Oct. 14, 2003
 
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Hang on for an exciting ride


Welcome to the municipal election, Toronto. And in case you needed an exciting mayoral race to command your attention you are about to get it, less than a month to voting day, Nov. 10.

Barbara Hall, David Miller and John Tory are locked in a three-way race, with Miller making the largest gains, Tory steadily climbing and Hall's support falling like autumn leaves. John Nunziata and Tom Jakobek are so far out, and fading, they're relegated to playing the role of spoilers.

In election years, the day after Thanksgiving is when Torontonians traditionally turn their full attention to who's running for mayor, city councillor and school trustee. For some voters, it's the first time they start paying any attention.

How the top three candidates perform under the scrutiny leading to election day will determine who leads Toronto, likely for the rest of the decade.

Inside the bubble that surrounds each political campaign, the candidate is often the last to spot the trend, especially one bending downwards. That's because handlers and volunteers and followers and workers are there to boost the candidate, keep his or her spirits up through the peaks and valleys of the contest. It takes an independent outside force to inject reality into a campaign.

That reality check came from a Toronto Star poll published last Saturday. It provided a troubling snapshot for the Hall team. Though she still leads with 34 per cent of decided voter support, that number was once as high as 47 per cent.

As voters begin to listen up, she's being exposed as vulnerable.

Hall jumped out early in January, along with Nunziata, Jakobek and Miller. Tory jumped in by spring. And after 10 months, we are down to three with a real chance of winning. Miller (27 per cent) has vaulted into second place, with Tory third at 21 per cent.

Polls are not infallible; but modern research methods make them most accurate. This Star/Ekos poll is considered accurate to within four percentage points, 19 times out of 20. This could have been the rogue poll. But it would be foolish to believe so. The fact is that Hall has run, from what we can see, a disastrous campaign. Miller has parlayed one issue opposition to the island airport into an article of faith, a branding method, a means of separating him from the crowded field. And Tory has presented voters with the most comprehensive and thoughtful platform so far, propelling him from near zero recognition to a real threat.

Hall still leads. And her solid campaign organization that has its tentacles out into the suburbs may be able to sustain her through the difficult last month and deliver the votes on election day. No doubt she will step up media advertising and roll out a series of platform papers to show she still has the fire and drive to win this contest. But momentum is not on her side. She doesn't play well at debates, especially against the very proficient Tory, Miller, Nunziata and Jakobek all possessing greater debating skills. And we are into the big debating season, with three televised debates in the next three weeks.

Miller knew he was the man on the rise, even before the Star poll. He can expect greater scrutiny now that he's in this position.


`Weeks like this make my steps light. We are starting to close the gap.'

Mayoral candidate David Miller


"I had a fabulous week," he said Friday, before the Star poll results came out. "Weeks like this make my steps light. We are starting to close the gap. We are going to need all the way to election day to get there. I can feel it happen."

His opponents are going to play up his weak spot, his NDP connection as the only party member in the race. Sources close to the candidate say he considered dropping his NDP membership to make his candidacy more palatable, but dropped the idea because it would have been too transparent for a city councillor who consistently votes to the left of council.

As the city's fiscal condition becomes more of an issue, voters will want to know how Miller's pro-union position will affect budget, when almost 80 per cent of city spending goes to salaries.

"His Achilles heel is he's seen as a union supporter," says one supporter. "Can he get changes to the union contracts? Can he get the unionized workers to play ball?"

Miller's position will be, "Who better than me to get the unions to listen and be reasonable?"

Tory is the only non-politician of the bunch. But he will have to fend off questions about his days as a kitchen cabinet adviser to retiring Mayor Mel Lastman. He was also a strategist and fundraiser for the Progressive Conservative party and served as principal secretary to former premier Bill Davis.

Opponents will paint him as part of the old boys network that ruined the city's reputation even as he sells himself as the businessman who can turn around the city's fortunes and bring a needed rigour and self-discipline to city hall.

Toronto is extremely fortunate. None of the three will embarrass the city. There is not a dim bulb among them. Each is substantial, thoughtful, capable, energetic, intelligent and entirely supportable depending on the set of issues important to a particular voter.

With nearly half of the voters undecided, Tory, Miller and Hall will be the subject of much discussion and debate for the next month.

The next mayor could be elected by less than one-third of Toronto voters. The proverbial "every vote counts" may turn out to be true.

Literally.


Royson James usually appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email: [email protected]





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