George Smitherman has a private moment with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty
A few years ago, I met Ontario’s current Deputy Premier George Smitherman. I mentioned that I had once worked for the BC Liberals.
Smitherman, who was scanning the room over my shoulder, looking for someone of greater importance, sniffed that he was a “real” liberal. I asked what that meant. He finally looked at me and said, “I’m progressive”. He then sauntered off to speak to older men in nicer suits.
Since that meeting, I’ve heard good thinks about Smitherman (that he can be compassionate) and not so good things (he’s a hot-tempered yeller – his nickname is “Furious George”). But would he make a good mayor of Toronto?
Yesterday, Smitherman was on the streets in his riding of Toronto Centre, hoisting garbage bags. When asked about being a scab, Smitherman replied: “"Why is that a concern? I think that a lot of people are going to say: Hey, there's a guy who actually knows how to operate a broom”
For those with hazy memories or who don’t follow Toronto municipal politics, current Mayor David Miller used a broom in his 2003 campaign to symbolize his promise to clean up the city. A clean-up that was needed after too many years with Mel “Nooooobody” Lastman.
Miller beat conservative challenger John Tory (who went on to lose many other elections) and had no problem beating featherweight Jane Pitfield in 2006.
It looks like Miller could be on his way to another victory on November 8, 2010. Miller, a former card-carrying member of the NDP, who has also run as an NDP candidate provincially (1996) and federally (1993), has prompted the Liberals/Conservatives to sniff around for one of their own to put forward as a mayoral candidate.
Right-wing Councillors Karen Stintz (who spent $4500 on public speaking lessons), Denzil Minnan-Wong (who opposes cycling initiatives but is learning how to ride a bike) and Rob Ford (who’s managed to stay out of the media lately by not getting drunk and cussing out people, but he did call cyclists a “pain in the ass” for motorists) aren’t exactly the right’s dream team. Yes, Miller has taken a beating in polls over the civic worker’s strike, but for now, Miller won’t have a tough go trouncing any one of this trio.
Enter George Smitherman. As a former chief of staff to former Mayor Barbara Hall, he knows his way around City Hall (or at least he did. There are a lot of “formers” in that last sentence). He’s been an MPP since 1999 and has friends and colleagues around Queen’s Park.
But I ask again, is he the “progressive” mayor Toronto needs? He got emotional about Ontario’s nursing home seniors living in squalor, but he failed to improve their lives. He was criticized for not allowing an independent investigation into the C. difficile deaths in Ontario hospitals. He has to be less about words and more about action.
Of course, when asked if he was using the garbage clean-up as a signal for mayoral intentions, he gave a firm “no”.
If Smitherman has no designs on Toronto City Hall, then the Liberal/Conservatives could continue to push John Tory. But after losing the municipal election in 2003, the provincial election in 2007, a by-election in 2009, and then turfed as Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader, taking another chance in the Toronto mayoral race poses big risks for Tory. Right now, he still has some political currency. Another loss could be devastating to his reputation.
The right-wing in Toronto city politics continues its search for a flag-waving champion. So far, Miller has nothing to worry about.
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