Rob Ford Crushes the First Toronto Mayoral Debate
Mar 26, 2014

Rob Ford Crushes the First Toronto Mayoral Debate

Sorry, fellow progressives, but it's true.

The first debate was, somewhat mercifully, fairly policy focused with large sections devoted to debating various transit plans (such as LRT vs subways in Scarborough), finances, the Billy Bishop Airport expansion, and so on. In this context, and with a format that had a combination of one minute short statements and chaotic open debates, Rob Ford had the perfect style. He strongly addressed each specific policy with a clearly articulated and strong position, almost effortlessly returning to his list of self proclaimed major accomplishments and proven track record, all without notes.

The challengers largely avoided reference to his personal failings, and nobody said the word "crack" until a reporter asked the question that Rob Ford handily side stepped to return to his talking points. Olivia Chow made some veiled references to Toronto becoming an international embarrassment under Rob Ford, but wasn't explicit. It meant that Rob Ford's biggest liability by far was sort of left unmentioned and it thus left the debate to his strengths.

The mayoral race has two major themes. Firstly, there is one major challenger on the left (Oliva Chow) vs four candidates to represent the right. So we have that values and policy division. Then within the right, it is a question of whether the surprisingly enduring appeal that Rob Ford has to voters on the right overcomes the crack and videos and other shenanigans such that people on the right choose or don't choose Rob Ford vs one of the other challengers.

For the John Torys and Karen Stintzes of the world, this debate should pose a lot of trouble for them. They want to try to represent the same basic ideological end of the spectrum, but without the personal failings, and with more judgement and gravitas. When John Tory says there are a lot of inefficiencies still at city hall Rob Ford gets to strongly come out and say that he is the one with a proven track record of saving a billion dollars, while John Tory fell flat on his face during his chance to lead the Ontario PCs. These two need to be going hard against Rob Ford's personal failings, because that is the difference that justifies their candidacy. I think they are hoping that voters will put that together themselves, and so they don't need to be throwing the punches themselves, but I question the efficacy of the tactic.

Oliva Chow doesn't need to do this as much because she already has a big differentiator: she is the representative for the left. What she needs to do is clearly articulate that set of values, and intersperse it with how that is implemented at a policy level. Personally, I am a technocrat. But that wasn't how Oliva Chow chose to present herself, instead taking a much used tactic of trying to tell heart tug stories of mothers abandoned in the cold to full buses. There was a lot of emotional appeals and while it isn't my thing, I think there is good evidence that it can be a good tactic. However, I think she struggled a bit in the format and I didn't see quite the clear presentation of a strong emotional identification of clear differentiating values that I think she needs.

David Soknacki tried to present himself as the technocrat, the guy who had command of policy and facts, with good judgement and subtlety. He is not going to make the kind of emotional appeals that Oliva Chow went for. To a limited degree he succeeded at this. However, I don't think he managed to break out of the mould of being a distance 4th place contender. He got into a lot of yelling matches with Rob Ford that didn't end up well for him, with Rob Ford very effectively painting him as the David Miller guy who couldn't balance a budget if his life depended on it. He also needs to stop reading from scripted statements, he is the only one who had to do this and it looks so bad. 

Incidentally, Rob Ford made one of his few mistakes here where when given a single choice to ask a single direct question to one candidate, instead of using it to trash John Tory or Olivia Chow, he instead went after David Sonacki when he would be better served by just ignoring this minor challenger. My read was that he was heated from the open debate exchange and just wanted to try to stick it to him. One more example of the off the cuff poor judgement from Rob Ford. 

I have never understood how popularity for Rob Ford was ever so high, or how on earth it could have remained so high through all the scandals. I would like to think that his many, many failings are so obvious he wouldn't even be remotely in contention. But like it or not, he is. I still don't think he will be reelected, but we certainly can't count him out. For Oliva Chow, the only candidate I could come close to supporting, it is still going to be a tough battle. 

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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1 comment:

Phillip David said...

Thoughts? Debates don't matter. Not even remotely. Seven months away from election. Chow has bigger base than Ford. Simple as that. Nothing in the next seven months can change that.

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