Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Mayoral by-election could be opportunity for Toronto conservatives to ditch Rob Ford

By: Metro Canada Published on Fri Jan 04 2013

Should Mayor Rob Ford come out on the losing end of his one-and-only shot at appealing last year's conflict-of-interest ruling next week, conventional wisdom has it that the resulting power vacuum at City Hall would be a real opportunity for Toronto's left wing. It'd be a chance to stop the slash-and-burn Ford machine in its tracks, and — with the help of a more progressive mayor — reverse some of the damage done to public programs and services over the last two years.

And all that makes some sense. But there's another side to this coin. Ford getting tossed could also be an important opportunity for Toronto conservatives. For them, a vacancy in the mayor's office could give them a shot at redefining and recapturing their brand in Toronto — away from the outsized shadow of Ford.

It'd be a chance to abandon a political ship that's taken severe damage, and sure looks like it might sink.

I'll be clear. By “Toronto conservatives” I'm not referring to partisan federal right-wingers who go gaga as true believers for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I'm also not referring to the kinds of fringe radicals who OD on talk radio and speak about left-versus-right politics like it's a sport in which you pick a team and then fight like hell to score points against the other guy.

No, by “Toronto conservatives” I'm talking about the sort of old-school Red Tory crowd that defined politics in this city for a long time. The monied or wannabe-monied crowd from the suburbs, Rosedale and Bay Street. The kind of people who still hold seances for the Progressive Conservative party of days gone by. The kind of business-types and finance guys who would still encourage John Tory to take one more crack at being a politician who actually wins elections.

Call me naive, but I'm still thinking this demographic represents a big chunk of people who identify as right-of-centre in Toronto.

This group has always had a weirdly inconsistent relationship with Ford. It's felt forced. During the 2010 campaign, they were too eager to overlook the obvious warning signs tied up in a Ford candidacy — budget numbers that didn't even come close to adding up, a fierce disinterest in transit and other infrastructure — and pin all their hopes on a belief that the loud, populist character from Etobicoke would at least be able to save money.

Meanwhile, tying their fortunes to Ford has come with a mess of downsides. He's introduced a ton of uncertainty surrounding economic development with moves that put the future of transit expansion in question. He's been a fierce opponent of any kind of revenue tools for infrastructure, even as calls for that kind of thinking have become overwhelming. He's dragged the city through embarrassing debacles like the waterfront Ferris Wheel mess, the plastic bag saga, and his various personal gaffes.

And for what? Maybe it made sense for business interests to line up behind Ford when he commanded what looked like an unstoppable juggernaut of popular support. But opinion polls have changed. There's not much sign of Ford Nation these days.

Which is why a potential by-election could prove so important. It's a golden opportunity to gracefully move on and put an end to Toronto's ill-fated experiment. Instead of Ford, the right-wing should be thinking about people like Coun. Karen Stintz or Coun. Michael Thompson. Hell, even dusting off John Tory again would be a better bet. At least then they'd have someone actively working in their interests — someone who knows how to do the job and might occasionally win an important vote at City Hall.

And if that's not the ultimate goal of all this then, hell, I hear Jose Canseco may be available.

This post was originally published at on 2013-01-04T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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