not finish in the top ten, but the view from the fringe could be a whole lot worse.