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Toronto mayoral candidates George Smitherman, left, and Rob Ford leave a debate. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto mayoral candidates George Smitherman, left, and Rob Ford leave a debate. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Ford, Smitherman in dead heat: poll Add to ...

Rob Ford and George Smitherman are in a dead heat in the last lap of the mayor's race, according to a new poll that suggests the former deputy premier's "stop-Ford" drive is finally gaining traction.

The Ipsos-Reid poll of 400 people conducted over the Thanksgiving weekend is the first public poll since June to find the frontrunners virtually tied, with 31 per cent of the 400 people surveyed saying they'd vote for Mr. Smitherman if the vote were held today, and 30 per cent supporting Mr. Ford. When only people who say they're certain to vote are counted, that lead grows to 38 for Mr. Smitherman over 32 for Mr. Ford.

But the people gravitating towards Mr. Smitherman aren't doing so because they're enamoured with the former energy and infrastructure minister's policy promises, new poll results released Thursday morning indicate: They just don't like Mr. Ford, and are drawn to support the candidate most likely to beat him.

When asked who they trust most, Mr. Ford came out ahead - with 28 per cent of those polled over Mr. Smitherman's 21 per cent. Among people who say they're likely to actually cast ballots, 31 per cent say they trust Mr. Ford, and 25 trust Mr. Smitherman.

And those who like Mr. Ford trust him, a lot: 77 per cent of Mr. Ford's supporters said they trust him, compared with 58 per cent for Mr. Smitherman.

"Smitherman's support is partly driven by proxy to stop Ford," said Ipsos-Reid pollster John Wright.

"If you don't trust George Smitherman that much, and you don't like Rob Ford, you're going to go out and vote against Ford and for Smitherman. They're willing to give up the trust and other factors."

That's just fine by him, Mr. Smitherman says.

"When they count the ballots on election night they don't split them into different piles - they're either for you or your opponents. ... Obviously [Mr. Ford's]plans and values for Toronto are very different from mine. We've got an optimistic and positive viewpoint that's based on progressive values and want to be able to move our city forward. The next 10 or 12 days gives us a chance to keep building the number of people that are part of our voting base."

Mr. Ford said in a statement he isn't fazed by the new numbers.

"As I've said all along, polls go up and down, and the only one that matters is on October 25th. I'm going to keep working as hard as I can, and leave it up to the voters of Toronto as to who they trust to get the city's finances in order."

The Etobicoke councillor didn't stray from his familiar talking points during a 15-minute luncheon speech to the Toronto Board of Trade Wednesday, which drew a polite standing ovation from about half the audience.

If he edges out Mr. Smitherman, Mr. Ford expects he'll be working with a more co-operative council. He predicted "15-20" fresh faces would be sent to City Hall Oct. 25, although there are only nine open seats and incumbents are notoriously difficult to defeat.

Deputy mayor Joe Pantalone garnered 11 per cent of the vote, while four per cent of those polled said they'd vote for Rocco Rossi if the vote were held tomorrow.

This shows a significant change from previous polls, which gave Mr. Ford a commanding lead: A 1,000-person Nanos poll conducted for The Globe, CTV and CP24 in early September gave Mr. Ford a 24 percentage point lead; an Ipsos-Reid poll conducted Sept 24-26 gave Mr. Ford a five percentage point lead - 28 per cent of the 400 people surveyed, compared with 23 per cent for Mr. Smitherman.

Mr. Ford, whose mantra of cutting waste at City Hall has given him momentum since he entered the race in March, became the candidate to beat after Labour Day. Mr. Smitherman has sold himself as the candidate most likely to defeat the grandiloquent Etobicoke councillor, and it appears to be working: He has won endorsements from both sides of the political spectrum - from the likes of councillor Joe Mihevc, who said he would otherwise have supported Mr. Pantalone but is worried about his ability to defeat Mr. Ford, and writer Peter C. Newman, who had previously supported Mr. Rossi but subsequently changed his mind for the same reason.

The poll also indicated a sizable number of voters are still on the fence, however: A quarter of those polled said they still have no idea whom they'll vote for come Oct. 25. And while the majority - 54 per cent - of those polled said they intend to cast a ballot on election day, voter intention was highest in Etobicoke, (73 per cent), followed by Toronto (60 per cent), East York (53 per cent), Scarborough (51 per cent) and North York (38 per cent). Mr. Pantalone's supporters said they're the most likely to vote, with 72 per cent saying they intend to cast a ballot. He's followed by those supporting Mr. Smitherman (65 per cent), Rob Ford (57 per cent) and Rocco Rossi (37 per cent).

The Ipsos-Reid poll is accurate within 4.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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