There are, as of Monday morning, nine months and 20 days until Toronto’s next municipal election. (Your child, if you start today, could be born on the day Rob Ford is defeated, or reelected!) If 2013 was any indication, the election campaign that officially started last Thursday will be absolutely, utterly insane. Not only is Mayor Rob Ford still, as far as anyone can tell, still a subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, but the video of him smoking crack cocaine and uttering racist and homophobic remarks is still in police custody, just waiting to be released into the wild, by legitimate means or not. The Ford brothers themselves can be relied upon, if anything, to make the three-quarters of a year as much of a freak show as the last three years have been.
In the meantime, the city will be stumbling, grasping, clawing in the dark towards an answer to one or two questions.
The first will definitely be answered by election day: is there a conservative faction in this city, aside from the axis of Ford/AM radio/Sun News comment trolls, that can win an election? Old-school Tories, red and otherwise, dearly hope the answer is yes. Their champion is likely to be one of John Tory or Karen Stintz, but it’s anybody’s guess as to whether either of them can actually beat Ford in a stand-up fight. And one of the lessons of 2010 is that in a field that was crowded with many hues of conservatives, Ford ran away with the plurality of votes.
Another candidate of the sane right who shouldn’t go without at least a mention is David Soknacki, a former councillor and budget chief who was the first to announce his intention to run and will be formally registering today. Unencumbered by trivia like people knowing his name, Soknacki has had the temerity to actually talk about issues once or twice. We’ll see if that matters this year.
The second question may not actually get an answer until well after Election Day: what, beyond defeating Rob Ford, is the left-wing agenda for Toronto? Olivia Chow is nearly certain to be the “not-Rob Ford” candidate of the left, but beyond electing Chow and not electing Ford, there’s been little indication of what the left in this city wants to do, beyond regain power. (Some of us are repetitive to the point of being obnoxious about this.)
It is, of course, early days yet. And we shouldn’t sell short evicting Ford from the Mayor’s Office, as campaigns go: politics and governance matter so much that ensuring the least-bad actors hold office isn’t a regrettable compromise or something we should feel bad about—making sure power is used responsibly is the moral duty of an active citizenry.
But the fear for a lot of centrist (and all conservative) voters will be that a Chow victory will mean that all the pieties of the late David Miller administration will be released again, whether it’s the internecine battles against Porter Airlines or the increasingly self-parodying battles to keep “big box” businesses out of, well, anywhere they’re deemed to be unsightly. (“Big box,” for that matter, seems to be defined as “anything bigger than what currently exists.”)
Back in the land of not-conjecture, we will unfortunately all be subjected to innumerable columns this year each trying to make increasingly fanciful arguments for how Rob Ford can win again. Eventually, they will have to resort to using words like “not mathematically impossible,” because all—all—of the evidence says he can’t. Something like 62 percent of voters tell Ipsos Reid that they will not vote for the incumbent mayor “under any circumstance.”
But never underestimate the ability of Toronto’s political class to blow an easy win: with Ford Nation an increasingly shallow pool of dead-enders, the likely campaign managers for the 2014 candidates are busy ignoring the ocean of non-Ford voters while making sure they don’t affront Fordist sensibilities. Bad enough that the election might ignore all of the serious issues this city has on its plate—it would be far worse if even the left did so while accepting the premises of Ford’s re-election bid.
Some of us have been saying for a long time that Ford is unlikely to win in 2014—far longer than the year-long sideshow of his drug abuse and the bumbling conspiracy to try to hide it. The caveat we’ve always had to insert, and, because this is still Toronto, must continue to, is that just because he can’t win, it doesn’t mean everyone else can’t manage to lose.