10/20/2014 12:56 EDT | Updated 12/20/2014 05:59 EST

There's Nothing Smart About Strategic Voting in the Mayoral Election


During last week's CBC debate, moderator Matt Galloway posed a revealing, and sad, question: is the election about being for something or against it?

It's both. For: I am with Olivia Chow, with whom I agree the most, trust the most and who shares my values the closest. Against: I am not voting for John Tory because I don't trust effortless chameleons and am not starting to vote for conservatives now.

Ah, I can hear people saying. What about Doug Ford? Don't I have to vote against him? That, of course, is what a vote for Olivia does and which a vote for Mr. Tory does not.

The reason I won't vote for Doug Ford isn't that he calls councillors monkeys. It's that I disagree with him and want the Fords' failed approach to end. Their biggest failing isn't a circus that got nothing done. Rather, it's that things got done: cutting the TTC, making Scarborough endlessly wait for transit, and ignoring social policy as inequality is soaring.

The fact is one conservative -- namely Mr. Tory -- won't reverse other conservatives' agenda. He donated to both Fords' campaigns in 2010. He won't invest a cent in social policy or the TTC for the next four years. And the fraudulent, misleading way in which he's debased transit debate is not worth rewarding. It's worth rejecting, and my vote will do that, too.

Again, I can hear people saying: yes, yes, but isn't everyone consumed with stopping Doug? And the answer is no. The vast majority of voters do what people do in elections: vote for someone they agree with and want to win.

But at this point in campaigns--especially absurdly long ones--pundits love to obsess about voting for someone you don't agree with to defeat someone else who is disagreeable. Some, oddly, call this strategic, as if it's really smart to vote for things you don't want.

So let's walk through the thinking and deal with why the Ford years must end, using the first debate as a guide.

It took place in March among the then-five candidates: Olivia, Rob Ford, David Soknacki, Karen Stintz and Mr. Tory. Two telling things emerged.

The first was general aghast that no-one spoke about crack. No one! This caused a week of hand-wringing about why nobody could muster up the courage, as if Rob Ford's issues, broadcast around the world, were secret.

The problem with the hand-wringing is it's based on thinking that if he didn't do crack, he'd be a good mayor. Except he is a bad mayor, and the main reason why is policy. Olivia said so when she launched her campaign and did again that night, which brings us to the second thing that emerged.

Each candidate could ask one another a question of their choosing. Olivia asked Rob Ford how he could pretend to stand up for the little guy when he cut the TTC, leading to fewer bus routes and more crowding. She attacked the core of the Ford brand, and addressed something she still promotes today: better bus service, right now.

It says a lot that a direct policy question wasn't seen as tough, but Olivia was criticized. "Timid," one scribe called it: "Yoo-hoo, [crack, drunken stupors, etc.] aren't personal issues; they go to the heart of character, professional conduct and public trust."

Mr. Soknacki also asked Rob Ford a question, about missing a vote that resulted in cuts to the police budget failing. Is cutting bus routes that working people, seniors and students need not a character issue? Is missing votes not an issue of professional conduct? Is portraying oneself as a champion of the common man but cutting things on which he depends not a trust issue?

Apparently not.

What did Mr. Tory do? Did he, as you might think someone dedicated to ending Fordism would, drill Rob? No, because he is a policy Fordite. He won't reverse any of Rob Ford's TTC cuts. He will expand privatization to include parks and recreation. He won't invest a penny in child care. And like Rob Ford, he would spend a billion we can't afford to build inferior transit in Scarborough--much later.

Unable to quibble with his old chum, he asked Olivia a question instead. Will she, he demanded, support the Ford-Tory plan to hand over all garbage collection to a private monopoly?

So I'm with Olivia because I agree with her. And I'm not voting for Mr. Tory because I don't. That's what an election is about. And what's strategic is voting to replace the Ford agenda with something better by electing Olivia Chow mayor.


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