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2014 Toronto Municipal Election: The Circus is Contagious

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By: James Di Fiore

Toronto’s municipal election is supposed to be an election of reckoning where a candidate shores up support in defiance of the current debacle occupying the top office at city hall. It is supposed to be an obvious contrast between Rob Ford’s bombastic retail politics and the more civil, sensible options like John Tory or Olivia Chow. Some pundits thought Ford would tone down his campaign as a way of fighting sensible with sensible, and all Tory and Chow had to do was maintain a more professional public image so we as a city do not have to fall into electoral absurdity. I think someone forgot to tell Tory and Chow about all this. Since that first awkward, televised debate we have seen first-hand how smarmy, over-rehearsed demeanors do not translate well on TV or online.

Let’s begin with Chow. All she has to do is be herself. That’s it. She does not need to be overly cheery, and she certainly doesn’t need an image softener in the form of some grandma dress or new glasses. Most of all, she needs to stop pretending that she is running a puppies and rainbows campaign where she pretends to take the high road against Ford’s vitriol and divisiveness, yet still seeks counsel from folks like Warren Kinsella who combines the art of dirty politics with a flair for horrible execution. Chow has decided to roll the dice and employ this pit bull to do the biting while saying her campaign is a clean campaign, all with a semi-straight face.

But as anyone in the know will tell you, Kinsella has reached political hack status, unable to muster much more than a peripheral role in any campaign since the 90s. At best, he has been in the vicinity of victories, close enough to get a piece of confetti on his lapel, but not close enough to be credited for making it fall in the first place. On top of that, he’s an asshole, full stop. Feel good candidates and political hacks that moonlight as assholes are not a wise mix in an election like this one.

As for Tory, he has an opportunity to contrast a shit-show conservative with a sensible, more moderate conservative. His is the easiest of campaigns to run; a smart, fiscally conservative/socially liberal classic campaign where no voter feels excluded from a potential Tory administration. Tory could rest easy knowing he could mirror much of the Ford agenda without acting like a rodeo clown. Plus, he isn’t divisive. He’s not an ideological stalwart like Ford or Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak. One might even call Tory a dying breed of, well, Tories.

But then he went and did this. Apparently, Tory’s camp has decided to do away with the pesky reputation of being a unifying politician, the “common sense candidate”, and have opted to go with comic props and tag lines instead. As if incorporating a cheap Twister caricature wasn’t bad enough, Tory has also been trying to brand Chow as the “NDP candidate,” an obviously divisive tactic isolating Toronto’s progressives in an election not usually known for its partisan loyalties. If you identify as an NDP supporter provincially or federally, Tory doesn’t want your municipal vote. Instead, Tory wants you to know that if you don’t vomit after hearing the initials ‘N-D-P’, you aren’t a voter worth listening to.

And of course there’s Mayor Ford. In an election where many believe Ford has a better chance of being arrested than elected (after all, October is still far, far away), his rivals are inadvertently making him look less incompetent than he really is, an astounding feat when you consider the vast amount of material he has given us over the past 4 years. Ford’s stubborn strategy of repeating the same 3 or four rehearsed key messages – mostly statements of self-defense or repetitive-yet-implausible claims of a billion dollars of taxpayer money saved – can only work if his fellow candidates run carny campaigns of their own. Well, his fellow candidates are running carny campaigns, and so Ford benefits not because he is a viable, sturdy candidate but because his rivals are decidedly not viable to anybody but their base of fierce loyalists.

It may be we are in an experimental chapter of this long awaited campaign. But Chow and Tory are two candidates who have had years to contemplate running in this very election, an important caveat when you consider the amateurish stunts and ads they’ve produced up to this point. It could be they are both tied to advisors who are trying too hard, or perhaps not hard enough, to claim branding rights over their opponents. Someone should let them know about the apathy towards long campaigns in this city. Ford’s worldwide notoriety has tricked his rivals into believing they need to climb inside the circus tent on the back of a bearded lady. All they really need to do is run sensible, stale campaigns about the issues. That’s it. No slapstick nonsense, no character assassinations. Just the issues.

This wasn’t, and isn’t a complicated race. The incumbent has been under a police investigation for over a year, lies about his accomplishments and parades his older brother in front of the cameras making ridiculous claims about how his family champions for the little guy. Chow and Tory need to stop with the gimmicks and contradictions, roll up their sleeves and give sensible Torontonians a real choice of who to replace the ginger Godzilla currently wreaking havoc on the city. In short, they need to keep it simple, because thus far the strategy of being unfunny and inauthentic isn’t working, especially for the carnies who already have their undisputed champion.

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Political Ad Watch: Olivia Chow – Does Rob Ford Return Phone Calls?

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By: James Di Fiore

The fatal flaw in Olivia Chow’s campaign team is clearly Warren Kinsella. The lifelong liberal political operative was selected by Olivia Chow to do her dirty work after the former NDP MP declared she would be running a clean campaign.

Hiring Kinsella is not a symptom of a campaign running cleanly. He is not just notoriously mischievous, but he hasn’t exactly been a beacon of success over the past 15 years either. In the last Toronto mayoral election, Kinsella was the brains behind Rocco Rossi’s failed run, and the most probable culprit for those horrible mafia-inspired radio ads that dogged Rossi’s campaign.

So, with Kinsella at the helm of Chow’s communications, her campaign is rolling the dice by trying to showcase a positive candidate with a decidedly negative operative behind the scenes.

Let’s take a look at Olivia Chow’s latest political ad criticizing one of Rob Ford’s most often repeated qualities: returning phone calls from Torontonians.

Style: If you are going to release a one-minute ad, you should probably try changing up the production a little. We have a person talking towards the camera in a kitchen. That’s it. Nothing more.

Message: Having a completely unknown civilian talk about how she always calls the mayor and that he never calls her back should take about 6 seconds…unless of course she just repeats herself over and over again for the entire ad. The fact that this ad is more than 30 seconds is a mystery, and why the producers didn’t use more than one person complaining about Rob Ford’s phone calls means the idea wasn’t that strong to begin with.

Effectiveness: This ad doesn’t resonate well with anyone. It’s anecdotal, boring and redundant.

Grade: D

Miss Italy Visits Toronto…and Rob Ford

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Giulia Arena Visits Mayor Rob Ford at City Hall, Says She Did Not Know About Scandals

By: James Di Fiore

Several photographers were pointing their lenses at one woman on the south foyer of City Hall. I had just finished interviewing Councillor Doug Ford, tv host Ezra Levant and pundit Mark Steyn, a trio of lumpy conservatism and bombastic key messages, so I was ready to head home.

But when I found out it was Miss Italy, I decided to stick around for one last interview.

It’s not terribly compelling, but she was both beautiful and the complete opposite of how my day had gone until that moment.

“Rob Ford is a Social NDPer!” – Brother Doug Ford Says

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Doug Ford also claims to work 18 hours a week as a city Councillor

By: James Di Fiore

 

Toronto Councillor Doug Ford raised eyebrows yesterday when he confessed to calling his brother, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, a “social NDPer” (to his face, mind you), a label Doug says relates to Rob’s constant appetite to help out the less fortunate.

 

Councillor Ford also said both he and his brother do not employ a public relations team to help with their public images, an unsurprising claim given the off-the-cuff style the brothers tend to utilize when dealing with the press.

 

“What you see is what you get, what you get is what you see,” Councillor Ford said with a chuckle.

 

Ford also made the dubious claim of working 126 hours per week (“I work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week!”) and had some interesting comments about the Toronto Maple Leafs, attributing the blame for missing the playoffs on the players and upper management alike. This is interesting given the recent refusal by both Ford brothers to vote for a 10 million dollar municipal loan to MLSE for a new soccer stadium.

 

 

 

Deadmau5 Offers Rob Ford a Ride, Insults Madonna Again

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By: James Di Fiore

Joel Zimmerman, AKA DeadMau5, who in 2012 engaged in a Twitter war with Madonna over her reference to club drug MDMA and the EDM scene, took another unprovoked shot at the pop icon after Mau5 publicly scheduled a coffee-run with embattled Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford.

Zimmerman offered to take Rob Ford out for a ride. Nobody knows why, but Rob Ford eventually accepted and that was that. But after posting a photo of his Ferrari’s customized paint job, Zimmerman posted the following tweet in response to my inquiry as to why hanging with an admitted crack smoker is acceptable but Madonna’s pro-drug comments was an affront to clubland culture:

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Zimmerman has a lot of fans, but many big names don’t seem like him at all. Howard Stern, Flo Rida, Joe Rogan have all had online run-ins with the Canadian DJ or have expressed their genuine dislike for him. It seems Joel’s reputation as a troll is well deserved. Last year there was an especially scathing comment from fellow DJ Afrojack for ‘pressing play’ after Zimmerman had spent years dissing other DJs for precisely the same offense.

Is it publicity? Is Deadmau5 simply a Twitter troll? And wait, is lil Joel still pretending he’s offended over people talking about drugs?

I mean, being drunk is fine…but doesn’t Deadmau5 seem a little Mollied in this interview with Joe Rogan? The eyes …they don’t lie.

But I think Deadmau5 probably does.

Rob Ford Scandal: City Hall and the Circus

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By: James Di Fiore

 

It was like stepping into a dream.

 
That’s precisely how I felt when I arrived at Toronto City Hall, after taking a slight detour on my way to pick up my niece from daycare. I had 90 minutes or so to spare, and as a Torontonian who had already been veraciously following all the sordid details about Mayor Rob Ford’s slide into oblivion, I just wanted to get a close up look at the spectacle.
And to me, Rob Ford was only half the spectacle. Of course he was the shameless half, the half too preoccupied with his own survival to really mean those dozen apologies he has delivered. The other half is comprised of Ford Nation, the media and a select few who have allowed their hatred for Ford affect their own behaviour. A couple of the people who make up the latter group are city councillors who are the loudest critics against the mayor.

 

 

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a probable mayoral candidate, has been in front of as many cameras as possible, including the one in council chamber where he feigned victim status by accusing Ford of standing too close to him. Minnan-Wong, by placing himself inside the crux of this fiasco, the crux being Ford’s bad behaviour, blatantly attempted to find opportunity inside a crisis, perverting the old Japanese proverb by harvesting that opportunity instead of remaining focused on the job at hand; removing a man from the helm of a city who clearly doesn’t deserve the responsibility.

 
So when I entered City Hall and made my way up to the mayor’s office, I immediately began to witness the sideshow, this time from certain members of the public and the media itself. In short, Toronto is witnessing the Americanization of the local and national media through relentless badgering and a rugby-like environment outside the office doors of Mayor Ford. 20 or so journalists and camera operators are on constant guard here, their ‘questions’ laced with giddy frustration and pointless volume as the mayor waddles from his office to the elevator. Immediately I am befuddled as to why there is no roped off areas for the press, the feeding frenzy a direct result of the free-for-all environment most people would consider counter-productive. In short, it’s chaos.

 
So, without media accreditation or any real reason for being there other than morbid curiosity, I stood with the media, a couple of Ford supporters and a few exceptionally angry Ford detractors and waited for the mayor to emerge.
One man shouted the phrase ‘Crack Nation’ over and over again. I tried telling him to be quiet but there was no stopping him. Another woman was shouting her support for Ford, a strange thing to witness given the sheer volume of shady information we now know about him. Then, when he finally did walk the carpeted plank between his office and the elevator doors, the media swarmed. On-air hosts battled for good positions, walking backwards and yelling out random and often cynical questions about crack, his wife and alcohol. Amazingly, even some members of the media began to heckle the mayor, a caveat not lost on sensible folks or slimy pundits like Ezra Levant.

 

 

Two velvet ropes. That’s what is missing from this embarrassing spectacle. With them, the frenzy could at least resemble something productive. Without them, the spectacle marches forth and offers no compliments for any of the participants. I’m not familiar with municipal guidelines regarding public access to City Hall corridors or the mayor’s office itself, but when a scandal like this happens, it seems logical to organize the media and place them within arms reach of the mayor but far enough away so he can walk to an elevator. Crazy idea, I know, but the alternative is proving to be the gasoline needed to keep the fire stoked.

 

 

And while it may be tempting to extract sympathy for Ford due to this new tabloid-like frontier, the more logical position is to recognize how his stubborn disposition has played dominos with the ethics and behaviour of everyone inside the bubble. Good luck, and go find some velvet rope already.

Jon Stewart Accidentally Calls Dead Canadian a Crackhead

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Dear Producers/Writers of the Daily Show,

In last night’s episode (Nov. 4th, 2013), during your Rob Ford segment, you showed a fairly famous photo of Ford with three Toronto men. One of them was Anthony Smith. Smith was a 21 year old who was recently shot and killed outside a nightclub. This is a news clip regarding that young man.

I love the show, and this letter is a courtesy because I love what Jon Stewart does, but last night he referred to Anthony Smith as a “crack-stituent”, adding “The racist thing seems to be he’s (Ford) very accepting of anybody who smokes crack with him.”

I feel that while Mr. Stewart absolutely did not do this maliciously, he still slandered a dead 21 year old unintentionally, and I know the family would have been horrified if they saw the show.

I saw the show. I immediately felt for his family, and for the producers of the show who had no idea they were disparaging a dead young man.

I think it would show a lot of class if you apologized on tonight’s show, or at least now that you know what happened to Anthony Smith, maybe acknowledging the unfortunate circumstances that make the joke unfunny to those who know him.

Kind Regards,

James Di Fiore

Rob Ford Tries to Sucker Torontonians…again

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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.”

Open Letter to Giorgio Mammoliti

Dear Mr. Mammoliti,

This past Sunday you exercised your right to film the Pride festivities in downtown Toronto. This action seemed politically motivated, even though it is the taxpayer who pays your salary.

Many Torontonians do not see much difference between your freedom to wield a camera and the individuals who march wielding signs. Your video shows people holding a banner that says Free Palestine, yet it does not show other marchers who held banners that said Free Iran, or Free Tibet. Why the selective scrutiny, and why do you now want to use this selective scrutiny to strip Pride organizers of their funding? Your crusade could result in a 16 million dollar loss in municipal taxes for Toronto, all because you want to show favourtism to one ethnic group over others.

We have come to a point where even having a conversation about a certain country overseas leads to name calling and race baiting. Your desperate actions echo a frightening sentiment that says there are certain rules for some people but not for others. Beyond the hypocrisy there is an unsettling precedent that stifles free speech and diminishes free expression. You purport that your video proves organizers were complicit with certain marchers, but a local conservative journalist witnessed organizers remove a marcher who was wearing a skirt that said “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid’.

This runs counter to your own claims which now appear political and therefore stained with bias and partiality.

Most reasonable people will refrain from wondering if your motives are entrenched in a hatred towards a certain demographic. That would be patently unfair. But the double standard is clear – a sign reading ‘Free Palestine’ is hate speech, but a sign reading ‘Free Iran’ is not. Your opinion is also clear, but the law, as well as the rights of Canadians, are not dependent on Giorgio Mammoliti’s opinions.

If our taxpayer dollars can pay for your renegade political stunts with a video camera, then I do not see why they can’t pay for a parade that actaully helps our economy, even if some people were holding controversial signs.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

James Di Fiore

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.