There’s a good chance either Olivia Chow or John Tory will be the next mayor of Toronto. There are others running or expected to run—notable announced candidates include David Soknacki and Karen Stintz. But Tory and Chow, alongside incumbent disgrace Rob Ford, are considered the frontrunners by pollsters and pundits alike. Trouble is, neither Tory nor Chow are actually in the running. If you ask them whether they plan to throw their hats in the ring—as virtually everyone does—they say they’re still thinking it over. And that’s not good.
For a moment, let’s take them at their word: Let’s assume that Chow, who is currently on a media blitz promoting a political memoir, and Tory, who talks about city politics for a living as a radio host, are legitimately still undecided about whether they plan to run. That, after more than a year of having their names mentioned as likely candidates, and despite each of them having huge campaign organizations staffed by A-list political movers and shakers who are already actively planning on their behalf, they just don’t know if their hearts are in it. What does that tell us about them?
I think it tells us that they are not prepared for the job. Being mayor isn’t the sort of gig you do on a whim, or squeeze into your spare time. It’s like entering a marriage—if you aren’t ready to make the decision and commit to it, then you almost certainly aren’t ready to do the work necessary to make it succeed. Toronto can’t be a groom nervously waiting at the altar to see if his bride will show up. And it needn’t be, since there are plenty of capable people who actually want to commit.
We don’t need reluctant heroes who will allow themselves to be badgered into running. We need eager volunteers. The gruelling 10 months of campaigning—a marathon unmatched by anything else in Canadian politics—is followed by an intense four-year term in which you are expected to work in the public eye and on the public’s behalf all day, every day. It’s more of a calling than a job. And the people of Toronto need someone who believes that schedule and those expectations are a privilege rather than a burden. Someone who is completely committed to the job because they think there’s nothing else they’d rather do and no one who could do it better.
If, after more than a year of mulling it over and fielding questions about it, you aren’t convinced you want to run—aren’t in fact sure that you need to run—then you probably won’t become convinced.
Of course, the other—perhaps more likely—possibility is that Chow and Tory have both already made up their minds, and their should-I-stay-or-should-I-go routine is a matter of strategy. This is what I’m told a lot: Of course they’re running, but they want to announce their decision at a time of their choosing, plan their own fanfare, and soak up the buzz accompanying their hemming and hawing in the meantime. Chow gets to indulge in the book publicity before getting the second burst of attention when she announces. Tory gets to keep his platform as a radio host until he’s ready to step up and release his mayoral platform.
Which makes sense, if you believe that strategy is an acceptable reason to be dishonest—that when you’re asked a question such as “are you planning to run for mayor,” the best option is not the truth, but rather an answer that plays to your advantage. Call me old fashioned, but don’t buy that.
The act of public indecision—be it real or contrived—being performed by Chow and Tory is distressing not because we might especially need or want either of them to be mayor. It’s distressing because it means that these two people, widely considered to be the best bets to lead us into the future, are either not ready for the job or are being dishonest about it. Incompetence and disingenuousness: Neither are good qualities to use as your introduction to the public you hope to lead. Moreover, both are qualities we already have in a mayor—qualities many are hoping to leave behind by electing someone like Tory or Chow.