Friday, October 24, 2014

Toronto: We're not there yet.

In the final weekend prior to the Toronto municipal election, realization for Toronto is “we're not there yet.”

Fifteen years after amalgamation created the mega city, it’s still a fractured municipality made up of "old Toronto" and the others. Key though, is that traction in "old Toronto" isn't necessarily a path to electoral success. Quite the opposite, in fact. What's more likely is you'll have a quasi-suburban millionaire classifying you as “elite” based on simple geography. What's equally likely is that urban progressives bitterly dismiss what they see as the Torontonian hinterlands holding back their city from being the progressive vanguard Toronto's potential suggests. Both points of view are similarly unproductive. Toronto is big, vast, and not of (only) two solitudes. Citizens must take the responsibility to cultivate a better understanding and co-exist in a way that's not stratified based on a simplistic left-right spectrum. While leadership matters, citizenship matters more. It starts there.

We're not there yet where a self-described progressive, immigrant woman is able to win leadership in this city. The reasons are plenty, and I'd start with her campaign. Frankly, it certainly doesn't end there. Ms. Chow - in case you were unaware to whom I'm referring - let her polling lead slip due to a dispassionate, unfocused campaign. Political campaigns are about many things: personality, connection, and strategic marketing to name a few. Until the final days, it was unclear whether Chow had put much thought into either of those things. Other key things such as organization, volunteers and cash, were readily at her disposal. Let's not kid ourselves, however. As an immigrant woman, Olivia Chow had a higher bar to clear. This is even more head-scratching given the prior administration's exploits that were more aptly connected with the lowest common denominator, but this disconnect speaks to a certain privilege. What we saw were defaced lawn signs and racist online comments. What we didn't see might explain - as much or even more than her campaign - why Olivia Chow will likely finish in third place behind two rich, white men. Despite being one of the world's most multicultural cities, Toronto isn’t anywhere close to a comparable representation in its leadership.

Oh, and privilege. That privilege I spoke of: we're not there yet when a potential mayor can speak freely and openly about white privilege and still get elected. I remember watching the CBC mayoral debate a couple weeks ago, and the candidates were asked to name a mistake they made and what they learned. John Tory had a great answer. He referred to his 2007 campaign to lead the Province. This campaign was derailed by his pledge to fund all religious schools in the same manner that Catholic schools receive public funding. His lesson learned was that even if he thought he was correct, he had to be careful about how he introduces a policy or an idea by ensuring its palatable to the public. He's correct. Does this make it ok for him to deny white privilege? Categorically no. Would he still be leading in the mayoral race if he hadn't? Dubious. While Tory isn’t exonerated, the culpability in this circumstance lies with the electorate more than the candidate. We’re not there yet where frank discussions about race can be publicly discussed without atavistic reactions.

Tory is a man scarred by many political defeats, and those defeats have seemingly prepared him for victory in this race. Will Toronto be a lot different after four years of John Tory? Well that's not up to him. After all, it's our city, and it extends well beyond city hall. What he will provide, however, is a more collaborative environment that will enrich citizenship. This will be a noticeable change from heightened antagonistic rhetoric and international embarrassment that have characterized the last four years. For those who fear Tory as a Conservative, ponder this: not all Conservatives are Mike Harris or Stephen Harper. Tory has had enough experience on the losing end to know which political risks are worth taking and when to seek consensus. Further, it’s his own Conservative Party who abolished him for not fitting their ideals. In a city whose two previous administrations have been far left and even further right, Tory’s inexact position on this “spectrum” might be an asset in turning Toronto’s competing identities into complementary identities. His main challenge will be to appear focused and steadfast. We’ll see if we get there.

No comments: