Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Take no drug tests, and other new rules for Toronto’s mayoral race

By: Metro Canada Published on Fri Aug 22 2014

It really hasn’t been a great week for Toronto politics. Following the release of last week’s groundbreaking TTC report with nine costed recommendations for service improvements, mayoral candidates had to spend too much time responding to irrelevant or avoidable issues. The question of immediate improvements to transit service was pushed aside way too quickly.

Let’s try to do better. Here are some suggested new rules for the mayoral campaign to keep us on track.

Rule 1: No one should take a drug test

On Wednesday, mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson, with no prompting, sent out the results from a drug test she took on August 12. (For the record, she’s not on drugs.) She then challenged other mayoral candidates to also take drug tests.

It’s not a good idea.

Look, I get that there’s been a ton of talk about drug use and the mayor’s office over the last four years. When I started writing about city hall, I didn’t expect to have to so often pull up the Wikipedia page for crack cocaine. A couple of videos starring Mayor Rob Ford smoking a pipe will do that. But to suggest that a drug test is a desirable solution is to imply the drug use alone was the problem — and it never was.

Ford’s problem was the behaviour that surrounded his drug use. The clumsy attempts at cover-ups. The apparent lying. The attempts to trash the reputations of people who turned out to be entirely correct. The potential for blackmail and extortion. The police investigation. And, of course, the admitted drinking and driving, the drinking at work, and the reported use of publicly-paid staff to obtain alcohol.

A drug test won’t erase those things, nor will it tell us anything about that pattern of behaviour.

Rule 2: Stop talking about raccoons

For some reason there were a lot of questions posed to mayoral candidates about raccoons this week. On Monday, Ford talked about fighting them.

I’ve had my own share of problems with raccoons — a family lived under my deck this summer and routinely held what looked like raccoon raves in my backyard — but to suggest that complaints about racoons should be a part of this mayoral campaign seems pretty ridiculous.

If a candidate can come forward with a new idea based on conversations with wildlife experts that will help control the raccoon population, I’m interested in hearing about it. I guess I’d also be interested in hearing a candidate stand up and say they’d be OK with murdering a bunch of raccoons. It’d be abhorrent, but at least it would be a type of solution.

But I don’t have a lot of time for griping. On this and other issues, candidates either need to come up with a plan or admit there isn’t one. And if there isn’t one, then stop talking about it.

Rule 3: Don’t let your political attacks undermine what could otherwise be decent points

The Olivia Chow campaign found itself in some hot water this week after political operative Warren Kinsella — who Chow describes as a campaign “volunteer” — suggested on Twitter that maybe John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan should instead be called “Segregationist Track.”

It was a terrible thing to say in the first place, but the remark proved extra terrible after it sparked a media tempest that overshadowed Chow’s unveiling of her transit map.

It also undermined what could have been an effective criticism of Tory’s transit plan by the Chow campaign. Setting aside the inflammatory language, there is a fair point to be made about Tory’s decision to rank the Finch and Sheppard LRT lines as a lower priority than his SmartTrack plan.

When those lines were developed under the original Transit City plan, one of the goals was to serve the city’s low-income neighbourhoods. The Finch line especially, in addition to providing better service on one of the city’s busiest bus routes, was about providing much-needed transit access to Jane-Finch residents.

With Tory taking the LRT lines off the table for now — and not committing to further investment in bus service — it’s more than fair to ask what his transit strategy means for those residents.

But bringing up the spectre of segregation — or making use of any other over-the-top attacks — just isn’t fair. And as a result, what could have been a good and effective point is lost under a pile of controversy.

This post was originally published at on 2014-08-22T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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