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Mayor-elect Rob Ford is greeted by his supporters at the Toronto Congress Centre in Toronto after winning the election. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Mayor-elect Rob Ford is greeted by his supporters at the Toronto Congress Centre in Toronto after winning the election. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

A tempest in Toronto's teapot Add to ...

Call it the Twin Towers syndrome. And when it takes hold, observers of things Canadian go astray.

The two towers are the Peace Tower in Ottawa and the CN Tower in Toronto. When those who live in sight of either tower equate what goes on in those areas with the whole country, beware - because the syndrome is at work again.

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Just now, we're afflicted with the CN Tower syndrome - the belief that populist right-winger Rob Ford's election as mayor of Toronto offers a harbinger of what lies ahead across Canada, or at least across Ontario. It's Canada's first taste of the angry, anti-tax, smaller-government rage of the Tea Party movement, some of whose candidates won in Tuesday's U.S. midterm elections.

When one moves out of sight of the CN Tower, however, things look rather different. Presumably, if the Ford phenomenon reflected deep-seated anger and anti-government rage, we'd find the evidence elsewhere in Ontario, and even beyond. So let's look.

As it turns out, mayoral incumbents did quite well. Hazel McCallion, who, at 89, defies partisan description, just kept rolling along in Mississauga. Susan Fennell, a Progressive Conservative federal candidate in 1993 (when that moderate party still existed), won again in Brampton. Eddie Francis, another moderate, won in Windsor. Carl Zehr, who once ran for the provincial Liberals, triumphed in Kitchener.

New mayors included such un-Ford-like winners as Joe Fontana, a former Liberal MP, in London, and Maurizio Bevilacqua, another former Liberal MP, in Vaughan. Mark Gerretsen, Kingston's new mayor, championed the environment in his campaign, beating a candidate who, Ford-like, promised to cut taxes by 8 per cent over the next four years.

Jeff Lehman, an impressive candidate on paper, won in Barrie while pledging he wouldn't "put services at risk by promising an irresponsible tax freeze just to get elected." Brian McMullan of St. Catharines is a former chair of the Recycling Council of Ontario and, as such, doesn't sound too Ford-like. Bob Bratina, a radio host (but not a right-wing shock jock), won in Hamilton.

In Ottawa, Ontario's second-largest city, the candidate closest to the Ford approach, Larry O'Brien (he had promised four years ago to freeze taxes and failed, of course) was clobbered by Jim Watson, a former provincial cabinet minister and a quintessential moderate and conciliator.

So maybe a Ford-like candidate was successful somewhere in Ontario. But in most of the province's cities, from St. Catharines to Kingston to Ottawa, there wasn't any winner, or even serious challenger, who sounded like one.

Same thing outside Ontario, where two incumbents were re-elected in major cities: Sam Katz in Winnipeg and Stephen Mandel in Edmonton. Mr. Katz fought off a stiff challenge from Judy Wasylycia-Leis, a former NDP MP, but his conservatism is traditional chamber-of-commerce conservatism, not the Ford-style populism. And, of course, in Calgary, newcomer Naheed Nenshi defeated two candidates backed by various members of Calgary's Family Compact of the Conservative Party and oil money: Ric McIver and Barb Higgins.

What about that U.S. Tea Party? Isn't it creeping across the border? Didn't Mr. Ford's win presage its Canadian version?

Bruce Anderson, one of Canada's smartest pollsters, wanted to test the anger factor in Canada - anger being an emotional driver of the Tea Party. It turns out that a minority of the Canadian electorate is "angry," but those who are angry are divided among parties in nearly the same share the parties have of the popular vote. There are "angry" people in all parties, albeit for entirely different reasons. Nothing remotely like Tea Party rage pervades Canada. And if that rage were driving politics, you might expect to see the Harper Conservatives soaring - which, of course, they're not.

Mr. Ford's win had everything to do with the particular circumstances of Toronto. It had nothing to do with anything else in Ontario or Canada, let alone some kind of ersatz Canadian version of a Tea Party.

It was a mighty tempest in the Toronto cup, and Toronto, as every Canadian who doesn't live within sight of the CN Tower knows, sure ain't Canada.

 

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