I keep seeing and hearing from progressives and people who want to make Toronto a better place lamenting that the 2018 election is already lost.
Let’s set aside that there are 188 days – just more than six months – until nominations even open for the 2018 municipal election and that there are 369 days – just over a year – until election day.
First of all we should recall how John Tory won. In short: barely, and only with the assistance of a constituency that votes against candidates rather than for them. What has Tory accomplished? For all of Tory’s fast talking, he has nothing substantive to point to in the last three years. Going into 2018 we see Tory on a charm offensive to try to sell hot air and a laughably easy to pop “vision”.
How did Tory win in 2014?
Matt Elliott, in his September 18th column, does a good job of explaining the coalition that Tory put together in order lead to his win. As Elliott points out Tory beat Ford by barely more than 64,000 votes. More than 143,000 of his votes – 36% of his overall support – came from the usually more progressive Old Toronto & East York wards.
There is no way to tell precisely how many of those voters parked their vote with Tory out of fear of a Ford mayoralty but it is notable that Tory’s share of the vote was seven percent less than Rob Ford four years earlier.
Meanwhile the share of the vote for the left of centre candidate putting forward a compelling and realistic vision between those elections went up by twelve percent.
Tory won out of fear of a Ford redux, not because because of his merits, and he intends to run again on the fear of a Ford.
Ford has an approximately thirty percent ceiling and only has a chance if the field is crowded with four or more viable contenders by the end of the campaign. Even then he only has a chance if he doesn’t make a fool of himself in the next year or if all the other contenders carve up the remaining seventy percent of the vote in some extremely unlikely ways.
What has Tory accomplished?
Despite three years in office, what has Tory accomplished that sticks out in the minds of voters?
Tory’s signature transit plan SmartTrack is no closer to realization and is, at best, a shadow of what he promised it would be. It only takes 30 seconds to engage the unengaged and demonstrate convincingly that it is nothing at all. For all his photo opportunities, announcements, and fake public consultations the primary question asked about SmartTrack when presented alongside Metrolinx’s GO RER plan is “what is the difference between the two plans” for which only mealy mouthed half responses can be offered.
Similarly his One Stop Scarborough Subway is a boondoggle of the highest order and Tory is now trying to avoid its mention. Despite $3.5 Billion being an almost unimaginable number, for most people that amount for one stop feels like too much. When compared to the LRT plan unengaged voters immediately conclude the subway is dumb.
Further, despite all of Tory’s high profile talk, blitzes, and public awareness traffic congestion is still diabolical. No regular motorist that I have spoken to says traffic is better than it was three years ago; many say it is worse.
The only thing going for Tory is that city hall is quieter than it was with Rob Ford. A potato could accomplish that and would not be wasting billions of dollars.
What is Tory doing now?
Tory’s handlers know that after three years he has yet to define himself in a positive and defensible way, which is why we see the charm offensive building. Public relations is not action.
This final year of this term will be filled with photo opportunities and press conferences where Tory will be jacketless with arms rolled up in the classic “I’m taking hands on action” politicians pose. Because talk is literally all Tory has accomplished on every file except for property taxes. And property taxes is Tory’s weakness. Virtually every complaint people have about the city can be traced back to cuts as a result of paying for reducing property taxes.
To be sure, Tory has stacked certain policy proposals to mature at the end of this term in the hopes that voters will forget the last three years. We can expect that TTC fares will not be raised this year. However if it had raised at inflation a token would cost $2.75 not $3.00 and a Metropass would cost $133.60 not $146.25.
I am sure we will see a lot of photo opportunities with Tory around Traffic Wardens. However as soon as drivers figure out that wardens have no power to issue citations we will also see photographs of them being ignored. Wardens, like so many of Tory’s initiatives, are about being seen to take action while not actually doing anything.
The Rail Deck Park “vision”, his 80-percent-of-road-deaths-are-okay “Road Safety Plan”, and the Bloor Bike Lanes will likely figure prominently in the next year in order to try to demonstrate some progressive bonafides and try to keep that part of his coalition on side. Of course, he risks alienating his right flank and suburban voters with those initiatives, so he will have to temper his enthusiasm lest those voters go to Ford.
Tory is beatable.
Tory is a weak mayor with no real accomplishments under his belt. He is trying to keep together a Frankenstein’s Monster of a coalition with nothing but fear and fast talk. For the next year we can expect to see a charm offensive that requires only the smallest amount of see right through.
Tory is beatable, don’t despair or he’ll win again; that is what he is relying on.