toronto mayoral election

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

“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.

 

 

 

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.

Local Media Company Gives Election the Retro Touch

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

By: James Di Fiore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oddmanic Exclusive: Ford Under Investigation for Sign Violations

Mayoral front-runner accused of skirting election regulations

By: James Di Fiore

The Rob Ford mayoral campaign may be facing some hefty fines after a formal complaint with City Hall saying he violated Toronto election bi-laws when he ambushed the backdrop of Breakfast Television on March 25th. Ford may be facing thousands of dollars in fines for using the signs before candidates are permitted – October 4th, 2010. This is in violation of Municipal Code, Chapter 693-9 under the Subsection entitled ‘Timing’. The Ford campaign is currently under investigation in the matter.

The video shows Ford and his supporters disrupting a live broadcast of Breakfast Television, a popular local morning show, when he and dozens of his supporters marched through the background of Dundas Square in downtown Toronto. When spotted, co-host Kevin Frankish remarked, “Here’s Rob Ford trying for his cheap plug in the background right now..”

If Ford is found guilty of violating the Municipal bi-law, he could face a $205 fine for each sign carried by his supporters, and possibly an additional $205 for every sign deemed to be higher than 2.5 meters off the ground. The video depicts between 50-70 elections signs reading “Ford for Mayor.” A decision is expected by the end of next week.