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Deputy premier George Smitherman helps clean up garbage on July 14 as part of a new volunteer effort during the Toronto strike. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Deputy premier George Smitherman helps clean up garbage on July 14 as part of a new volunteer effort during the Toronto strike. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Adam Radwanski

Reinventing George Smitherman Add to ...

Now that's what you call a game-changer.

George Smitherman, understandably, is lying low today. It's probably a good communications decision, since he needs to avoid providing ammunition to critics who suggest his obvious interest in Toronto's mayoralty means he should remove himself - or be removed - from the provincial cabinet. But Ontario's deputy premier is probably also coming to terms with the degree to which he needs to reposition himself for that municipal run.

Until today, Toronto seemed headed for a November 2010 referendum on David Miller. There were no guarantees that Miller would lose it, since he's a good campaigner and still has a strong on-the-ground organization, but suffice it to say he would have faced an uphill battle. Provided that Smitherman was able to position himself as the leading anti-Miller candidate, which he was well on his way to doing, it would have given him an excellent shot at the mayor's office.

Now that Miller is out of the picture, Smitherman will need to run not as an unofficial opposition leader straddling the spectrum, but as the centrist candidate trying to carve out turf while being pressed from either side.

Most of that pressure will come from Smitherman's right; it's a good bet that John Tory will now run, if he wasn't already planning on it, and Karen Stintz - who's been positioning herself for a run - may conclude that a wide-open field is a help rather than a hindrance. But meanwhile, with Miller no longer the default option for NDP supporters and organized labour and, it's a good bet that someone from Toronto council's considerable left will enter the fray as well.

Smitherman's still probably got the strongest shot of that crowd, since he has the best combination of name-recognition, street-smarts and organizational pull. But in a race that will be about choosing a new vision, rather than just moving on from an old one, he'll now need to define himself in a way that wouldn't otherwise have been necessary.

As well, rather than mostly consolidating anti-Miller votes, Smitherman will now need to dip into the Mayor's support base to counter his opponents on the right. Had he known that was the case, it's a fair bet he wouldn't have been out this summer indirectly scoring points against the unions by doing their jobs for them.

Smitherman, in other words, will likely still be a candidate for mayor. He just won't be the same candidate everyone expected him to be.

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