Canadian Media Bullies Mentally Ill Woman



Tabloid-like spectacle of hoarder in Toronto Debases News Coverage

By: James Di Fiore

**I decided not to include links to the broadcasts in this piece as to not further the exploitation of the woman in question.

I was dumbfounded watching the 6pm news yesterday. Every last network, both national and local, were taking their turns bashing a troubled woman in the beaches area of Toronto who let her house fall into disarray. One after another they showed clips of the woman, a hoarder, as she desperately tried to explain why she needed to keep her personal items inside a house filled with cats, animal waste and newspapers.

Contrary to the talking heads on television, this was not a news event. It should have been a story about the mentally ill but succeeded in crystallizing why the negative stigma pertaining to the mentally ill still exists in this country. Each anchor took their turns communicating only the most tabloid elements of the story; that the woman’s house smelled awful, that she is an outcast and that officials needed HAZMAT suits to clear the home of debris.

I repeat: this was not a news event. Not even close.

Imagine a camera crew outside the home of a depressed woman, reporting on the way she cries herself to sleep at night, or giving the audience a few pages from her diary. Hoarders are not new to society. Hell, there’s even a popular television show dissecting the minds and homes of these troubled individuals. You aren’t wrong to believe the television show is somewhat exploitive too, but at least the show tries to examine the important aspect of hoarders; their mental health. Sure, some of the anchors did mention the woman’s mental health issues in passing but those crumbs of humanity were surrounded by universal belittling through judgmental neighbours, furrowed-browed reporters and an overall sense that we should universally condemn a person who is probably already struggling enough in her everyday life.


I lived with a hoarder once. She was my landlord in the Annex. By day she was a professor of literature at York University. When she first showed me the place she said she was in the process of moving, but after a couple months the newspapers never went away. I rented a room on the top floor where she hadn’t piled up her items to the ceiling, but the hallways were all newspapers, random pieces of furniture and an infinite supply of knick-knacks and what-nots. In hindsight I am fortunate she did not like animals, but I never forgot this experience and what it taught me: don’t judge people with mental illnesses as if they are not mentally ill.


Today, I can now add something else to that list: don’t exploit the mentally ill on television for the morbid curiosity of the audience. It goes beyond the mandate of journalism and seeps into a place where societal rubberneckers simply can’t look away at the spectacle in front of them.


Jack Layton’s Death Means Vitriol Lives On

Leader of the Opposition was last hope in Canada’s deteriorating political landscape

By: James Di Fiore

This is not your mother’s Canada anymore.

All across the country, from conservatives to socialists, the apathetic to political junkies, the universal response to Jack Layton’s losing battle with cancer was unmistakable. Not surprisingly, his supporters were quite emotional, tearing up on live television as they reminisced about their leader, their mentor. Liberal party members were next, echoing the sentiment and paying their respects, calling Layton their friend and a worthy adversary. Conservatives also showed the kind of class we should expect from our leaders, telling stories of battles waged in the House of Commons with a man they held in high regard. It was as if Layton’s passing could serve as a watershed moment of sorts, breaking down barriers between people or at least slowing down Canada’s slide into the depths of polarization. Liberals and Conservatives were certainly not about to trade in their red and blue for bright orange, but for once they were able to speak with civility about someone who they disagreed with politically.

‘Not so fast’, said the loudest, most ignorant and most extreme voices in the country.

In a surreal display of cowardice, and a testament to the internet’s greatest misgiving, up popped the lunatic fringe who expressed glee over the death of their socialist enemy. Sure, there are crazies everywhere, and the internet is crawling with them, but what once seemed like a tiny minority is now appearing to become a growing phenomenon. These aren’t your typical nut-jobs, pranksters or mentally disturbed people – they are regular, every day folks who have decided that since they no longer believe in evil concepts such as political correctness, they are now free to kick a man on the day he dies, especially if that man disagrees with their point of view.

The comments from these regular folks reflect a new way of interpreting the now omnipresent political battlefield. Canada is experiencing a variety of social symptoms where the fabric of decency is being unraveled and restitched with ideological threads once seen exclusively during campaign season. Journalists like Dave Naylor and Christie Blatchford, desperate to differentiate themselves and provide an alternative perspective, tweeted jokes about Layton’s death or penned long winded columns about how the coverage (on the very day our Leader of the Opposition died, no less) was over the top. And while Blatchford has had a wonderful career and is a magnificent writer, her need to appear original and crafty actually made her look petty and amateurish.

Amazingly, and it is worth repeating, it was politicians who showed true leadership when the news broke. In fact, these moments in history often produce an ethical hubris where politicians act like statesmen while bias media organizations and maverick journalists take on the role of children, championing the classic public relations strategy of personal exposure through controversy instead of simply writing and reporting. Opinion news, the new and oxymoronic method of ideologues and partisans, has morphed from a watered down version of journalism to a full time, hatchet wielding concept meant to assimilate people into specific political philosophies. The aforementioned mainstay issue of those with opposite views of Layton is now political correctness. By hiding behind free speech, far right radicals are convincing regular folks to feel infallible if they cheer the death of someone they disagreed with.

Jack Layton’s passing is a stark reminder of how our leadership can sometimes shine, even if some of the people they are leading distort its reflection.

No sir, this is not your mother’s Canada.

Why I am Hiding My Face When I Vote in Today’s Election

This is not a statement against Muslims – it is in support of legitimate voting in Canada

By: James Di Fiore

I am not a Muslim woman. I am not a conservative plant. I am not making a mockery of our electoral laws. I am trying to demonstrate how our system is being circumnavigated by religious accommodations, and I am not alone.

Today I will vote with my face covered. As I am writing this a friend is voting with his face covered as well. Across Canada at random polling stations people will be showing up in various masks and disguises. I created this mini movement with the support of friends and family.

Let’s hope Parliament will pass legislation that will insure our elections are conducted with a semblance of common sense. People should have to prove who they are when they vote, otherwise the legitimacy of our system is in jeopardy.

Happy voting.

Election 2011: How Canada is Replicating America’s Hyper Partisan Politics


 NDP surge means more than a political shift – it completes the national polarization process

By: James Di Fiore

As far as Parliamentary systems go, Canada once had an international reputation of demonstrating fiscal prudence, strong social policies and a peacekeeping military. It wasn’t too long ago when our national identity was predicated on our ability to differentiate ourselves, respectfully of course, from our American cousins. Canadians, a patchwork of various political leanings, had a reputation of not letting ideology trump civil discourse, even while their politicians took cheap shots or when Question Period looked like Romper Room. Americans, by contrast, treat politics like a blood sport, a tug of war between polar opposites fueled by cable news, conspiracy and the tendency to vilify opposing views. And while the two countries are easily separated by this political distinction, that gap is shrinking ominously.

The 2011 election has been preempted by deliberate tactics of aspersions meant to reinforce political differences rather than spotlight honest disagreements. This reinforcement seems logical on the surface; after all, this is an election of partisan ideas and genuine dissimilarities between the parties. But the tactical trends indicate an increase in hyperbole, demonization and vitriol between regular people, not just the leaders they support. Evidence of this new mindset among voters can be seen on social networking sites, the opinion sections of news outlets and in pubs and coffee shops across the country. The two sides are drifting from the center, espousing far right and far left ideals while warning their fellow Canadians of the perils of political views opposite from their own.

By attacking Stephen Harper on military spending, corporate tax cuts and perceived government secrecy, the Liberals and NDP are inciting reactionary rhetoric from their loyalists rather than a frank discussion on policy differences. Rooted in these talking points may be reasonable concerns, but the conversation is routinely fertilized with fear mongering and allegations of conspiracy.

The far right, disciplined in their ability to robotically stay on message, firebomb the left with labels like ‘socialist’, ‘fiberal’ and ‘anti-Semite’. The latter smear is telegraphed and eerily reminiscent of Evangelical America, the slur being delivered arbitrarily and deliberate. The term socialism, as the Obama era has demonstrated, is now the political equivalent of calling a person a Brownshirt, stoking a reaction among those conservatives who still cynically dub Canada ‘Canuckistan.’

Identical to American politicos in tone and delivery, these two groups have become the loudest voices during this campaign. Television broadcasts may not espouse or endorse the same kind of language, but journalists and pundits quietly recognize the behind the scenes trend of tar and feathering political opponents. As the Conservative base digs in, the rise of the NDP marches on. Ideologies are continuing to drift farther apart. The rhetoric provides the kind of cover that helps avoid the effective discourse needed to reconcile opposing views. You might never hear Stephen Harper publicly utter the word Canuckistan, but you can hear his base cackle enthusiastically when the term is used. Jack Layton probably won’t point and yell ‘Fascist!’ if Harper wins a majority government, but many of his minions are already wearing t-shirts bearing the message.

The chances of further polarization among Canadians is high. Engagement in politics is rising, moods are shifting and party strategists are encouraging an ongoing spirit of anger among their respective loyalists. Torches and pitchforks have been replaced with internet trolling and reactionary, inflammatory language.

Disinformation. Relentless name-calling. A dangerous and tragic replication of American discourse is being born, and many Canadians are unwitting, tragic accomplices.

Debate Performance Measured on Harper’s Ability to Evade

Prime Minister’s media training leaves Canadians in the dark

By: James Di Fiore

Back in November I had the opportunity to attend the Christopher Hitchens/Tony Blair debate at Roy Thompson Hall. Hitchens, one of the world’s leading intellectuals, was masterful at creating context and tackling questions directly. Blair was no slouch either, braving a pro-Hitchens audience and delivering rebuttals succinctly and with specific examples to back up his thoughts.

By comparison, Tuesday’s federal leaders debate in Canada felt more like a public relations role playing exercise than an exchange of ideas, policy and leadership ability. Prime Minister Stephen Harper fended off relentless attacks by his three rivals, calmly staying on message and delivering his responses through a very relaxed tone. His inviting cadence aside, Harper was missing a key component from his responses; actual answers to the questions posed to him.

While Blair and Hitchens weren’t running for public office when they exchanged words and ideas (the topic that night was religion’s place in the modern world), their example is clear – debate victories are measured by one’s ability to sway an audience through compelling dialogue. In Canada, debate victories are being measured by one’s ability to spin, deflect and avoid answering questions. The Canadian media and Canadians themselves seem apathetic towards political non-answers, all but accepting this watered down version and waiting for poll numbers to tell them what people are really thinking. But for those of us with extensive media training or experience in public relations, last night’s debate was a buffet of transitionary phrases, rehearsed body language and masterful spinning. These tactics, while effective with the press, are not among the qualities of an honest debate. Harper played Canadians for children, relying on a collective lack of sophistication in regards to language, issues and the ability to spot obvious spin. The sad part is he may be right. The tragic part is it shouldn’t matter. Harper should show leadership qualities, not political savvy. He should be expected to prove to Canadians that he is not just a typical politician and rise above the media training and trickery, not to mention outright lies.

This notion, that debates are won by playing cat and mouse with answers, was echoed by former Harper colleague, Gerry Nicholls.

Politicians never or rarely answer questions directly,” Nicholls mused on his Facebook page. “I graded Harper based on how well the political game is played. In politics, a key skill is staying on message. He did that quite well.”

In other words, Harper did a good job at not being direct with Canadians. This cynical way of deciphering Canadian politics serves an elite political class who have been conditioned to believe there is an accepted amount deception one can get away with. Canadians, who are among the world’s most apathetic citizens to begin with, should take Nicholls words with a grain of salt. Not surprisingly however, it is only apathy that allows this ‘political game’ to even exist in the first place, meaning voter turnout and a competent media (sic) can realistically disarm politicians from using dishonest tactics when speaking directly to Canadians.

Public relations used to be about being concise with the public. Today, public relations has become an industry in politics for those who wish to cling to power and nurture their self interests. The worst part may be the general acceptance of this dishonest practice by those who have been inside the political game for decades. Like aging athletes, it may be time to tell the old guard to step aside. If that happens, the only casualty will be apathy itself.

Elizabeth May Too Politically Green to be Leader

Exclusion from debates a self fulfilling prophecy for Greens

By: James Di Fiore

Imagine if Elizabeth May were a far right leader who espoused ideas like eliminating the corporate tax altogether, privatizing daycare centers and making abortion illegal. Imagine she had the support of nearly 1 million voters in the last election but still did not hold a seat in Parliament.

Now, if you can, try to imagine all of her current boosters rallying to allow her air time during the televised, federal debates. Can’t do it, can you? Don’t feel bad, most of May’s supporters are left leaning, which is fine on the surface, but scratch away and you’ll find a facet of the electorate as important as voter apathy; complete and utter hypocrisy born from an ideological bent dressed up as a fight for democracy.

This new cause celebre is the latest example of Canada’s continuous erosion of political consistency, spotlighting a hyper partisan yet fractured electorate in the run up to the fourth election the nation has seen in the past 7 years. Say this to May’s boosters and you will be met with the disingenuous claim that they would fight the good fight even if Ann Coulter were the shafted leader of a seatless party. ‘We want proportional representation,’ they claim, and have no qualms over pretending the system is already changed before actually trying to change it. In other words, they insist on circumnavigating the process while simultaneously stating the process is unfair. How’s that for double speak?

This is an issue of process, not fairness. Proportional representation is a fight worth having, but allowing May to debate before winning that fight would be an act of collective civil disobedience rather than an exercise in democratic fairness. Indeed, this fight begins and ends with Elections Canada, an organization ripe for criticism by all federal parties, especially the current government who believe Elections Canada are out to get them. But the Greens, who sat on their hands since the 2008 election when they should have been trying to work cooperatively with the other federal parties to evolve our Canadian system, now expect to be given special treatment as they describe their exclusion as “arbitrary” and an “outrage”. Outrageous is an apt description for May’s claim that Canadians will be deprived of real democracy, implying that the debates are the best way for Canadians to make an educated choice in the election. Assuming this is true, it speaks volumes of May’s leadership when one considers her inclusion last time around garnered exactly zero seats in Parliament. And while a million voters are nothing to sneeze at, the actual number could be much lower if some Green supporters are now tired of a disorganized party with fractured support and no official voice in Ottawa. If May had been active in the pursuit of proportional representation she would be coming off more credible. As it stands, her old antics of flailing her political limbs and screaming ‘democracy now!’ is getting old…and obvious.

But hey, let’s not let something as arbitrary as ‘the system’ get in the way of a good publicity stunt. If support for the Greens decreases this time around then May’s days as leader will be numbered, and whoever replaces her will have to decide what’s more important: a chance to participate in televised debates, or spending the next few years championing the very system they need to justify their participation. Choose the latter and they will not only increase their political capital for the next election, but possibly save their party in the process.

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.

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.


James Di Fiore

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