On Tuesday, October 19, 2010 from 8pm to 10pm, CP24 hosted a debate between the 3 remaining mayoral candidates, Rob Ford, George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone.
Here we are, down to the wire, the last few days of campaigning. Last night's debate between the 3 remaining candidates was going to hopefully clarify for us, the voting public, just who the best man for the job is. Considering the verbal jousting between the 3 men, the accusations, the rebuttals, the wild throwing of numbers around, did I walk away from it with a clear picture of the future of Toronto's leadership?
There can be no doubt that this election is now between 2 candidates, Rob Ford and George Smitherman. Joe Pantalone is third, will remain third and does not stand a chance of coming out of this a winner. Therefore the practical side of choosing for whom to vote comes down to Ford or Smitherman. Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.
I find myself faced with 2 people telling me how good they are and how bad the other guy is. What's true? What's not true? I have long suspected that being in office is far more difficult that any candidate realizes when they're standing up on the podium promising us, the electorate all sorts of "unrealizable" things. I can't forget a slogan that turned up in the United States during Herbert Hoover's campaign of 1928: "a chicken in every pot and a car in every back yard". Need I remind everybody that the very next year was the great stock market crash of 1929?
Getting the reins of power is one thing; holding the reins is another thing. The horse represents a will unto itself and controlling it is not as easy as one would like. In other words, once in office, a newly elected leader discovers that getting everybody to pull in the same direction at the same time doesn't necessarily work due to the competing goals of the various interests. You start with a plan then, if you'll excuse my French, s**t happens.
While Rob Ford has certainly tapped into a very visceral sentiment of "Stop the gravy train" - Who doesn't want to get "those bastards" stealing our money? - I have to ask myself whether or not Mr. Ford has ability, the knowhow and the moxy to pull it off? I hand over him the reins of power; can he ride the horse? Or is the horse going to buck and is Ford going to be thrown to the ground like a rodeo participant at the Calgary Stampede?
In last night's debate, Ford hammered home his accusation of Smitherman's complicity in the eHealth scandal. The truth is not so cut and dry. According to the Globe and Mail, Mr. Smitherman was the provincial health minister for 4 and a half years but was moved by Premier Dalton McGunity to the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure in June, 2008, three months before the government launched eHealth. How can Ford blame Smitherman for this when Smitherman wasn't even there?
It is this type of analysis which needs to be done to ensure that the candidates are telling us the truth. The mistruths or lies or even slanderous remarks do little in my mind to assure me that the candidate in question is going to be the leader I want in office. If a candidate can't get his or her facts straight, how do I know that anything they are telling me is true?
Remember Stockwell Day earlier this year? (see my blog Stockwell Day Dreaming The Numbers) Stockwell announces the Conservative plan to spend $9 billion to build new prisons. He is then confronted by reporters who cite a StatsCan report released in June 2010 which clearly show that crime in Canada has been falling since 1999. His retort to justify the expenditure is that "unreported" crime is alarming. What!?! Does Stockwell think I'm a complete idiot? I am literate; I can read the StatsCan report. This is a perfect example of a prominent politician shooting his mouth off with nothing to substantiate his claims. Not only does this anger me, it makes me afraid that the person holding the reins is making bad decisions. - Don't get me started on Harper. Read my blog entry.
The Toronto Star has put together on their web site something they call the "Smell Test" in which they look at specific campaign statements made by the candidates and examine whether or not these statements are true. The Toronto Star endorsed Smitherman this past Sunday, October 17 so you might say their analysis is slanted but in going through the various points; they do discover some negatives about Smitherman so I'm not finding this one sided. It is balanced and fair.
Ford's mantra through this campaign has been "Stop the gravy train". From what I understand, the Ford camp has now produced a T-shirt with this slogan. At face value, this seems like an idea anybody could get behind. In a YouTube video, Ford rattles off a list of perks given to city council members he thinks are unjust to Toronto taxpayers. Seems pretty compelling.
In the Star's analysis (Ford's problem with free perks) of Ford's promise to remove these "free perks" and in so doing save Toronto $20 million a year, I see numbers which add up to a different picture. The total given by the Star is less than a half a million dollars, far short of this $20 million quoted by Ford. This is a perfect example of how Ford's statements sound good but do not hold up to mathematical scrutiny. Even if the Star is wrong on this one, I see nothing from Ford's camp which would substantiate his $20 million claim. This just doesn't add up.
Ford has promised to scrap the fair wage policy. The Star (Ford's vow to scrap fair wage policy) points out the numbers do not match up with Ford's promises and Ford has failed to show hard numbers to back up his claim. On top of it, getting rid of this policy would involve convincing the province to rescind provincial legislation and apparently a report produced by the city itself has stated that this would entail a long and protracted litigation with little likelihood of success. If this is true, Ford cannot hold his promise. If the Star is wrong, Ford once again has failed to provide a detailed plan on how he would make this work. This just doesn't add up.
Smitherman. He has experience; he seems reasonable. I accept right up front that once in office George will not be able to do everything he's talked about. He's going to run into stumbling blocks; that's a given. However, I feel he's the better man for the job.
Rob may have some good sentiments but his lack of practical experience, his hot headedness worries me. Pile onto that how his numbers don't add up and I'm looking at a guy who has promised me a hundred bucks but only has a ten spot in his pocket. I don't just want somebody who promises to stop the gravy train; I want somebody who can actually stop the gravy train.
However, at the end of the day, I don't think the "gravy train" is actually the problem. Toronto is Canada's largest city with an operating budget of $7.6 billion (2006 figures) and a population in the metropolitan area of 5.1 people. This ain't small potatoes. Don't tell me that a T-shirt with a slogan on it is a basis upon which I am going to stake my future. I need something just a tad more substantial than some feel good buzzwords.
Come Monday, October 25, 2010, I know where I'll be and I know which box I'll be checking off. You've got a few more days. Investigate. Ask. Find out the truth. Whatever the outcome, we're all in the same boat. Let's just hope that the outline on the horizon isn't an iceberg.
The Toronto Star: Election 2010: The Smell Test
The Globe and Mail: analysis over the eHealth scandal