National Post editorial board October 27, 2010 – 7:25 am
On Tuesday, Toronto awoke to a new era. After seven years of Mayor David Miller, voters did an abrupt U-turn and elected the fiscally prudent, anti-elite, suburban candidate, Etobicoke Councillor Rob Ford, as their next mayor. The event brought back memories of the 1995 Ontario provincial election, when Mike Harris, then the Progressive Conservative MP for North Bay, swept to victory on a wave of discontent with the big-spending, leftist regime of Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae. Then, as now, voters rejected the urbane vision presented to them by centre-left politicians, one which placed government at the centre of their lives.
But Mr. Ford’s victory represents more than just a backlash against busybody government and big spending: It represents a potential right-turn in the voting patterns of Canada’s immigrant communities.
Notwithstanding what Mr. Ford’s opponents and their Toronto Star echo chamber wanted voters to believe, white men aren’t the only Torontonians who went to the polls in an angry mood: Almost half of voters marked the ballot for a candidate who promised to “stop the gravy train” that has been running far too long.
You only had to walk through Mr. Ford’s victory party— as one editorial board member did on Monday night — to see how the city’s electoral allegiances are changing. The crowd was a representative mix, ethnically speaking, of the city the new mayor is now to govern. Turbaned Sikhs partied with Chinese families. Black and white children chased each other around the tables. Jews, Muslims and Christians cheered and applauded Mr. Ford’s speech. The whole diorama seemed like something out of a public-service advertisement for diversity—except it was all real.
This should not come as a surprise: An EKOS poll published two days before the vote gave Mr. Ford 51.7% of the vote of respondents born outside of Canada, compared to only 30.1% for Mr. Smitherman — despite statements made by Mr. Ford about Toronto’s difficulty in absorbing more newcomers, which were seized on as anti-immigrant by his rivals.
Indeed, throughout this campaign, Mr. Ford’s chief opponent, former provincial Liberal Cabinet minister George Smitherman, repeatedly claimed that he was the candidate who embraced diversity. But diversity didn’t return the favour. That’s because Mr. Smitherman has become part of the political establishment, with a canned definition of diversity to match.
Most newcomers to Toronto don’t have time to dwell on how to make Toronto “inclusive.” They aren’t interested in alternative art exhibits or publicly funded ethnic festivals. They are busy working long hours to feed their children and put a roof over their heads. They also don’t sympathize with “fair wage” policies that pay inflated prices to keep unions happy, at the expense of taxpayers who have to get by on market wages.
True inclusiveness for immigrants in Toronto — and everywhere in Canada — means getting a good job so children can enjoy a higher standard of living than their parents. Participating in society is not achieved through parades or earnest bus shelter posters (a staple of urban Toronto), but by climbing the economic ladder. And that means electing politicians, at all levels of government, who will create an atmosphere where business can flourish and create jobs, and where the taxpayers’ interests come before those of big labour and special interests.
Mr. Ford may be as white-bread a suburbanite as can be, and personally wealthy to boot, but he has stood up for the “little guy” his entire political career. He empathizes with the underdog — having been a political underdog himself in his battle against a largely left-leaning council. Immigrants are underdogs too, starting over in a new land to build a new life. And clearly, many saw a quality in Mr. Ford with which they could identify.
Looking beyond Toronto, the results bode well for the provincial Progressive Conservatives, and possibly the federal Tories as well. Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak could translate voter anger at City Hall to rebellion against Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals at Queen’s Park. And both parties could capitalize on inroads Mr. Ford made into the ethnic communities that have long been Liberal fiefdoms.
Mr. Ford ran a disciplined, focused campaign with one main goal in mind: cutting waste at City Hall. To retain the trust of the people who elected him, he will now have to deliver on that promise. Both Old Toronto and New Toronto, as well as politicians across the country, will be keeping a close eye on his progress.