If Rob Ford's opponents don't step up their game, there is a very real chance Rob Ford will be re-elected Mayor of Toronto in October 2014, providing he continues to meet the requirements to be a candidate for Mayor.
Last night's debate hosted by CityTV was an absolute farce. Between Soknacki, Chow and Tory stumbling all over each other, fighting for a moment of air time, and the Mayor throwing harder punches than were landing on him, it was not a good night for Torontonians ready for change at City Hall.
Very little by way of policy was discussed, and even when it was, there is enough agreement between the Mayor's opponents on key issues that polarizing this election in a manner that favours a challenger will be hard.
It is fair to say the electorate is split between those who are prepared to re-elect Rob Ford, and those who aren't. There is little doubt if Rob Ford was on the ballot alone and had to survive a simple 'Yes or No' vote, that he would lose. But that's not how it works here.
If you're part of the 60-70 per cent of Torontonians who are open to voting for someone other than Ford, you're being presented with four creditable choices: Olivia Chow, David Soknacki, Karen Stintz or John Tory. A former MP, a former Budget Chief, a former Chair of the TTC and a former Leader of Ontario's Official Opposition.
Here are three issues that illustrate the problem the challengers face. They need to differentiate themselves from each other (and Ford) on the key issues in order to create a consensus among voters on who can actually beat the Mayor.
In Favour: Karen Stintz and John Tory. Both support the project as it is currently planned and funded (Mayor Ford holds this position).
Opposed: Oliva Chow and David Soknacki. Both prefer LRTs and Chow would like more buses too.
Downtown relief line:
In favour: David Soknacki, Karen Stintz and John Tory. Soknacki has talked about ways to fund it, but hasn't yet committed to any. Tory says it's a priority and he has a plan to fund it that he will share later. Stintz has outlined Rocco Rossi's old plan to fund it, by suggesting selling part of Toronto Hydro would do the trick.
Olivia Chow isn't necessarily opposed, but she isn't sure how big of a priority it should be (Mayor Ford holds this position).
This is an issue where all candidates with a plan to do anything that involves spending new money either need to be brave or dishonest. All candidates running against Rob Ford support the same variation of tax increases "around" or "at or below" inflation.
This doesn't leave a lot of room for new, unfunded promises, except for the other revenue opportunities that candidates appear to be warming to, yet afraid to commit to.
There is broad agreement that Toronto needs a new mayor, but Toronto's alternatives to Ford do themselves and the city as a whole a disservice by not offering a bold strategy that they are prepared to defend.
Watching them take turns yelling over each other and then trying to debate the slivers of disagreement between them isn't inspiring.
Municipal election support swings violently between these early days and October; just ask Barbara Hall and George Smitherman who were set to beat David Miller and Rob Ford respectively in 2003 and 2010. Ford has demonstrated an ability to move voters to the polls and to win, and while the prospect of another four years of Rob Ford as Mayor is untenable to many, that is what will happen if the alternatives don't provide clearly defined plans that present them to voters as individuals worthy of the office.
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