Don't abandon Miller for Furious George

Post by Eric Mang in ,

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george-smitherman
"Furious" George Smitherman

A few weeks ago, in the midst of the Toronto civic strike, Deputy Premier of Ontario, George Smitherman organized a street clean up. When asked if he was sending a not-so-subtle signal that he might run for mayor in 2010, Smitherman brushed the suggestion off and said that his current job was “fantastic”.

The notion of Smitherman for mayor has been in the news for months, but Smitherman has always played coy when asked.

Now, it seems that after paddling around on a lake during his vacation, Smitherman may have changed his mind: “I don't have a campaign statement, I've just acknowledged publicly that, yeah, it's something that I'm thinking about.”

Nicknamed Furious George because of his hot-temper and gift to speak before he thinks, Smitherman seems to have struck some sort of pact with former Progressive Conservative leader and failed mayoral candidate, John Tory. According to the CBC, the two want to make sure that Torontonians have “clear choices”. Read: only one right-wing choice at a time, thank you very much.

I’ve written about possible challengers to Miller and noted that until someone to carry the conservative banner emerges, Miller has little to worry about. Most right-wing Councillors such as Karen Stintz or Denzil Minnan-Wong or Rob Ford either have little name recognition, come off as too right-leaning for Toronto, or in the case of the last Councillor mentioned, have become the butt of jokes (go ahead and google Rob Ford).

Smitherman could pose a serious threat to Miller, more so than Tory. Indeed, if Tory excels at one thing in politics, it’s losing. Smitherman has a drive to win and, judging by their public personae, Smitherman is combative and prickly while Tory was tossed by his own party for being too nice (there’s today’s conservative for you – the Red Tory has been expunged).

But the only reason I’d like to see Smitherman win is so that I have screeds to write about Toronto’s mayor. Let’s be clear: Smitherman is not a progressive, even if he fancies himself one.

As I’ve said before, progressives shouldn’t abandon Miller. I know that CUPE is pissed that Miller released details of an agreement publicly before allowing both parties to negotiate and I know that Locals 416 and 79 aren’t pleased with Miller’s overall handling of the strike, and I agree with CUPE. Miller did fumble the file and tried too hard to appeal to Bay Street when he should have recognized the needs of Main Street.

Snubbing Miller at the Labour Day parade may have been appropriate, but let’s not forget who the alternative could be. Will Smitherman be as supportive of unions? Will he champion progressive causes? Will he take risks with public money and then privatize the profits (like the Pan Am Games)?

Will Smitherman recognize that taxes need to be raised from time to time to pay for a broad array of municipal services and have the courage to raise those taxes despite the apoplectic fits likely to be had by lobby groups like the Toronto Board of Trade and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business?

Will Smitherman realize that limitless expansion can’t be sustained and that it might be time to start talking about the future without simultaneously invoking the word “growth”?

Will he press on with green initiatives despite the old codgers of yesteryear and their burning desire for the automobile?

Progressives can be annoyed with Miller, but are we willing to replace him with a right-wing mayor? Think carefully about what you want for Toronto before you abandon Miller.

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