On Monday, citizens of Toronto made it clear that the complacency which got us Rob Ford in 2010 was not worth repeating. The politics of letting go and looking away had to cease lest we continue to go off the rails on a gravy-train-cum-crazy-train. In the end, a post-amalgamation record 64.2% of eligible voters (compared to 53.2% in 2010) cast nearly one million ballots. From the moment polls closed, two central goals of the Robb Not Ford campaign were already complete: 1) a dramatic increase in voter turnout; and 2) a Ford-free mayoral seat.
This by no means indicates as large a step forward as we would hope for. Many exciting, progressive, and fresh city council hopefuls did not win; 36 of 37 incumbents running for re-election reclaimed their seats, and only seven new faces in total will be representing Toronto at City Hall. Many were rightfully deserved and worth celebrating, such as Josh Matlow, Kristyn Wong-Tam, Mike Layton, Paula Fletcher, and Mary Fragedakis, and others sure to be a source of frustration for four years to come (we needn’t go into names here, they know who they are!).
And in the mayoral seat, with all congratulations to John Tory, and acknowledging that I just can’t get behind him, we could either see what happened on Monday as the election of a Ford with a better vocabulary, or an opportunity for an effective city council to make use of the other 44 votes that John Tory, as mayor, will not have. Councillors being held accountable to constituents who are actively involved in their own communities can do — and prevent — anything from moving this city forward.
Never forget that the mayor is one vote of 45. This was a point I raised during the inaugural mayoral debate in Scarborough back in February, where I was described as the winner against Rob Ford and David Soknacki — who, I will admit, in his pragmatic and concise way, was probably the mayor Toronto truly deserved. Following the debate, I expected an invite to the first televised debate as a simple nod of merit: if the first was a fluke, let him at it for the second. If he bombs, so be it — but it wouldn’t be prudent to exclude him, right?
Well, not really.
Possibly the single most valuable lesson I took away from running for mayor was that the omnipresent disconnect between candidates and communities with respect to income, privilege, access, and lifestyle, are, and will indefinitely be, our biggest weakness. Representatives who are unrepresentative, who (aside from Olivia Chow) have not experienced poverty, discrimination, and culture shock the way so many citizens have, continue to use the political system as a means of power than one through which to empower citizens and communities. They haven’t been able to grasp the realities of not knowing where your next meal is coming from, being unable to make rent at the end of the month or have shelter at all, or not being able to walk let alone rely on a bus for mobility. Even a few so-called “fringe” candidates who did manage to garner press attention — present company aside — were coming from the exact kind of privilege that the great rest of us are excluded from.
Many issues such as transit, housing, and the waterfront (conveniently three debates John Tory pulled out of at the last minute) were some of the most pressing concerns for Toronto in this election. I tend to agree with their priority, but have also held that without bridging the gap between candidates and communities to allow city council to more accurately reflect the citizens of Toronto in their diversity of needs, interests, and socioeconomic status, nothing will change. Every other issue from transit to accessibility to congestion to taxation to the island airport, all begin with a more engaged, involved, represented, and empowered citizenry. If continued civic involvement for the next four years and beyond become a by-product of an increased voter turnout, then I did everything I could have hoped for in this campaign — and I thank you all for allowing me to articulate what you’ve been telling me all this time.
But if Toronto continues to see a system in which only career politicians, executives, lawyers, and other members of a socioeconomic status unattainable to the great 95% of us (as essential as the wealthy still are to the city), speak on behalf of communities without actually being part of them, we will not see change. But as a smaller step, we can hold our representatives accountable, and create the changes we need from the ground up.
The fact that I not only do not come from privilege or wealth but, to take matters one step further, spent a good chunk of the campaign period without income before changing jobs, in the end, makes a 12th place finish of 65 mayoral candidates (for a total of 756 votes) all the more meaningful. My campaign website had a donations portal but nothing was actively pushed. In fact, I saw taking donations as defeating the purpose of this campaign, which was, ultimately, about representing Torontonians who do not have money and who can’t afford to take 9 months off work to campaign. There were no paid advertisements, no high-priced fundraising dinners, no schmooze fests with the upper echelons. Thanks largely to word of mouth, social media, and a platform that came from all of us, whatever was spoken resonated with enough of you to warrant a much higher placement than I ever thought was possible. For the cost a domain name, I suspect my dollars-to-votes ratio compared to other candidates is rather commendable. And I thank you all for that.
I’ve met and communicated with some inspiring and wonderful people along the way who, like me, ran small campaigns and did their part in creating a culture of activism: Jolene Hunt, Saeed Selvam, Peter Fenech, Masihullah Mohebzada, Anshul Kapoor, Lekan Olowaye, Andray Domise, Idil Burale, Dan Fox, and Keegan Kenry-Mathieu. I hope and trust that we will all be working together in various capacities in the immediate and distant future.
To a very wonderful and vocal community online in #TOPoli — keep doing what you’re doing, and I’ll surely be seeing and tweeting you around.
To my tiny team, Katherine Cummings and Jonathan Smelcer, without whom this campaign would have never made it to the end.
And of course, to all of you, without whom this campaign would have never even begun.
Many have been asking me: What’s next? Well, first off: my laundry, walking my dog, and cleaning my apartment. Then back to business as usual with my band, Paint, who never stopped being one of Canada’s hardest-working indie bands — even while I was campaigning. Paint has an ambitious 2015 ahead with a film and soundtrack to release, a concert DVD and live album to complete, and world domination from there. I recently told Addicted Magazine that “Being mayor would be like a vacation from fronting Paint.” I hold true to this: being in Paint has been the most thankless, gruelling, challenging, and unrelenting thing I’ve done in my life. But nothing, nothing, nothing beats that moment on stage when the songs are speaking for themselves. So that will never stop.
I’m also playing bass in Rulers of the Moon, working on a number of film projects, possibly a brand new band that I’m excited about but can’t discuss, and working by day in a social housing facility in Toronto.
So, I have more than enough to keep me busy and contributing to a better future for my city.
But in terms of politics? Well, none of this was about politics. There’s no distinction between what I’m already doing and what I’ve done.
I will say that if conservative Liz West had won in my ward (30 / Toronto-Danforth), my next step in civic affairs would have been easy: running for council in ward 30. But, not surprisingly, Paula Fletcher was re-elected and will continue to do my local community justice.
So, Toronto, the only answer I can give is: we shall see.
As we forward, we can pat ourselves on the backs on a job well-done with hope for a brighter next four years.
But we can still do BETTER, Toronto!