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I Believe in Toronto

October 19, 2010

As a temporary exile from the Centre of the Universe I don’t get a vote in this week’s upcoming municipal election. But I do have a stake. Toronto is my home, it’s where my heart lives and I intend to return and live the majority of my life there.

So here’s what I believe about Toronto. I think Toronto’s rampant cosmopolitan diversity is one of its greatest assets.  I think Toronto’s green initiatives, transit system and increased bike lanes are great and I love all the parades and festivals that ‘clog’ the cities streets. They remind us that cities are built for people, not for cars. I believe you get what you pay for. That means, to get all that Toronto offers you need to pay taxes.  If the city is short on money we need to cut waste and raise taxes, not simply fire everyone and sell off the city for scrap.

I don’t believe all politicians are crooks and that government is nothing but a constant flow of kickbacks and corruption.  Some corruption is inevitable, but it can be tracked and rooted out, most people go into politics to change things for the better.  So we need to support the right people going into government, not make politics so partisan and painful that only the most arrogant and greedy will put up with it.

So it’s probably not surprising that if I lived in the T-dot right now, I would not be voting for Rob Ford since he disagrees with all of the above.  Would Mayor Ford destroy Toronto? No.  Toronto is bigger than that.  He sure wouldn’t make it better, he sure wouldn’t improve the level of discourse in local politics but Toronto would survive no matter who wins on Monday.  Toronto has always been about hope, about dreaming big and following that dream. That’s why people go there, dreams can be made reality in Toronto if you are willing to work for it.  Ford doesn’t believe in dreams, he only believes in himself and anger.

BUT…Toronto is also about sanity and pragmatism.  It may not be as exciting as Montreal or as laid back as Vancouver, but Toronto does what it has to do to get the job done. Sometimes, that means you don’t get everything you want, but life is about tradeoffs and choices.  Toronto is faced with such a tradeoff right now.  Does it support Joe Pantalone, the heir of David Miller, and his progressive agenda.  Or does it support Smitherman’s vague centrist l(L)iberal approach, safe but not exciting.  Or does it go with fear and anger and irrationality.  Tough choice.

Luckily or unluckily, our horrendously unfair winner take all voting system makes the whole process simple, if a bit unappetizing.  If you are truly progressive you need to vote for Smitherman to avoid having Ford win.

Joe Panatlone’s supporters say:

“I say to my progressive friends, ‘Vote for what you believe in,’ “ said New Democrat MPP Rosario Marchese. “Because you’ll be unhappy the next day to have voted for someone that you think is the least-worst of the alternatives.”

So here’s the thing, you’re right, it will leave a bad taste in your mouth the next morning.

Its kinda like drinking medicine that tastes horrible but will stop you from getting really sick for a week.  After you’ve drink it, you feel disgusted and vile.  You wish you’d just drank that chocolate milk that you actually wanted.  Sure it wouldn’t make you better, and you’d be sick as a dog for a week, but at least you wouldn’t have this awful taste in your mouth for what, like, 10 whole minutes.

So I understand. You have something you want, someone you believe in and he’s not going to win.  He’s not Naheed Nenshi, there is no purple revolution for Joe Pantalone. Maybe there could have been if there’d been three candidates all along and he was more charismatic, but it’s just not there. People are telling you to vote for someone you dislike to avoid electing someone you really dislike. It sucks, it’s unfair and it’s the democracy we have right now, such as it is.

I know how you feel because every federal election I feel the exact same way about voting for the Green party in my tight Conservative/Liberal riding.  I want to vote with my heart. But I choose to look at it rationally, to accept the system we have, as bad as it is, and work within it.  The system does not reward honesty or voting with your heart.  It rewards the candidate with the most votes. Even if they don’t get very many votes, he with the most wins and all others are losers. Its unfair, its stupid, it has to change. But it’s not  going to change before monday, so you’re stuck with it for now.

So when you vote, think about what you want. Do you want to send a message? A message that will be heard briefly and then forgotten, a message that this losing candidate had your support.  Or do you want to actually influence who will be the mayor of your city?  If you really don’t care at all which of them wins if it’s not Joe, then it doesn’t matter, vote for Joe.  BUT, if you have any preference for Smitherman over Ford and if you agree that Joe can’t win (which he can’t), then the only rational choice is to vote strategically.  You don’t have to choose to be rational of course, it’s a free country, and proclaiming you prefer to make irrational decisions with your gut seems to be quite the in-thing these days.

Just ask Rob Ford.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Kev permalink
    October 19, 2010 3:48 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. Another downside to strategic voting is that it gives the impression that voters are more right wing than they actually are.
    Elections shouldn’t be like sporting events, where being on the winning side is all that matters. I truly believe that if everyone voted with their heart we would get better government.

    Voting for Smitherman simply to keep Ford from winning gains us nothing. We will still end up with a slash and burn right winger as mayor. So on Monday I will cast my ballot for Pantalone, because his views most closely resemble mine and by voting for him I will be saying to my fellow Trontonians that not everyone is a right winger.

    • October 19, 2010 6:28 pm

      glad that you agree with, although I disagree a bit with you. believing that voting with your heart will get us better government won’t make it so. The biggest impact you can have on improving government short of running for office is to actually influence who wins, unfortunately a lot times that requires strategic voting.

  2. Allan permalink
    October 19, 2010 8:43 pm

    “Would Mayor Ford destroy Toronto? No. … Toronto will survive no matter who wins on Monday.”

    I used to believe ideas like this, but then George W. Bush (or Cheney, depending on how you want to look at it) happened, and I came to realize the enormous amount of harm that could be caused to a country and to the world simply by having 1 bad man in a position of power. It *does* matter who wins, and letting the wrong person win *can* be nothing short of disastrous. Hitler. Stalin. And it goes for other organizations too. How many strong companies have disintegrated because they had the wrong person at the helm? How much is Steve Jobs responsible for Apple’s stunning market capitalization?

    Note that I’m not a Torontonian in any possible sense of the word except that I find the city kinda exciting, and I’ve never heard of Mayor Ford before. But if he’s really the wrong man for the job, then it really is everybody’s civic duty to protect the city/state they love…

    • October 19, 2010 9:10 pm

      I agree completely, I am hoping people do vote strategically to avoid a very bad outcome is Rob Ford wins. I’m just saying Toronto is bigger than that, it will survive, we’ve had some pretty crazy mayors before, the ship is sound and while the captain may not sink the ship he could do a fair bit of damage if he’s careless.

  3. October 20, 2010 8:13 pm

    We most certainly do need electoral reform. We don’t have it yet, so we have to make the best of it. However, the more I think about it, the more strongly I disagree with strategic voting. (Find your local group and volunteer.)

    Strategic voting is one of the causes of voter apathy. Why bother dragging yourself out to the polls and going to the trouble of voting for a second best candidate rather than the one you would like to see elected?

    So the good candidates, the people we want to see in politics, aren’t likely to get the votes if we vote strategically. This sends the message that we don’t want them, so why should they bother wasting their time again?

    If we don’t vote for the person we actually want to win, they have even less chance to win.
    If I cast my (fractional) vote for 2nd best, not only does my candidate of choice not get the vote, they get a vote against.

    How do we know who’s going to win? Without a time machine, you cannot predict who will win until all votes are cast and counted. An election is decided on the votes. If polls are valid/trustworthy/100% accurate, why do we need bother vote at all?

    When the American President Harry Truman ran for a second term, he wasn’t popular with his own party, and the pundits and the newspapers counted him out to the extent that the newspapers proclaiming his loss were on the streets being sold before the numbers were in. And he won.

    There are a couple of ways you can improve the odds on getting the candidates you want to see elected get elected. Volunteer to help. Deliver flyers. Better yet, convince a dozen of the people you know that don’t bother to go out and vote to go down and cast their ballot. Don’t tell them who to vote for, just ask them to vote. If 10% of the citizens who don’t normally vote went out and cast a ballot, I’m willing to bet there would be sweeping changes.

    The system is broken enough already. We need to vote for the people we WANT in office. When we don’t, we get what we have now.

    • October 20, 2010 11:47 pm

      Thanks for the thoughtful response Laurel, I took a look at your blog, some nice stuff there. I am pretty much in agreement with you about how to improve democracy. Getting more people out to vote, getting better people into politics and restoring honesty to voting are important things that need to happen. I’m not a huge fan of polls and people are right to be wary of them. But there is a difference between a poll predicting a 5% lead for the Conservatives, which is probably meaningless given all the noise and a poll saying that 15% of Toronto support Pantalone or 10% support a Green party candidate. Polls can be biased and they can be wrong but if poll after poll indicates that a candidate is going to finish in a whole other quartile of support then it needs to be considered.

      That doesn’t mean you can’t vote with your heart. Maybe if everyone did and were vocal about it and 80% of voters showed up it would make a difference. I don’t know. I do know that the current system benefits a political strategy of dividing your opponents against each other and eaking out a win with minority support. That’s exactly what the Federal Conservatives are doing right now. They look at the numbers and know there is no way any single party can beat them to a majority, so they can play to their base and encourage divisiveness in their opponents. And it works fairly well. The only way for this to change is for voters to rally behind one candidate or party and break the cycle. I’d prefer this to happen because some leader has actually stepped forward and provided some vision that people believe in. That’s what happened in Calgary last night. But its not happening in Toronto and its not happening federally.

      You may be right, maybe we should all vote with our hearts and it would work out, if we all just really did it and everyone showed up. But I look at voter apathy, I look at statistics and I don’t see anything changing by playing by the rules. Sometimes you have to manipulate the rules so you can get what you want and get to the real goal, which is changing the rules entirely.


  1. So, how did that strategic voting go? | Pop The Stack

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