Doorstep Postings: Toronto’s mayoral byelection was just another story of partisanship of the first part

Olivia Chow’s victory photo from winning the Toronto mayoral byelection. (Credit: @oliviachow)

This is the final Toronto mayoral byelection race edition of Doorstep Postings, the periodic political commentary column written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

In a report from BBC News on the seemingly endless byelection Toronto just endured was a contribution from dial-a-quote legend Nelson Wiseman, professor emeritus at UofT’s Faculty of Political Science.

Wiseman is one of two experts (the other is Myer Siemiatycki of Toronto Metropolitan University) who always find a way to insert their commentary into low-effort journalistic primers of this nature. You can count on them for clichés about Toronto’s diversity and the housing and affordability challenges it faces along with every other city on the planet.

For this particular contribution to punditry, Wiseman told the British Broadcasting Corporation it was “a wide open race”, and how “the difference between last time and this time is we don’t know who is going to win.” 

Well, unlike Prof. Wiseman, I have no published books to my name, and I’ll never be emeritus of anything. And I don’t wish to disrespect a man who’s merely doing what seems to be the public part of his ivory-tower job, which it to provide axiomatic statements that may be completely wrong, but won’t confuse or upset the delicate voting public—something which I’ve often been accused.

It’s just that, in good conscience, I cannot agree that this was ever a wide-open race. Not only was the outcome was never in doubt, the participants conducted themselves as though they knew that sad truth.

This race was, as all races are, a contest of brute partisanship between armies of hacks where the biggest army crushes all the smaller armies. Olivia Chow had the biggest army of partisans, so she won.

But before she registered to run and immediately racked up an insurmountable lead, it was Josh Matlow who had the biggest army of partisans. For a few weeks, at least, there was the possibility Toronto would have its fourth Jewish mayor.

Partisans who determined there was a real chance of having an allegedly “progressive” mayor booked it over to Chow’s campaign at the first opportunity—over and above objections that her progressivism was suspect. The same was said about Matlow, but Chow had the bigger public profile.

She’s the widow of a politician voters could actually remember, and the fact that we’re not supposed to reduce female politicians to being an extension of their husbands didn’t matter. She ran for this job in 2014, only to be wiped out by John Tory, who would’ve crushed all comers had he offered himself to the electorate again. 

Tory didn’t want to show himself to be ruled by baser passions like partisanship—even though baser passions get the better of him is how we all got into this predicament in the first place. Yet the results might’ve only been different had his endorsement of Ana Bailão arrived a week earlier than it did.

And so the lesser right-leaning candidates spent weeks edging out one or two percentage points over one another. Bailão being a single-digit number of points up on Mark Saunders, or the other way around, was taken as concrete proof that either one of them was about to overtake Chow even as she remained head and shoulders above the rest.

Behind the scenes, Tory’s team worked for weeks to prop up Bailão, while doing a very poor job at pretending not to show their hands. Doug Ford, who swore neutrality in this race, came out and backed Saunders—the candidate who showed loyalty to the premier.

Below this fray sat Brad Bradford—who was forced to watch himself become the Jeb Bush of this campaign—and Anthony Furey, who earned notice because he alone played to the red-meat partisan conservative instincts. And when we look at the final positions of these two men, we see the lie that Torontonians tell themselves about how they would go for a kinder, gentler, safer conservatism if only such an option would present itself for what it is.

Once again, the brutal hierarchy of partisanship stands revealed. When you consider what I’ve laid out, the final result was way more obvious than the analysis of professor emeritus Nelson Wiseman. But this is too difficult to consider.

And so, we fall back on various kinds of cope, back into safe explanations for everything. 

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.