Category Archives: toronto

Some quick thoughts on Toronto Centre by-election results

Overall, Wells’s first rule — that “for any given situation, Canadian politics will tend toward the least exciting possible outcome” — held up. This is the result you might have predicted, and that most of us did predict. Folks in Toronto Centre are used to voting Liberal, and changing habits is hard.

Notwithstanding, each of the other three main parties had notable results, good and bad. At 36%, the NDP with Linda McQuaig achieved its highest percentage of the vote ever in this riding. The Greens, on the other hand, had their worst result since 1997 (2.95%) and the Conservatives, who used to hold the riding, hit an all-time low of 8.7%.

It’s impossible to say and risky to speculate specifically why the votes went that way, but I will speculate anyway, based almost entirely on my only-slightly-informed gut.

First, I think the Toronto Centre NDP has taken a positive national trend and backed it up with organizing on the ground. For the past five years, as the party has been increasingly seen as a viable, mainstream choice, the local organization has built momentum and capacity. For the last two elections the NDP haven’t just finished second in Toronto Centre, they have finished first in the south half of the riding. That wouldn’t matter, except that in 2015 the south half of the riding will be cleaved from the north to form a new “Toronto Centre” that will be the NDP’s to lose.

Expect a highly competitive NDP nomination race in the new Toronto Centre for 2015. Also expect McQuaig, if she runs again, to no longer run a campaign focused primarily on residency since, somewhat awkwardly, she lives in the wealthier, north half of the riding (to become part of “University-Rosedale”).

By all accounts Conservative Geoff Pollock was a good candidate who earned the support of prominent conservatives and the respect of his opponents. But this campaign was perfectly timed to coincide with the government’s most damaging scandal yet, and even Pollock has admitted that hurt him. The Pollock campaign has to take some of the blame for their disappointing results — perhaps their ground game wasn’t strong — but it isn’t hard to imagine the Conservative collapse here was mostly a message being sent to the national party. Either way, this does not look like a party poised to take University-Rosedale anytime soon.

The poor Green result, on the other hand, is likely more attributable to the local campaign than the national party. In by-elections just one year ago Chris Turner earned 25.65% in Calgary Centre and Donald Galloway got 34.30% in Victoria, and I don’t see any reason to believe they couldn’t do so again today. This time around in Toronto Centre, John Deverell was a disappointing candidate. During the campaign’s first televised debate he was widely mocked by pundits for answering every question on every topic with a non-sequitur about proportional representation (an issue important to me too, but not to this obsessive extreme). At the next televised debate, he claimed we don’t live in a democracy (like, at all) and referred to Stephen Harper multiple times as a literal “dictator.” In yet another debate at Jarvis Collegiate he lost votes when he said, Rob Ford-like, that people who can’t afford to live downtown should just move somewhere else, and that Toronto has too many people anyway.

Recent general and by-election results suggest that Green votes may therefore be disproportionately influenced by local candidates, compared to other parties where the rule of thumb is that the local candidate can only influence the party’s vote by 5% or so in either direction. That’s a challenge for Greens, since it’s hard to convince strong candidates to run in elections they’re likely to lose.

Finally, I’m a bit sad that this was the last Toronto Centre election with these boundaries. Many people believe that it doesn’t make sense for a region with such extreme disparity of wealth and housing type to be represented by one MP, and voters in all parts of the riding sometimes resented those in other parts for their perceived influence on election outcomes. But I really wanted it to work. I wanted Toronto Centre to be a microcosm for all of urban Canada, where we could prove that we have more in common than we realized, and where politicians fought to unite us rather than divide us. Now it will likely settle into being two comfortable seats for the NDP and the Liberals, with no electoral incentive for politicians to appeal to the city — or even just the downtown — as a whole.

After 2015, New Democrats in the new Toronto Centre will be relieved to finally have a voice in Ottawa, and Liberals in University-Rosedale won’t have to worry about encroaching socialism from the south (though maybe from the west, since they’ll be combined with some of the current Trinity-Spadina riding). Anyway, I don’t begrudge anyone having the representation they want, but I hope that when they celebrate what they’ve gained, they don’t also celebrate what they’ve lost.

Mandatory Minimum Accidentally Applied to Powerful White Man

Many political observers in the Canadian province of Ontario are calling for a change to the law after a mandatory minimum penalty was accidentally applied to a powerful white man.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s seat has been declared vacant by a judge after Ford was found to have violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, which also contains the harsh requirement that he lose his job.

“It just doesn’t seem right,” said area man Scott Johnston, who noted that he was more comfortable with mandatory minimums being used for laws typically prosecuted against poor people, black people, and generally “people who, I don’t know, aren’t like me?”

Frank Rashton, political science professor at the University of Toronto, said that enforcing the MCIA sets a dangerous precedent for other laws meant to hold political leaders to account. “I mean, what’s next,” Rashton asked, “we start enforcing election laws too?”

Pointing to a number of examples where elected officials have admitted breaking election laws in order to gain power, as well as ongoing cases where political parties are accused of engaging in systemic voter suppression, Rashton said “expecting politicians to be accountable under the law” would “[open] up a whole new can of worms.”

“I don’t think we’ve seriously considered the implications of going down that road,” he said.

Others argued that the real problem is not the law itself, but that in this particular case there weren’t enough loop holes designed to be exploited by powerful people. Columnist Sarah Simmer, who called the decision “Conrad Blackian*,” said that while it’s true enforcing other similar laws would be dangerous, it’s unlikely to create a rush on the courts since most of those laws already have built-in exceptions. “Look at Ontario,” she said. “A minister was set to be held in contempt by the legislature, but the premier was thankfully able to step in and stop it.”

Simmer said it would be dangerous to simply get rid of the MCIA’s penalties, because they’re “important for the appearance of accountability.” It would be better to instead ensure the penalties are never applied, she said.

When asked, outgoing Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty disagreed with Simmer’s interpretation. “We’ve been very clear. Using power to avoid accountability is only wrong when Conservatives do it. In the case of Rob Ford, it would not be appropriate.”

McGuinty also said that since municipalities are the responsibility of the province it would have been helpful if the legislature were sitting right now in order to respond to concerns about the MCIA, as well as questions regarding how the MCIA relates to municipal codes of conduct, before adding “hahahahahahahahahahahahaha.”

Chris Tindal is on Twitter.

* The author and publisher of this post would like to make it exceedingly clear that they don’t believe Conrad Black has ever done anything wrong ever and that that Simmer person was totally out of line, even for a fictional person employing parody.

The one option left in Don Bosco’s playbook

When things go wrong, those with the least power usually suffer the most. Football players at the bottom of a pileup have the most weight pressing down on them, and can’t get up unless others do so first.

This holds true with the numerous scandals involving football coach and occasional mayor Rob Ford’s inability to keep his professional and volunteer responsibilities separate. Most recently, Ford and police together requested that a special TTC bus be sent to pick up the mayor’s football team after a game ended early. The fallout has affected the many parties involved to varying degrees.

The players, high school students with the least power of anyone involved, have taken a lot of heat. When one player bragged on Twitter that the team had benefited from their own private TTC bus because “our coach is the mayor,” a Vigilante Rapid Response Team sent him some nasty messages. That’s nothing, however, compared to what they’ve had to endure from their coach. Ford has taken numerous opportunities to disparage the players and their families, saying that they don’t have supportive parents or families (of course they do), that they are difficult to control (and that only he can control them), that the state of leadership within the black community is so pathetically lacking that no one has done more for black youth than this white part-time coach.

It’s hard to see what the school, Don Bosco, is accused of having done wrong either. Yet the school board has received so many angry phone calls that they’re considering reimbursing the TTC for the cost of the bus they never asked for in the first place. The board has more power than its students, but less than those who actually ordered the bus.

The TTC is also taking all sorts of abuse and doing everything it can to set the record straight. TTC CEO Andy Byford, already faced with the challenge of trying to mend his organization’s damaged reputation, has gone so far as to publicly scold the mayor by saying that he shouldn’t have called him for what Byford considers to be a personal matter and that he should not do so again. (His frustration is understandable; all the TTC did was respond to an urgent police request. They have no choice but to take such requests seriously.)

Those who instigated this whole mess and continue to hold the most power are saying very little. The police will not explain with any clarity what justified making the “urgent” request that resulted in two buses being diverted during rush hour, leaving riders stranded in the rain. The mayor will not explain why he treated Byford like a glorified taxi dispatcher. Neither will explain why their versions of events contradict those of the school board, which maintains there was no apparent need for special treatment. After all, who’s going to do anything about it? The school doesn’t have authority over the mayor of Toronto, nor can they easily accuse the police of lying about how things went down.

But even those with less power are not powerless. (After all, at the bottom of a pileup, one of Schrödinger’s players is holding the football.) There is an obvious source of these never ending headaches, and a solution. One man, a volunteer, has done a lot of good work, but is now causing more trouble than he’s worth. Every organization that depends on volunteers knows that as difficult as it is, sometimes you just have to say goodbye. It’s time to call that play.

Don Bosco can’t fire the mayor. But they can fire the coach.

Michael Bryant’s failure to relate to the public

The morning after Darcy Allan Sheppard died, Michael Bryant emerged from police custody wearing a clean change of clothes and headed straight for the waiting microphones. In the hours since the altercation that resulted in Sheppard’s death Bryant had not only secured a legal team but had also, it’s been reported, retained a PR firm that immediately got to work. From the first moment, Bryant was concerned about his public image.

This apparent attempt to ‘spin’ the tragic events of August 31st, 2009 was met with anger by those who had already judged Bryant guilty. As far as they were concerned Bryant was trying to use his wealth and connections to get away with murder. That perception was reinforced when the prosecution decided not to pursue charges, allowing Bryant to walk away free.

Even while the charges against him did not go to trial, vocal members of the court of public opinion had already convicted him. Their anger boiled over again this week when Bryant, promoting a book, was back in the spotlight. He was clear about his intent: if he is ever to be in public life again, he needs to tell his side of the story and clear his name.

At the heart of the outrage directed at Bryant is the fear that he will get away with undeservedly rehabilitating his reputation. That fear is driven by a distrust in media, police and justice systems that have a history of privileging guys like Bryant (white, affluent powerful men). The fear is that Bryant—damned by the facts—will be saved by his money, connections and media savvy.

After reading the prosecution’s summary report, however, I began to wonder if the reverse were true. The Michael Bryant in that report—in the version of events he did not directly author or control—is a far more sympathetic character than the carefully constructed version of Michael Bryant we’ve seen on the cover of magazines and heard on the radio. In the prosecutor’s account, Sheppard was a violent instigator, and Bryant, fearing for his and his wife’s safety, was just trying to get away. Reading that document makes it far easier to imagine Bryant as a victim of circumstance.

Politicians in general can’t get away from the temptation to construct mythologies around themselves. In his recent media appearances, Bryant comes across as someone who wants very badly to be perceived as a tragic, humbled figure, fallen from great heights to have lost everything, guilty only of common human frailty. But that doesn’t ring true for someone celebrating the release of a book while coiffed and staring directly into the camera.

Instead, the public version of Bryant comes across as someone who fell from being Extremely Privileged to Still Pretty Damn Privileged and is actively asking us to feel sorry for him. Regardless of how responsible you hold him for Sheppard’s death (and again, legally he’s not been found to have done anything wrong), that’s not a very compelling proposition.

I’ve come to suspect that the primary reason many remain skeptical about Bryant’s exoneration is the forced nature of his comeback and the artifice of his public image. In trying to realize his preferred mythology, Bryant failed to understand the difference between humility and Humility Inc. Maybe if he hadn’t hired a professional public relations team, if he hadn’t donned a freshly pressed suit for his first press conference straight out of police custody, if he hadn’t launched a media campaign around a book and put his own face on the cover, if he hadn’t seemed so eager to be redeemed, his public image would be significantly improved.

Maybe it’s easier to feel sorry for someone who doesn’t come across as feeling so sorry for themselves.