Polls are said to take the pulse of a nation. The pulse of a healthy patient remains fairly stable, with minor fluctuations through the day. A very slight alarm could tip the balance of an election; the long ensuing nap could tip it back. Ah, for the good old days, when this didn’t really matter.
Occasionally, we get a poll that suggests we should expect strokes, heart attacks, and/or convulsions. The perfect example was the one that smacked, over the weekend, the face of Canada’s political class. It was a Nanos poll that showed the wacky and wonderful former Etobicoke councillor, Rob Ford, leading the mayoral pack for Toronto’s approaching municipal election. Not just leading, but cleaning up. He was above 45 per cent, with his nearest challenger, “the anointed” Liberal, George Smitherman, trailing 24 points behind.
And the latter, barely leading a closely-spaced field of “the usual suspects”—nice, smiling, bicycle-friendly people, any one of whom would make a plausible shop-sleeper while the city’s vast unionized bureaucracy got on with the job of running it into the ground.
Now granted, this is just a “municipal” election, but look where it is. Toronto is the Kremlin of urbane, progressive Canada, the country’s primary magnet of “multiculturalism,” an immense repository of very safe seats for Liberals and sometimes NDP. Along with Vancouver, and what is left of Montreal, Toronto simply is Progressive Canada.
The rest of the country may swing this way and that, and would usually deliver a majority to the Conservatives; Toronto and company provide our progressive ruling class with their critical head start.
And look at this candidate. You could write “Tea Party” all over his face with lipstick, and he wouldn’t look much different. Rob Ford is the sort of crass, plain-spoken, populist bell-ringer who makes sophisticated media types choke on their lattes. I could fill a considerable anthology with dismissive remarks made about him in the Globe and Star alone. Until recently, they did not even think he was worth slandering.
Moreover, his whole campaign comes down to, “The people of Toronto trust me with their money.” There was a YouTube video, expounding his “vision” for the Toronto Transit Commission, that filled a few amateurish minutes. Even I would agree it was a joke.
But the commentariat missed, from the beginning, Ford’s serious strength. He can communicate—right over the heads of media interpreters, the notion that he actually cares about taxes and spending, and is pained by all the waste.
And with this, the further notion that municipal politics should be all about getting value for money in municipal services and not about “visions.” And, so, if he is no good at visions, people understand.
What even the political class now understands, after looking at that poll, is that none of their prevailing assumptions are working. In particular, it was assumed that Ford’s early strong showing was a product of summer heatwaves, when no one was thinking about urban politics, because they were all mentally at the cottage. After Labour Day, Ford would sink from view.
When he didn’t sink on cue, the prevailing wisdom became, “Yes, he has support among the droolers in the suburbs, but the smart downtown voters will blow that all away.”
The idea that there is some phenomenon called the “905 voter” (after the area code that surrounds Toronto) is dear to the hearts of smart downtown media types, whose native paranoia envisages the city surrounded by barbarians of some sort. But note: The region to which they refer is entirely outside the City of Toronto. Inside the jurisdiction, Ford is nearly as popular in the middle as at the edges. “The barbarians are within!”
Now, let us look quickly in the last trench of progressive and liberal illusion, and consider the argument that, “This is only a municipal election.”
The City of Toronto, alone, would be Canada’s fifth largest province. The “Greater Toronto Area” (including the first four surrounding “regional municipalities”) would make our third largest province; and the contiguous metropolitan area contains more than one-sixth of the national population, and growing.
If Canada were suddenly to merge with the United States, Toronto would be vying with Philadelphia, Dallas, and Houston for fourth largest urban glomeration, and, with those two Texas cities, catching up on dysfunctional Chicago. (All such numbers can be obtained without any mandatory long-form census by the old method of just counting heads.)
In party political terms, Ford has the Conservatives and independents, and the rest of the field are dividing the Liberal and NDP scraps. It would be wrong, however, to think any party loyalties, today, remain stalwart once the ground is shifting.
It is generally agreed, among the political class, that, “You’ll never have a Tea Party in Canada.”
Which is why I would advise the Conservatives to put on the kettle.