Did Rob Ford lose the election for Tim Hudak?
We can't know for sure, of course. Exactly why voters soured on the Tory leader, who was streets ahead of Dalton McGuinty's Liberals only a few months ago, is hard to say. Perhaps they preferred Mr. McGuinty's more positive, forward-looking message. Perhaps Mr. Hudak simply didn't click with voters. Voting motives are notoriously hard to divine.
But we do know this: This summer, just before the election campaign began, Mr. Ford got into hot water with his plans for big budget cuts. There was talk of closing libraries, selling off kids' zoos and cutting daycare spaces. It became clear, as it should have been all along, that Mr. Ford's election promise not to cut services, “guaranteed,” was nonsense. The idea that he could cut taxes, cut spending and still keep delivering all the same city services just as before was voodoo economics at its worst.
The controversy could not have come at a worst time for Mr. Hudak, who campaigned on a message that sounded awfully similar. Respect for taxpayers. Ease the tax burden on families. Control government spending. Yet still delivering all the good things people expect from government – in the provincial government's case, mainly decent education and health care.
The message, which had seemed like a sure-fire winner after Mr. Ford's startling rise to office on the stop-the-gravy-train express, fell flat. It seems at least possible that having been sold a pig in a poke by Mr. Ford, Toronto voters did not want to invest in another porker from Mr. Hudak.
If Mr. Ford did play a role in Mr. Hudak's defeat, what a reversal it would be for the Toronto mayor. He is, of course, a blue diaper baby, raised in the Conservative creed by his late businessman father, an Ontario Conservative MPP. He endorsed Conservative Stephen Harper in the last federal election. Jim Flaherty, the finance minister, is a friend of the Ford family. He was no doubt hoping for what Mr. Harper called a “Tory hat trick”, by having Conservative governments in Ottawa, Queen's Park and city hall.
Now he is left facing a re-elected, if diminished, McGuinty government. So much for Ford Nation, the once-potent political force that Mr. Ford threatened to unleash if Mr. McGuinty turned down his demand for more money for transit, roads and other Toronto needs. Mr. Hudak failed to make any kind of breakthrough in Greater Toronto, which remains a Liberal fortress provincially.
If Mr. Ford is feeling deflated by the Tory failure, he wasn't showing it when he appeared on CBC Radio the morning after the vote. He laughed off the idea that he might be to blame, saying that "my name wasn't on the ballot." He called a Liberal government "excellent" for Toronto and said he had shown he could work with McGuinty and would work with the other two leaders as well.///
Hopes for wringing more money out of Queen's Park for Toronto were going to be dim whichever party won the election. With the budget deficit at $14-billion, and threatening to rise if the global economy worsens, the cupboard truly is bare. But Mr. Hudak might have at least been a little more sympathetic to his Tory brother at city hall.
Now, Mr. Ford faces a premier who can justifiably claim that he has already done a lot for Toronto. He started the process of uploading costs that had been downloaded on the city by the Conservative government of Mike Harris. He came through with billions for expanded transit. How likely is he now to come through with more benefits for Mr. Ford, a man who, when he was running for office, said Toronto should stop running cap in hand to the federal and provincial governments to fix its money troubles?
One slender hope for city hall comes from the NDP's Andrea Horwath, who looks set to hold the balance of power in a Liberal minority government. Her party's platform promises to share transit costs equally with municipal governments if, in exchange, they promise to freeze transit fares for four years. Toronto has been hoping for years for a return to the days when Queen's Park paid 50 per cent of the cost of the Toronto Transit Commission.