Sure, "bags, bottles and bicycles" are the wrong priorities for the majority of the electorate, but they aren't inherently wrong. Torontonians are pretty leftish and Green. Threatening to be the pro-car, anti-recycling Mayor isn't the sweet spot for that electorate.
To win a mayor's race against an incumbent on the left doesn't mean you have to define yourself as the candidate of the right. It means defining yourself as the right candidate for the job.
The third piece of conventional wisdom is the thinking that the good way to run is to run as a Conservative. It is held by many organizers, possibly even a majority of those looking for a candidate to back.
Tim Hudak was commenting on the race recently, and said "I'm always happy to see strong people who have a right-of-centre position who are interested in serving the city of Toronto."
It makes sense that Hudak would. He is a right-of-centre leader of a right-of-centre party. But how successful has that right-of-centre agenda been in Toronto of late?
Right now, there isn't a single right-of-centre representative at the provincial or federal level of government in the entire city of Toronto.
Provincially, Toronto's representatives are four New Democrats and nineteen Liberals. Federally, it's two New Democrats and twenty-one Liberals.
The last Conservatives at either level elected in the City of Toronto were voted into office in 1999.
There are Conservatives on city council. Almost all are holdovers from the nineties or earlier for whom incumbency, not party, has been their singular advantage.
This could change. But if I was standing in a desert and hoping plate techtonics would create a mountain, I wouldn't get up every day and put on ski gear.
Similarly, if I was a Tory thinking of running in Toronto, I'd probably put that at the very bottom of my resume.
Running as an unabashed Conservative for mayor is a bad idea. Running someone who is a Liberal, even a business Liberal, or a here-to-for non-partisan is a superior placement given the electorate wasteland that Toronto is for Conservatives, red or blue.
There may be room for a card-carrying PC to run, but they will need to subsume their affiliation beneath centrist positioning and rhetoric.
The last piece of conventional wisdom is the absence of concern about what the ballot question needs to me.
Every election I've worked on where the campaign couldn't define their chosen ballot question immediately and show how everything they were doing was building to that decision, they lost.
The ballot question from a non-Miller perspective needs to be "change vs. more of the same."
To do that, the candidate needs to define change in a way that is bold and yet non-threatening to the electors you need to win.
(This is not yet an election where the electorate is looking for "immediate radical change vs. this godawful status quo" as they were in 1995 in Ontario or 2001 in British Columbia. The city still works. It's just not heading in the right direction.)
To her credit, Karen Stintz has done more to lay out this type of a vision than the other contenders to the chain of office.
Stintz would upload Union Station to the province, making it into a regional transit hub, instead of the mall envisioned by the current city administration.
She announced she would review city assets for sale, including Toronto Hydro, Enwave and the Parking Authority. As Stintz pointed out, sitting on billions in assets while contemplating defaulting on welfare payments is simply unjust.
This is the kind of change a majority of electors wants and can handle: Getting out of things city governments don't need to be in to do the things they should better.
The competition for those who want to challenge Miller shouldn't be "who can be the most anti-Miller." It needs to be a contest of ideas to improve the city, rationally and pragmatically.
Because a single anti-Miller candidate won't prevail if he or she doesn't have a clear vision of where they want to take the city.
Those power brokers and organizational barons current swapping advice on who they should back for mayor need to take a very clear eyed look at the challenge before them, because it is far more complex than whittling the field down to the last person standing and then getting behind them.
Personality and ideology and party and ideas still matter.