TVO and BOT debate, May 25, 2023. Photo: Ian Willms

First Stop The Greedy, Then Call for Help

Electoral first aid from The Grind

[Click here to read How to Take on the Next Mayor]

Despite the popular myth, it’s not always the most qualified and trustworthy candidate with the best ideas who wins an  election. At least not in Toronto.

Here, a few candidates with connections to enormous political machines become the frontrunners.

Mark Saunders had the backing of Premier Doug Ford and the PC Party machine. Olivia Chow had much of the NDP onside. Bailão had Liberal Party backers, and Brad Bradford had a mix of Conservatives and Liberals with him. Both enjoyed the backing of real estate developers and other big business players. Mitzie Hunter was backed by elements of the Ontario Liberals while Josh Matlow is a longtime city councillor.

Sure, it’s an unfair system, but it’s the reality we’re working with. And so, if you want to put your vote towards a candidate
with a decent shot at winning, those are the choices.

Before discussing who is the best candidate for Toronto among the reported frontrunners, we want to look at Chloe Brown’s campaign, for a couple reasons.

Bold ideas only go so far

Brown finished third in last year’s mayoral race. Her platform, both then and now, proposes redistributing resources and decision-making power to community level. Her proposal for a land trust for Little Jamaica along Eglinton Ave. W. is particularly compelling.

Of the top 10 candidates, Brown’s platform is the most radical departure from the status quo. We would have to look to platforms like socialist Kiri Vadivelu’s, which positions itself in direct opposition to capitalism, to find another so divergent from what exists here today.

By contrast, platforms on the far right, if implemented, would take a system that already disadvantages workers and the poor, while favouring investors, and tilt it even further in that direction.

Brown has drawn inspiration from other places to show us what Toronto could look like. Her platform points to how the cooperative model of the Mondragon Corporation in Spain could expand employee-ownership of businesses. Brown also looks to Eugene, Oregon, which uses non-police teams for mental health crises, and Portugal’s decriminalization of possession of all drugs (though that would need to be a Canada-wide legal change), as examples of what is possible here.

Advancing these kinds of ideas is perhaps the most powerful action an outsider candidate can take in elections like this. But the ideas themselves won’t go anywhere without a sustained and coordinated push from the community post-election.

Candidates like Brown, who was excluded from major debates, and the hundred-odd candidates behind her can’t compete with the well-financed frontrunners, their media engagement, advertising, canvassing, and all the other activity that goes into attracting votes.

What should we do with our votes?

At The Grind, we don’t shame anyone for not voting. Maybe you are Indigenous and don’t want to participate in the colonial system (or maybe you do!), or maybe you choose not to tacitly endorse the state with its built-in violence and injustices.

That choice is yours.

And, of course, a huge number of people living here are excluded from voting, including permanent residents.

We also understand voting for a long-shot candidate to show they have support, though this has limited effectiveness.

For us, the top priority this election is stopping the most heinous candidates who will make life worse for the working class, such as Saunders and aligned candidates.

This election is also an opportunity to leave behind the John Tory era of pretending to do what’s right while making the city worse for nearly everyone except the rich and powerful. That means blocking Tory’s close allies: Balião and Bradford.

Of the front-runners, that leaves Chow, Matlow, and Brown. Unless something extraordinary happens in the final days, Chow has the best chance to beat prominent challengers like Saunders and Bailão. And although Chow’s platform remains somewhat vague, she’s got a track record of pushing for reforms benefiting the working class, for the most part, and she isn’t a Ford crony.

If on election night the candidates who flirt with fascism have been defeated, as well as those who would continue Tory’s agenda, we should all celebrate.

And then, we should organize and hit the streets again to make sure that a troubling history doesn’t repeat itself.

In capitalist economies like ours, when a candidate even a little left-of-centre gets elected, the corporate class springs into gear. It happened when the NDP last came to power in Ontario, Alberta, B.C., and elsewhere.

You can bet that will be happening in boardrooms all over Toronto if Chow wins, especially among real estate developers, big landlords, shopping retailers, and wealthy land-owner associations.

On the other hand, there is often less activism and advocacy, fewer donations, and generally weaker social movements when a “progressive” leader is in power, as supporters tend to relax and wait for change to come.

In the meantime obstructions quickly go up, and various changes get blocked or watered down.

This happened in Montreal with Mayor Valérie Plante, who approved a transit privatization deal funneling money from residents to investors, and who gave enormous funding increases to the police. But because of the mayor’s “progressive” marketing and the looming threat of even worse candidates, there hasn’t been widespread pushback. Montreal is expanding its bike lane network, which is great, but on many other files, like the cost of rent, Montreal is getting worse under Plante’s leadership.

When a “progressive” leader is in power is the best time to push harder to make gains. Mayors like Rob Ford and Tory weren’t going to make big changes to benefit tenants, but people fought like hell in those years in largely defensive battles because they had to.

There will still be defensive struggles against the city with someone like Chow at the helm, because Tory’s agenda is entrenched and won’t simply disappear in a plume of smoke.

At the same time, we should make sure the new mayor feels the heat to hurry up and make changes that will benefit the working class while they have the power. It will require them keeping a strong backbone, and it helps a lot if we are building movements outside of formal political channels that oppose the corporate interests squeezing us at every turn.

This article appears in the Summer 2023 Issue.