globe and mail

Rob Ford Tries to Sucker Torontonians…again


He must either believe Toronto is populated with mentally incapable people or that an optional 5 cent levy on grocery bags is equal to communism. Mayor Rob Ford is a Gimmick Mayor, unprepared to tackle the big issues in Toronto and cheaply trying to make his publicity stunts maintain an already lackluster popularity.

“I am going to try to get rid of it,” Mr. Ford said Friday when asked about the fee. “I believe the taxpayers don’t want to pay the five cents any more. It is actually six cents with the HST.”


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.

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 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.

Rob Ford our Very Own Rush Limbaugh

By: James Di Fiore

In Canada, many of us pride ourselves on being progressive; a less animated, more civilized version of American politics is usually the standard. Our news contains less sound effects, our politicians have less money and our citizenry are less vocal. In fact, the old adage is that our collective identity is mostly comprised of making sure people know that we are not, in fact, American (place neo-conservative outrage here).

In the 2010 Toronto Mayoral Election, one man appears to be looking south of the border for cues in his quest to take over the mayor’s chair. Councilor Rob Ford is the front-runner, leading a pack of barely-on-the-radar politicians who collectively can’t muscle a formidable challenge to the outspoken, often belligerent Ford. His style of speak now, think later is a testament to the same circus some of us have grown to either love or loathe about our neighbours to the south. In America, politics is a blood sport, with both sides of the aisle choosing a methodology of over-the-top mudslinging and verbal attacks comparable to Bronx-style hip hop battles between two rival crews. And while the punchlines flung in politics are without the cadence and rhyme schemes prevalent in hip hop, effects from the verbal barbs can be just as damaging.

Ford’s pattern of dishonesty reminds this blogger of one of America’s most polarizing, controversial figures – radio broadcasting legend Rush Limbaugh. Aside from the mutual-yet-differentiating situations with Oxycontin, Ford and Limbaugh share an over-the-top, loudmouth style where the spectacle often outshines the practical. They speak to their bases in an unapologetic, unforgiving tone, usually railing against progressives and liberals in a venomous verbal assault that receives coverage for their entertainment value. Missing from their rants, and this is the crux of the problem, is factual evidence to prop up the conjecture. Simply put, they just sort of say stuff and believe context is flexible.

Ford is Toronto’s best improvisational politician – not because he possesses a brilliant mind or untouchable style – but because he never looks back after flubbing a line in the public arena. His reactionary pattern of freestlying responses when under the gun is legendary, often ending with an admission that his off-the-dome answer was not an honest one. His list of foibles and fuck-ups is a vast sea of buffoonery unparalleled in Toronto…maybe even Canada. He once offered to score Oxycontin off the street for a man who said he needed the drug to help him cope with an illness. When confronted about the situation, Ford claimed he only said it to get a stalker off the phone.

When asked about his now-famous, alcohol-laced rant at a Maple Leafs hockey game where he stated the following – “Do you want your little wife to go over to Iran to get raped and shot?” – Mr. Ford said he wasn’t at the game to begin with.

When asked about an arrest in Florida in 1999 for pot possession, Mr. Ford denied it ever happened.

In every ordeal, Ford has backpedalled, grudgingly restating his answers after his dishonesty has been uncovered. His saving grace is his loyal following who appear to not care about putting a blatantly dishonest politician in office. Toronto’s national reputation for being the most Americanized city used to be dismissed by Torontonians, but Ford supporters continue to push the city into a ’51st state’ setting where voters are eager to eat bumper sticker statements and ignore the blatant shortcomings of the politicians who represent them.

If Ford was your new neighbour and someone had sent you his track record when dealing with co-workers, hockey fans, Italians, Chinese people, women, homeless people, reporters and his very own spouse, you wouldn’t let him anywhere near your child.

But apparently, letting him into the mayor’s office is just peachy, leaving just one question: Where is KRS-ONE when you need him?

Toronto Media Biases Exposed Over Giambrone Scandal

City’s News Organizations Show Sex Scandal in Varying Forms

by: James Di Fiore

If you’ve ever thought to yourself “Hey, we don’t have to worry about dogmatic media biases…after all, this is Canada!” then please, think again.

Adam Giambrone, the Toronto councillor ratted out by his university student mistress just as he officially threw his hat in Toronto’s mayoral race, is likely doing a lot of groveling right about now. After all, his texts to Kristen Lucas included referring to Sarah McQuarrie, his long-term mate, as basically a convenient means to a political end. Not exactly the best Valentine’s Day gift a gal could ask for, but nothing we haven’t seen in politics before.

Setting aside the obvious betrayal McQuarrie and supporters are experiencing (after all, he allegedly had sex on a couch in his office at City Hall), the tell-tale sign Toronto’s media has set up distinct political camps is in the language of our city’s major outlets. Observe the following headlines:

“This is THE Giam-boner”…eloquent words by The Toronto Sun. There’s really nothing to add to that, except to say we didn’t know Howard Stern’s pen-name was Rob Granastein.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Star was already busy handling damage control for Giambrone, even as they broke the story on Tuesday. It is fairly unusual, to say the least, to drop a bombshell AND the apology in the same column, but there it was.

The Globe and Mail played the role of ethics police by publishing this on their web site, but if you read another post, it is clear they are fastening themselves to the same fence they normally sit upon.

What’s missing you ask? Well, the only ‘publication’ that had strongly supported the Giambrone campaign was NOW Magazine, Toronto’s Village Voice copycat whose reputation for pandering hopelessly to anything left-wing always shines through. On Tuesday, NOW’s political reporter, Enzo DiMatteo, the ass kissing hack for all things Giambrone, tried his best to sound like a real journalist by leaving the question ‘what’s next?’ open-ended. (this is the same person who thought Giambrone was gay, only to revise the article in question to read ‘gay-positive’…wishful thinking reportedly played a role in that hiccup). Look for Di Matteo to pucker up while trying to give the appearance of showing balance in Thursday’s issue, however. DiMatteo’s relentless admiration for the young councillor seeps through the vegetable-based ink on NOW’s pages, and this scandal will likely result in a sympathy piece, outlining the real media’s supposed hunger for sensationalism.

What does this ultimately mean for Giambrone’s campaign? Too early to tell; but he will surely need positive press from outlets other than Toronto’s least credible source of political news. Stay tuned…

VOTE Toronto 2010: The Casting Couch of Adam Giambrone

Young Mayoral Candidate Gets Caught With His Texts Down

by: James Di Fiore

He had been touted as one of the most prolific politicians under the age of 40.

One might now want to change that moniker to precocious.

Adam Giambrone, the Toronto councillor and TTC Chair stated through his campaign manager, John Laschinger, that he will not give up his mayoral candidacy after the public learned of a year-long affair with a 20-year-old university student, Kristen Lucas. The relationship, which allegedly included sexual text messages and intercourse in his City Hall office, was apparently kept secret because his public relationship with Sarah McQuarrie was “important for the campaign.” For a 32-year-old, Giambrone has already mastered the political art of smoke and mirrors, and one wonders when he will learn the art of not leaving a trail…to the couch…at his office….in City Hall.

Already, newspapers in Toronto are comparing the fling to political soap operas like the Clinton scandals and the John Edwards affair – but this tawdry escapade has a unique, er, flavour. Giambrone is 32 years old, an overachiever, was rumoured to be gay and is seen as responsible for the TTC being in the worst shape since the early 90s. Beyond that, his reputation was squeaky clean. He speaks several languages, holds degrees in sophisticated subjects like architecture and African studies and was the president of a federal political party while still in his 20s. This kind of thing was not supposed to happen to a politician like Giambrone.

But that’s just it – put a politician on a pedestal and they will eventually chip away until it is just a stump to make speeches from. By confiding to Lucas that his current public relationship with McQuarrie was just for the cameras, Giambrone paints himself as not just an overachiever, but a typical scam artist as well.

Finally, while reading and commenting on Giambrone’s Facebook page I was unceremoniously blocked  at 5:06pm after debating with a few staunch supporters and the typical electoral sheeple.  Some people showed forgiveness for Giambrone, while others felt he abused his elected office and betrayed the trust of voters and his long time girlfriend.

When it comes to the Toronto vote however, Giambrone may have enough time to recover, provided household name and current frontrunner George Smitherman takes the high road. Smithermann, not known for having a laid back persona, will likely jump on this with some of the political grace he showed after side-stepping the eHealth scandal at the Premier’s office.

Time will tell. Until then, my suggestion is to find the couch, lay low and keep your texts to yourself.