In the aftermath of John Tory’s resignation as Mayor of Toronto, I predicted that Doug Ford and his entourage would identify and covertly support a single candidate who represents Ford Nation values and that, in contrast, numerous progressive candidates would run, thereby splitting the progressive vote. A week after the opening date for candidates to file, that appears to be happening.
Caudillo in the Making
Out of the starting gate, the highest profile conservative candidate is Councillor Brad Bradford. Bradford has a slogan (“Less Talk, More Action”), is the first candidate with a campaign website and online ads, and has been doing robocalls since the day he filed his papers. I know about the robocalls because I received one that day. It’s clear that Bradford is well-funded, but not where the money is coming from.
Bradford, who was a city planner before running successfully for Council in 2018, calls his approach a reaction to “talk, debate, deferral, and delay” on City Council. Bradford is channeling Doug Ford’s initiatives to reduce the size of Toronto City Council, expand the powers of mayors of major cities, and eliminate roadblocks to housing development. For Bradford, “action” means development of any kind, and “talk” appears to mean respecting other values, such as environment, community, and heritage. One example he gives of a desirable action is rebuilding the Gardiner Expressway, and he disparages the councillors who continue to oppose it. Many citizens, myself included, agree with the other councillors, not Bradford.
“Less Talk, More Action” can also be interpreted procedurally to mean less democracy and more authoritarianism, a stance some voters will find appealing and others – count me in that group – repugnant. One can question the legitimacy of a strong mayor elected with, say, 25 percent of the vote when turnout is just 50 percent – both likely figures in the mayoral election. (Better alternatives would be ranked voting or a two-stage election, but in this instance better is not possible.)
There is a second high profile conservative candidate, former Chief of Police Mark Saunders. Saunders, however, is a weak candidate, with a controversial record as police chief and a defeat in the 2022 provincial election. Nor is his age – 61 – an asset. I predict that Saunders will drop out of the race and urge his supporters to back Bradford.
Lots of Lefties
Doug Ford recently said, “If a lefty gets in there, God help the people of Toronto.” There are now four high profile candidates to the political left of Bradford: former Councillor Ana Bailao, current Councillor Josh Matlow, Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, and urbanist Gil Penalosa, who finished a distant second to John Tory last year. And former Councillor and NDP MP Olivia Chow seems poised to jump into the arena. It appears that the Easter bunny has brought Doug Ford what he wants: a plethora of candidates to divide the lefty vote.