On Thursday night I attended the monthly meeting of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council to hear Joe Pantalone speak. It was a very exciting part of the agenda. This report doesn't do justice to the electrifying atmosphere in the room but I'll do my best (I didn't take notes). If anyone reading this was there, please feel free to chime in.
Executive assistant Winnie Ng outlined the initiatives that Labour Council was involved in - endorsements, the Good Jobs for All Coalition and the OneToronto.ca campaign.
President John Cartwright made a short introduction. He talked about how Rob Ford has been able to "define the ballot question" and the importance of countering that with our own ballot question. For Ford, the question is, "Who do you trust to cut wasteful spending at City Hall?" For progressives, the question has got to be, "Who do you trust to build this great city?" Cartwright, a carpenter and former leader in the building trades, went on to talk about a couple of his own experiences with Joe, going back 30 years with a focus on health and safety.
Pantalone took the mike. He was at ease talking to Labour Council delegates who he considers to be "part of the family". He outlined some of the work he's done in the past and his plans for the future to build the city's infrastructure, reach out to priority neighborhoods, attract and keep good jobs and continue his efforts to help the environment. He reminded everyone that the unemployment rate in Toronto is 10% and that levels of poverty as unacceptable. He summarized the differences between his campaign and those of his opponents with a focus on some of their misinformation and impossible promises.
Joe was followed by Hassan Yussuff from the Canadian Labour Congress. Hassan put Joe's campaign into perspective. He talked about the leading role that David Miller played in the Association of Municipalities of Canada in bringing forward pension reform as a priority. Without a strong voice from the Mayor of the country's largest city, there would not have been a unanimous motion to support increasing CPP payments. Hassan was fired up and went through a number of other issues including good jobs.
Hassan was followed by NDP leader Jack Layton who had not come to speak but to listen. However, he did say a few words. He told an interesting anecdote about the Megacity's first mayor - Mel Lastman. After his election, Jack asked Mel to appoint him to the Toronto Hydro board. Mel asked him why? Jack told him it was because Enron had just opened an office in Toronto and would be applying pressure on the city to sell of this valuable asset, perhaps for as much as a billion dollars. Mel responded by saying something to the effect that, "If it's worth that much to them, then it's not for sale." Jack also was able to work in a plug for proportional representation into his 5 minute speech.
Vice-president Mike Seaward made an impassioned plea for volunteers to help out Pantalone. Others talked about the importance of supporting Labour Council's endorsed councillors and trustees. If anything, the meeting was a big boost for Joe's morale as he saw the energy and enthusiasm and political will of delegates to help him win.
And he is winnable, despite assertions by (my councillor and friend) Joe Mihevc to the contrary. Why? First, there is a four-way race for mayor in an election where only 40% of voters are expected to turn out. This means that Joe (or Ford or Smitherman) can win with as little as 30% of that 40% which is 12% of the voters. Second, according to and Ipsos-Reid poll today, 40 - 50% of voters still haven't made up their minds. Third, Ford & Smitherman are running negative, city-bashing campaigns. That is not a great motivator to get your supporters out. Pantalone on the other hand is running a positive campaign which will help mobilize volunteers. Fourth, the labour movement and community organizations can (and do) play a critical role in mobilizing their members to vote. They also have the capacity to help build the Pantalone election machine and deliver the vote on election day.
So the key now is to mobilize around Joe's campaign in the two weeks remaining the campaign. It is an uphill fight, no doubt. But it is one that is worth waging. The future of the city rests in the balance.
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