So far, Torontonians have spent the early days of 2014 just trying to survive the polar vortex. But there’s a hot air front blowing in from City Hall and the just-kicked-off marathon of the civic election. Call it the political vortex: It’s a shifty weather system that can bore you into a coma one moment and then cause you to smash your head on the desk in frustration the next. If we can make it to the end of this thing, we may be rewarded with a mayor who will inspire us and make us feel proud of our city. Or at least a mayor who does not completely suck rocks. Or smoke them.
In the meantime, voters will need to keep some things in mind if they hope to preserve their sanity. Being forewarned is better than being forearmed, as they say in the world of wrestling.
Election day is still more than 280 days away: Before then, we can expect 280 or so scandals involving the current mayor, more than 100 debates, and approximately 384,000 Forum Research polls. Embarking on such a journey, you’ll want to stay hydrated, have plenty of snacks on hand, and dress in layers. This won’t help everything make more sense, but you might as well stay comfortable.
About those polls: A year before the 2010 election, John Tory, Adam Giambrone, and Glen Murray were the most popular candidates. In January 2003, a survey predicted that year’s election to be a two-horse race between Barbara Hall and John Nunziata. (David Miller won.) So take the early projected results with a grain of salt. And consider the possibility that someone you haven’t heard of could emerge as a serious challenger.
There’s reading material available for the campaign: A book about Rob Ford (Crazy Town) by Robyn Doolittle comes out next month; a book by likely challenger Olivia Chow (My Journey) comes out this month; a book about Toronto politics (Some Great Idea) by yours truly came out a year ago and specifically addresses the coming election. You have plenty of time to bone up.
A lot will happen along the way: The city budget, the Olympics, the provincial election, the evolving prosecution of mayoral pal Sandro Lisi for his role in the crack affair, three-and-a-half whole seasons of Toronto weather and its accompanying is-it-an-emergency-or-not crises. We don’t yet know what the defining issues will be in the fall, so keep an open mind.
Rob Ford’s personal life is important…: The last point notwithstanding, we know Rob Ford’s troubles will dominate the conversation. Expect his vocal opponents to think the other candidates are giving him a free ride on his personal life. Expect his supporters to say the other candidates are obsessed with his personal life. Either way, we’ll be talking about his personal life way too much. And he will be talking about his weight, which absolutely no one cares about.
…but so is Rob Ford’s mayoralty: As much as you can, though, think about his professional life, because he’s been a spectacularly ineffective mayor. Don’t expect many candidates to focus on that, since they’ll all want to claim to be “Rob Ford without the drama.” But without the drama, Ford’s mayoralty is just a boring trainwreck.
Talk – Action = 0: What Ford’s failures show—his many defeats at council and his inability to find the gravy train and produce the savings he promised—is that the key question we should be asking every candidate is: “How are you actually going to do that?” All of them will promise to run a more efficient government. All of them will promise to get council to do their bidding. Is there any evidence they know what they’re talking about, and do they have a strategy to get it done?
Some things are too good to be true: If a candidate says the city can raise money in a way that will not cost you anything personally, they are probably lying.
Know your priorities: The candidates and media commentators like me will try to frame the election around the questions they think are important. Here are mine: What kind of city do we want to be? What’s our plan to become that city? You can use those questions if you want. Or better yet, rather than accepting someone else’s, figure out your own concerns.