Toronto seemed gripped in a mix of terror and disbelief yesterday. Rumours Wednesday night were a new poll would show Ford in the lead. Yesterday the poll while having Tory in front, had a significant bump for Ford. Panic ensued as though a raccoon army had arrived carrying signs that read “First Your Green Bins, Then Your Children!”
Look at a calendar and relax Toronto, it’s not panic time yet. For one thing, there are reasons to question yesterday’s poll. For another, we can still rally around one anti-Ford candidate if needed. We aren’t there yet, and we may never be. Yesterday’s poll had some cause for concern though. For Olivia Chow, her campaign, and every progressive voter in this city.
Over a campaign no single poll should give a candidate’s team reason to celebrate or panic. Too many factors are at play that may not be in the next poll. When successive polls start to show a trend people need to pay attention, and I sincerely hope Chow’s team is doing just that.
Let me say I like Olivia Chow. She is not my first choice in this election but I respect her commitment to the people of this city, and have defended her against her critics’ favorite lie. I think she has done outstanding work in Ottawa as an opposition MP, and wondered if losing her voice there might be worse than gaining it at City Hall. I think she is an extremely qualified candidate, and an important voice for progressive voters. My concern is her campaign isn’t talking to them.
I think progressive voters were expecting a different campaign. One of clear distinctions, one that showcased the sort of fiery passion people have come to expect from her. I think she has good ideas, but they come across as safe. Designed not to alienate instead of being built to inspire.
For example, she talks about keeping taxes around the rate of inflation. She talks about her remarkable immigrant experience as proof she knows the value of a dollar. I believe this is true, however there is a major strategic flaw in doing so. The people she’s trying to reach don’t.
Anyone for whom the deciding issue is taxes is not voting for Olivia Chow. These people will have bought in to the fear mongering others have put out about her, and believe she is after every penny they have and their kid’s piggy bank too. You could try telling them that’s not true, or go yell at a wall. Same difference.
Other voters understand taxes pay for services we want, and infrastructure we need. Keeping them at or below inflation causes problems, not solutions. These voters know the sort of investments Toronto needs cost money, and if you show them a vision for a city they can be proud of they will help pay for it.
Having heard from more than a few disgruntled progressive voters over this campaign, I think that vision is still what they are waiting for. They want the Olivia Chow they have known for years, not the one this campaign has offered. My anecdotes aside, if this feels familiar it’s because it should. Andrea Horwath in the provincial election ran a centrist campaign for a progressive party, and we know how that ended.
Also, anyone who thinks this campaign will be better served now without Warren Kinsella is wrong. He may have made a bad call, but he dealt with it better and more decisively than the campaign itself did. If the reason her campaign is stalling is it has played things too safe, ask yourself it that sounds like Kinsella’s approach to anything?
Progressive voters want to hear a strong voice on the issues that matter to them. On transit, cycling, housing and city services they need ideas that sound like solutions, not adjustments. There is still time for Olivia Chow’s campaign to encourage her to use that voice, and reach out to those eager to hear it. The question is when she does, will those voters have found someone else to listen to?