November 03, 2014

Toronto Election Aftermath

Well well well! Last Monday’s election in Toronto was one for the record books! While my preferred mayoral candidate didn’t win, this municipal election exposed me to new roles, interesting sights, and many lessons. After recuperating for the past few days, it’s time to share these lessons.

1. Not-for-profits CAN Influence The Election!

Municipal elections are a great opportunity for not for profits to promote their ideas and lobby candidates to support them. They can then encourage voters by either endorsing candidates (selecting one mayoral candidate, as well as one council and trustee candidate for each ward) or using a candidate report card. Endorsements can send a powerful message, but the organization risks being shut out if another candidate wins. The report card showcases all candidates who support (or oppose) the organization’s ideas. The Toronto & York Region Labour Council endorsed candidates, while Cycle Toronto and No Jets TO used report cards.

2. Don’t Underestimate Cyclists!

While the election mostly focused on transit and taxes, cyclists are gaining attention. For the first time in recent memory, mayoral and council candidates included cycling in their platforms, while candidates such as Albert Koehl and Alex Mazer (see blog post) even transported signs by bicycles!
Bicycle sign crew for council candidate Albert Koehl
Cyclists got media attention by calling out Stephen Buckley (General Manager of Transportation Services) for not initially following council’s direction to install bollards on the Richmond-Adelaide cycle tracks, which was now mostly addressed. (link) Cyclists also called out Brookfield Properties for cutting locks and taking bicycles from a TTC pole by Yonge and Bloor. (link) In September, 1500 cyclists converged on City Hall for Bikestock, the largest bike rally in Toronto’s history.
Bikestock at City Hall
In the end, a majority of elected candidates supported Cycle Toronto’s Minimum Grid campaign, which called for 200 kilometres of bike lanes in four years, including 100 kilometres of protected.

3. Don’t Lose Your Base!

One of the Olivia Chow campaign’s biggest mistakes was taking progressive voters for granted. Even though she was the only leading progressive candidate with excellent ideas and a strong start, her campaign focused on Rob Ford and enticing his supporters. As seen with numerous scandals, Ford’s supporters remained fiercely loyal throughout, though his brother Doug saw a slight drop in support. John Tory used this as an opportunity to present himself as a unifier and his flawed SmartTrack transit plan resonated with voters. By the time Chow returned to her roots and focused on Tory, his status as the anti-Ford was too firmly established. This is why candidates must maintain their base while finding opportunities for growth.
An Olivia Chow rally the day before the election
4. Listen to Lesser Known Candidates!

While the mainstream media focused almost exclusively on three to five leading candidates, the final ballot had 65 mayoral candidates! During the campaign, I met a few lesser known candidates, including these three.

Morgan Baskin – While Baskin started her campaign at the age of eighteen, which itself is impressive, she has been very knowledgeable about local issues. Her main focus was on youth issues, as well as getting youth engaged.
David Soknacki – Before withdrawing, Soknacki was a top five candidate. He was a key advocate for police budget reform and was ahead of Olivia Chow in supporting the Minimum Grip and scrapping the Scarborough subway.
Ari Goldkind – During a debate I attended, Goldkind was not afraid to call for above inflation property tax hikes to improve Toronto; specifically 50¢/day for each household. He issued position papers on transit and other issues; the details of which put other candidates to shame.
Toronto mayoral candidate Ari Goldkind
By listening to lesser known candidates, voters can be exposed to new ideas ignored by the frontrunners. Even if such ideas don’t get much attention initially, you never know when they reach critical mass. Just as with cycling infrastructure.

5. Attack Ideas, Not People!

A lowlight of this election was the amount of discriminatory attacks and sign vandalism. A few examples include the anonymous mailer against Toronto School Trustee-Elect Ausma Malik in Trinity-Spadina, the defacing of Munira Abukar signs in Ward 2 (Etobicoke North), and the Toronto Sun publishing an offensive cartoon of Olivia Chow.

However, candidates were not the only ones that were attacked. In my ward (Ward 14 – Parkdale High Park), I was asked by Councillor Gord Perks to endorse him for his work on cycling; the first such request I ever received. A rival candidate criticized me on social media for that endorsement and wrongly used it to attack Perks; claiming he was promoting fake bike lanes on Lansdowne. Construction of that particular bike lane started in mid-October (currently almost complete) and given Perks’ re-election, the joke was on that candidate. While political attacks on social media existed for years, this act qualifies as a new low.

When calling out political rivals, it is always important to focus strictly on the candidate(s), back up your claims with evidence, and demonstrate how you would act differently. Attacking incumbents is easy, but you need to picture yourself in the incumbent’s shoes.

Carry on!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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