On paper, the Toronto Mayoral race should be a cakewalk for the NDP's Olivia Chow. Consider, it is down to two conservatives who will split votes on the right and a single progressive on the left, from a city who has previously had the political makeup to elect NDP candidates like David Miller. Indeed, part of the failure of the left in the 2010 race was because of vote splitting on the left that not only won't hurt the left, it now hurts the right.
But of course, it isn't any two conservatives, it is a generic fill-in-the-blank conservative in John Tory and, well, the indescribable Rob Ford. While for most people in most cities, municipal politics is a low key and somewhat mundane affair, in Toronto everyone knows about Rob Ford. Everyone has an opinion of Rob Ford. Everyone either really likes, or really hates Rob Ford. Rightly or wrongly (and I very much think it is wrongly) this election is going to be about Rob Ford and this central fact tilts everything.
It is a chicken and egg problem. If the number one goal is to get rid of Rob Ford, you go with the person who appears most likely to win. And the person who will be most likely to win is the one that is getting all the support. Right now that is John Tory.
This isn't about left or right, it isn't about this or that transit plan, it isn't about Chinese immigrant vs quintessential white male politician, it isn't about the NDP or the the PCs, it isn't about contrasting visions for Toronto, it is about who is most likely to beat Rob Ford. That's it.
I like Olivia Chow because I believe that her values and policies are in the right place, not because she is particularly adept at portraying the impression that she alone is most likely to win an election. A race about whether you can beat Rob Ford isn't the kind of race she will excel at.
While Rob Ford's long circus of nonsense is as unacceptable and ridiculous as one can imagine, what has always been most dangerous about Rob Ford is that he might be able to enact some of his far right Tea Party agenda. Thankfully, council blocked him for the most part, particularly after his first year and it has been a long time since he was setting policy.
The problem is that when one thinks of reasons not to vote for Rob Ford, one can easily come up with a laundry list of crack and alcohol and lies and whatever else. But what probably isn't at the top - what may not even make it on the list - is a failed vision for Toronto.It is that failed far right vision for Toronto that is most disastrous and that is the part that I believe Olivia Chow best represents an antidote to.
When the conversation is about the vision for Toronto, I think that Olivia Chow is an able candidate who can win the election. That is her strength. She can win hearts and minds over this vision. But as long as the conversation is focused on Rob Ford - for him, against him, around him - this simply won't get airtime. In the Rob Ford-centric conversation we are having, John Tory looks to be the next mayor of Toronto.
Olivia Chow is going to have to fight hard in the next couple weeks to put the conversation back on her terms.