Rob Ford, the real candidate of inclusiveness

NationalPost.com – Full Comment
October 26, 2010.    Tasha Kheiriddin

This morning, Toronto awoke to a new era.  After seven years of Mayor David Miller, voters did an abrupt u-turn and elected the fiscally prudent, anti-elite, suburban candidate, Etobicoke Councillor Rob Ford, as their next Mayor.  The event brought back the memories of the 1995 Ontario provincial election, when Mike Harris, then the Progressive Conservative MP for North Bay, swept to victory on a wave of discontent with the big-spending, leftist regime of Ontario NDP Premier Bob Rae.

Then, as now, voters rejected the urbane vision presented to them by centre-left politicians, one which placed government at the centre of their lives.  But Mr. Ford’s victory represents more than just a backlash against elitist big spending.  It represents a potential right turn in the voting patterns of Toronto’s immigrant communities.

Unlike his opponents and the Toronto Star would have voters believe, white guys aren’t the only Torontonians who are angry: the whole city is.  Or at least 47% of it is mad enough to elect a candidate who promises to “stop the gravy train” which they feel has been running far too long.  Voter turnout was a whopping 50%, the highest in twelve years, up from 39% in 2006.  Of 44 councillors, 9 incumbents did not run again, and voters turfed 6 others, including a number of left-wing stalwarts.

You only had to walk through Mr. Ford’s victory party last night to see how the city’s electoral allegiances are changing.  The crowd was a representative mix, ethnically speaking, of the city the new Mayor is now to govern.  Turbaned Sikhs partied with Chinese families.  Black kids and white kids chased each other around the tables.  Jews, Muslims, and Christians cheered and applauded Mr. Ford’s speech.

This should not come as a surprise; an EKOS poll published two days before the vote gave Mr. Ford 51.7 % of the vote of respondents born outside of Canada, compared to only 30.1 % for Mr. Smitherman.  This, despite statements made by the Etobicoke Councillor about Toronto’s difficulty in absorbing more newcomers, which were characterized as anti-immigrant by his rivals.

Indeed, throughout this campaign, Mr. Ford’s chief opponent, former provincial Liberal cabinet minister George Smitherman, repeatedly claimed that he was the candidate who embraced diversity.  But it didn’t return the favour.  That’s because Mr. Smitherman’s definition of diversity is actually quite narrow.  It is shared by people who, like him, believe in the ideals of feel-good multiculturalism, but don’t live the reality of immigrant life.

Newcomers to Toronto don’t have time to dwell on how to make Toronto “inclusive”.  They aren’t interested in funding alternative art exhibits.  They could care less about bicycle lanes. They are busy working night and day to feed their kids and put a roof over their heads.  They don’t sympathize with “fair wage” policies that pay inflated prices to keep unions happy, at the expense of hard-working taxpayers like themselves.

Inclusiveness for immigrants in Toronto means getting a good job so their children can enjoy a higher standard of living than their parents.  Participating in society is not achieved through parades, but by climbing the economic ladder.  And that means electing a Mayor and Councillors who will create an atmosphere where business can flourish and create jobs, and where the taxpayer’s interests come before those of big labour and special interests.

That is why Mr. Ford’s message resonated with these voters, and Mr. Smitherman’s fell flat.  Mr. Ford may be as white-bread suburbanite as can be, and personally wealthy to boot, but he has stood up for the “little guy” his entire political career.  He empathizes with the underdog – he himself has been a political underdog for almost a decade, battling a left-leaning council.  Immigrants are underdogs too, starting over in a new land to build a new life.

On a larger playing field, the results bode well for the provincial Progressive Conservatives, and possibly the federal Tories as well.  Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak could translate voter anger at City Hall to rebellion against Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals at Queen’s Park.  And both parties could capitalize on inroads Mr. Ford made into the ethnic communities that have long been Liberal fiefdoms.

Mr. Ford ran a disciplined, focused campaign with one main goal in mind: cutting waste at City Hall.  To retain the trust of the people who elected him, he will now have to deliver on that promise.  Both Old Toronto and New Toronto, as well as politicians across the country, will be keeping a close eye on his progress.

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