This will probably be the only thing I write about Toronto's municipal elections in this space. We in this city are currently contemplating a race in which we've got the choice between Rob Ford, a right-wing hard conservative who would fit in nicely with the old Mike Harris crew; George Smitherman, a centre-rightist who worked in the McGuinty government; and Joe Pantalone, a long-time left-wing councillor who has more than paid his dues with the city's left.
Now, I have said over and over in this space that I don't really like strategic voting, for a variety of reasons--most fundamentally, because our votes belong to us as individuals and we have the right to do with them as we please without being made to feel shitty about it later.
That said, here's something I wrote about Democrats in the US who were feeling hurt by Clinton's defeat in 2008 and threatening to vote McCain
There's a particular kind of American progressive that drives me nuts. They are, to put it bluntly, Nader voters from the year 2000. Or today, unrelenting Clinton supporters from the year 2008. People convinced that, if only their preferred candidate were in a position of power, things would be better. And, as a corrollary, that pointing out the reality of the American duopoly of party politics amounts to saying "you have to vote for Barack Obama."
Well, of course you don't have to. But Democrats -- especially Democrats! -- who spent the last 8 years blaming Ralph Nader and his vanity-quest/Republican-care-package for all that has come since have no reason doing anything at this point other than supporting Barack Obama, if they're at all interested in the consequences of more GOP governance....
If Obama and McCain are both likely to wage a war against some poor country in the middle of nowhere (historically, most postwar Presidents have) I want the one who's not going to go nuclear. If I can get the least-crazy person and they want national healthcare, then goody for us all. Supporting the least-bad option isn't a sacrifice, you whiny children, it's a moral imperative.
Mayor David Miller--who I'm a big fan of--has endorsed Pantalone, and Pantalone is currently polling in the 15% range. I will not be voting for him.
This won't be the first time I've voted for someone other than the NDP candidate in an election, and I suspect it won't be the last. But Miller and Pantalone both know that government matters, and Miller at least has proven that point with 7 years of governance that have changed Toronto for the better.
However the corollary to Miller's success, indeed to his career in politics, is that bad governance matters too. And sometimes elections don't give us the easy choice between good and bad candidates. In those cases, as I argued above, choosing the least bad option becomes the thing to do. And, to anticipate one common argument, I don't think it's enough to say the left on city council will stop Ford from passing his agenda, so it's safe to vote your conscience. That is precisely what the Hillary '08 voters said about Congress and Obama, and as disappointing as the last two years have been for some I don't think anyone wants to replay them with Vice-President Palin in office.
More than that, it devalues the real political power the Mayor has, and implicitly says that someone like Miller hasn't really mattered at all, something I don't think lefties actually believe.
Now, this is not a post saying "shut up and vote for Smitherman." If you simply can't fathom it, if Smitherman is simply repellent to you, then I can't in good conscience write that people need to vote for him.
That said, Pantalone isn't going to win. Period. This isn't guesswork or opinion, and it isn't that difficult. At this point he needs to triple his vote in 10 days against two substantially more well-known and frankly more likeable candidates. Throughout this campaign I've been struck at how nasty Pantalone has been. For weeks he's been unable to contain his clear frustration at not being competitive in this race. So he ends up looking less likeable than Rob Ford or George Smitherman, something that boggles the mind as in public debates they both look like they're trying really hard not to punch each other.
The mayoral race is the closest thing Canadian politics has to a presidential one--unlike Parliamentary politics, it's not the case that we can say "I voted for the MP who could win my riding" and leave it at that. The mayor's post gives us a simple binary choice: the guy who wins and everyone else. A vote for Pantalone is not going to do anything after election day except make the lefty voter feel good about themselves. But lefty, NDP-voting types really ought to understand that politics isn't about how we feel, it's about what we do.
Will I be happy with Mayor Smitherman? Probably not. In fact, I expect to disagree strongly with much of his choices. But he's not a terrible politician on the face of it: just about the only thing the McGuinty government has done that I remain enthusiastic about is the Green Energy and Economy Act, which is Smitherman's baby if it's anyones. Smitherman saved the Province from throwing more money down the nuclear rathole as Energy Minister, and he has my gratitude for that even if the McGuinty government seems to be heading back to it. (Smitherman continues to be dogged by the E-Health scandal while he was Health Minister, but it seems fair to say the nuclear decision saved the people of Ontario vastly more than E-Health ever cost them.)
So yeah, I'll be voting for the lesser evil candidate for mayor on the 25th, and voting far more enthusiastically for my councillor who's up against some real nutters. If you can bear it and live in Toronto, I'd encourage you to as well.
As a small postscript, I will say that I don't plan on voting for the Liberal Party of Canada as long as Michael Ignatieff is the leader, for the same reasons that this isn't a "shut up and vote for Smitherman" post. I simply can't stomach the thought of rewarding a man who supported the Iraq War with my vote. This has been true since he came back to Canada, and will remain true as long as he's the leader of the Liberal Party. (Don't worry Liberals, you'll probably win my riding anyway.)