This is the 15th in a series of opinion columns on Ontario’s 2022 municipal elections, written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.
Somewhere outside the Greater Toronto Area, there’s a town I used to frequent where the very non-Jewish local folk called the sitting Liberal MPP “Schlumpy.” Never to his face, of course.
As a result, on a number of occasions I had to explain what a “schlump” was. When they heard that it was an actual word with a definition, they laughed and said it fit him better than they expected. All they knew was, it wasn’t anything good.
Well, I suppose the joke’s on them, because as of last night, “Schlumpy” is their mayor. And guess what? If you’re a person with local name recognition, for good or for ill, this election proved that you’ll always be way ahead of the pack.
Failed provincial leader? Radio show host? Local pavement-pounding activist? Person with a national profile? That’ll get you a lot farther than having awesome policy, a handful of newspaper endorsements, relevant experience, horse race polls, or social media bona fides.
Plus, it’ll save you from damaging allegations of financial impropriety, visible signs of decline under your watch, or having negative charisma.
We haven’t even concluded the Winnipeg municipals yet—and I’d be willing to bet that Glen Murray will be returned as mayor despite having last been seen in that position in 2004. I know who he is. You know who he is. Everything else—and there’s a lot of everything else when it comes to Glen—doesn’t seem to matter as much.
The winning Jewish names we talked to for this column (Emma Cunningham, Ariel Troster, Gila Martow and Dianne Saxe) all built their victories out of being super-visible and drawing votes from folks who may not have even liked their politics, but knew and liked them.
Surprise squeakers like Saxe’s late-night come-from-behind wouldn’t have been possible if dissatisfied Liberals and Conservatives hadn’t been able to pick her out of a lineup. (And of course, props to all four very politically different Jewish women for showing us all how it’s done!)
Perhaps the person who missed this fundamental point the most out of anybody was the man who was portrayed as John Tory’s main mayoral challenger, Gil Penalosa.
Watching him run about Toronto trying to tell anybody who listened that he represented change and receiving blank stares in response was one of the most cringeworthy performances I’ve ever seen. He had the credentials, but not the name recognition.
Meanwhile, if there was a vote-killer in this election, it was time-wasting on social media. We heard so much this cycle about how “the trustee races were getting more attention than the city council races!”
We had lots of news articles about how hate-mongers were afoot, preying on innocent voters and spinning dark conspiracy theories about child groomers in the classroom. We had political strategists renew decades-old grudges while voters shrugged their shoulders.
We even heard from Ben and Jerry’s Canada in a bizarre U.S.-style corporate special election message about far-right candidates, courtesy of the folks at the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
This being Canada, these wokesters and anti-wokesters issued their multi-page voting guides and endless hashtags while failing to emphasize just who the hell they were talking about.
And, of course, to the confusion and consternation of all, some Middle East politics found their way into the election conversation. Once again, the usual suspects tried to make hay over the IHRA definition of antisemitism and anti-Israel educational materials.
I know, I know—this is of great interest to readers of The Canadian Jewish News and associated community people. But once you move outside of the big cities, you get that glassy-eyed look from local trustees as soon as the word “Israel” comes out of your mouth.
There’s one particular showdown over the IHRA definition that’s brewing about an hour from Toronto where the woke/anti-woke warriors and the concerned parties when it comes to antisemitism in the classroom are trying to make an alliance of convenience. Stay tuned for that one in a couple of months, folks!
Until then: if you’re looking to make a difference municipally, get out there and start making a name for yourself locally. Ignore polls, Twitter blow-ups, or agonizing about the right or wrong answer to every question. Accept no substitutes for good old door-knocking and vote-pulling.
And remember: no matter what the current year is, or whether you’re in Thornhill or Tobermory, all local politics is, and will forever stay, local!
Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.