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Who's afraid of Rob Ford? Add to ...

I have to admit, I was puzzled when I saw this story in the Star over the weekend.

I don't doubt that many provincial Liberals are aghast at the idea of Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto. And I know that a good number of those Liberals are, to varying degrees, helping out George Smitherman.

But the notion that they're panicking about the impact a Ford win would have on their own chances in next year's provincial election is a bit dubious.

Sure, a few Liberals might worry about a Conservative "beachhead" in Toronto, as one unnamed source told the Star. But most strategists, Liberal and Conservative alike, would tell you that a Ford win would hardly be a "disaster" for Dalton McGuinty.

From the Premier's perspective, it might well be preferable to a win by Smitherman.

The important thing to remember here is that there will be nearly a year between this year's municipal election and next year's provincial one - more than enough time for the next mayor's honeymoon to wear off.

That seems an excellent prospect with Ford in particular, whose track record suggests there'd be all kinds of foibles during his first months in office. At best, it would be obvious by October 2011 that he couldn't do all the things he said he would do, at least not as painlessly as he said he would do them.

It's possible that Ford would get the public back on his side later in his mandate. But I'd be shocked if there wasn't some degree of backlash early on - a backlash that could make people in the Toronto area more wary of change, not more inclined to embrace it.

Conversely, if Smitherman is elected, there's a good chance that the change dynamic - which already seems to be pretty strong - will grow stronger.

For one thing, it won't have been sated by Ford. Meanwhile, Smitherman will be seen as a McGuinty proxy. And when he doesn't have all the answers for the city's problems, let alone has foibles of his own, there will be an even stronger sense of Liberal fatigue.

Again, none of this will dissuade many provincial Liberals from working against Ford. But that decision will have more to do with their antipathy toward him, or in some cases their loyalty to Smitherman, than with any broader strategic goal.

 

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