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Toronto mayor's race: Common sense revolution II?

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Last night I attended the "live on radio" debate at St. Mikes because I live around the corner. I am continually amazed at the things that Ford (and Smitherman) get away with on the hustings. For the third time, I walked out very frustrated because the issues are dealt with in such a shallow fashion.

Contracting out

Let's start with contracting out city services -- the panacea for everything for the right. A year ago I blogged about it on rabble.ca and I think it's still current -- E-Health scandal: Contracting out is a failure.Both Ford and Smitherman hold out the promise that contracting will save money when empirical evidence shows just the opposite in many cases.

Smitherman went on the offensive, attacking both Ford and Pantalone for voting in favor of a 5,000 page report (not sure what the report was about) which neither of them apparently read. They both relied on city staff who suggested that the report contained no significant changes. Ford's defence was that it's just too long to read. Interesting coming from a candidate who suggests that a councillor's role is only part-time and proposes cutting the number of councillors in half. It remains unclear whether Ford actually knows how to read at all.

Amalgamation

The candidates were asked if they thought the Megacity was a failure. Harris's amalgamation plan had three major goals -- reducing local representation, a race to the bottom in terms of services and making it easier to contract out lucrative city services to the corporate sector. Let's not forget that when the Harris/Eve Cons were finished with Ontario, the province was in a deficit. 

Pantalone reminded the audience that despite the fact that 75% of residents in Toronto, North York, Etobicoke, York, East York and Scarborough voted against the megacity, it was forced upon the city by the Harris Conservatives (which included Rob's late father Doug). Pantalone agreed that it was a failure and proposes appointing four deputy mayors and decentralizing up to 25% of the budget to the community councils.

Ford agreed that the megacity was a failure but he took a different tack. He stated that North York and Scarborough had surplus budgets in 1998 and that the people of old city of Toronto "took it" from them. Not only was this divisive but it was totally ignorant of many of the issues which the inner city faced - e.g. homelessness. He went on to suggest that it was up to the province and that he would talk to the Premier about de-amalgamation if elected.

Unfortunately, neither Pantalone, Smitherman or John Tory challenged Ford on this. Just how can Ford suggest creating five new cities while proposing at the same time to reduce local democracy by cutting 22 councillors from City Hall? Under his plan, on average, each city would have a council of four councillors.

Transit

On transit, Ford continued to promise 12 kilometers of subways (compared to Transit City's 120 kilometers). When asked about how he would persuade the province to undo Transit City and re-allocate the money for (Chinese-built) subways, Ford suggested that he would make it an issue in next year's provincial election if McGuinty didn't comply. He suggested that he would lead the charge in helping the provincial Cons get a foothold back in the City. Ford bases his view that Torontonians don't want streetcars based on his townhall meetings where 70% supported subways over streetcars. A bit like asking people if they would like "gold OR silver".

For his part, Smitherman conceded that Transit City was the best plan out there. But can he really be trusted to stand up to McGuinty for Toronto? Has he not been silent on the $400,000,000 "delay" (cut) that the province made to Transit City? Will everything focus on the Pan Am games at the expense of everything else?

Guns

The candidates were asked about the long gun registry. Both Pantalone and Smitherman expressed their support for it. Ford, on the other hand, echoed the HarperCons mantra about the registry being a "billion dollar boondoggle" that only targets hunters and farmers. Ford displayed his ignorance yet again (or deliberately lied) by suggesting that annual operating costs would be a billion dollars.

Ford went on to say that the registry was a federal issue and that he would meet with the Prime Minister and take his lead from him, as if he didn't know Harper's views on the registry. No one challenged this line. It's clear that Ford has no intention of standing up to the Conseratives to defend Toronto but will be acting as their proxy in Toronto.

Common Sense Revolution II: Revenge of the Suburban Car

The more I hear from Rob Ford the more I am reminded of the Common Sense Revolution and Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America". Ford's strategy from day 1 has been to focus on taxes, "wasteful" spending and divisive wedge issues. He is effectively using the Republican playbook and staying on message. When asked what the first thing he would do if elected mayor, Ford said that his very first item of business would be to eliminate the $60 car registration fee. This says it all -- cut taxes, reduce revenues and pander to drivers.

Smitherman was clearly the most polished of the three candidates. His proposal to restrict collective bargaining rights for city employees (garbage, ambulance and probably TTC) is offensive and is a line that no union member should cross. It is the thin edge of the wedge.

Strategic voting

Torontonians are faced with a stark choice. Either we elect Ford or Ford-lite Smitherman to carry on the Common Sense Revolution in Toronto or we elect a candidate who understands the impact the CSR has had on the city and who will work to maintain services and move the city forward.

That candidate is Joe Pantalone. Can he win? While the polls show he remains a long shot, he can only win if everyone who thinks he would make the best mayor votes for him and breaks out of the defeatist attitude that "Ford has to be stopped".

Having lived through the CSR, and having voted strategically to help kick the Cons out of Toronto, I fully understand the fear factor. Harris went much further than the CSR promised (amalgamation for example). Ontario and Toronto are still paying the price. And while the McGuinty Liberals may have mitigated some of the damage, they have not undone much of the neo-liberal CSR.

While I'm the last person to oppose strategic voting under certain circumstances, Smitherman has eliminated himself as a positive alternative to Ford by proposing transit privatization, contracting out, restricted collective bargaining rights and other noxious policies. Unlike Ford, he's not all bad but he has drawn a picket line in the sand which I cannot cross.

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