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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)

More immigrants back Ford for mayor, poll finds Add to ...

With barely two days to go in an 11-month mayoral race, a new poll shows Rob Ford pulling ahead - and it indicates his support is strong among Toronto's immigrant communities.

A new Ekos poll of 500 Torontonians, conducted over an abnormally long nine-day time period, puts the Etobicoke councillor ahead by about 8 percentage points - with 43.9 per cent compared with George Smitherman's 35.6. Joe Pantalone garnered 15 per cent.

But among those born outside of Canada, Mr. Ford's margin rose to 51.7 per cent, over Mr. Smitherman's 30.1 per cent.

That's a significant get for a candidate who courted controversy when he declared that Toronto, about half of whose population was born outside Canada, would be better off if it didn't have to accept more immigrants. But it also could speak to the power of his appeal - especially as the city's immigrants are facing higher unemployment and poverty rates even as the rest of the country pulls itself out of recession.

But for Jagdish Grewal, it's simple: Mr. Ford - who has been the Punjabi-Canadian's councillor for a decade - is someone who gets things done. "He's the one who's doing something - he's not only talking, he is doing work at the ground level as well," Mr. Grewal said.

Pollster Frank Graves admitted the poll, conducted via robo-call of both land lines and cellphones between Oct. 13 and Oct. 21, doesn't have an ideal time-frame. But he said the unusually long period doesn't affect its accuracy.

"Frankly, I would have rather had a short time frame," he said. "But because of the way we were sampling, we just didn't have the cases to go in and blitz it overnight. But I did look at whether there was a lot of volatility over the time period, and there wasn't."

Mr. Graves was quick to note that anything can happen in the next few days and that municipal elections are difficult to predict.

But "it looks good for Ford," he said. "If I was betting money, I'd say he was going to win. But I wouldn't bet the farm."

The poll is accurate within 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. It comes as candidates broke out the rhetoric in final pushes to get out the vote and sway any remaining undecided Torontonians. While Mr. Smitherman trumpeted an endorsement from former mayor David Crombie - his first since leaving city politics more than two decades ago - Mr. Ford's camp attacked the former deputy premier over his refusal to publish his donor list in advance, and over new allegations of misspending by Ontario's Health Ministry, some of them occurring when Mr. Smitherman was health minister.

Mr. Ford announced Friday that, if elected, he would push to change electoral laws that allow candidates to wait until five months after voting day to reveal who bankrolled their campaigns.

"His chief opponent in this election has chosen not to [release his list of donors,]rdquo; said campaign spokeswoman Adrienne Batra. "What is he hiding?"

Mr. Smitherman said he simply intends to obey the rules, which oblige candidates to submit the names and addresses of people who donate more than $100 by March 25, 2011. The list is posted online.

"The law … clearly says by which time you have to file an audited statement of your donations and your expenses and I'll fully comply with the law," he said.

At Mr. Smitherman's Friday announcement in North York's Mel Lastman Square, Mr. Crombie said while he usually refrains from endorsing candidates, he feels the stakes in this election are too high not to do so.

"The stakes are higher because economically we're going to have to travel much faster and harder because we're going to lose.… For the next four years, cities are going to be really under the gun. And I've worked with George Smitherman on a couple of things, and I think he's the man that can help us get there," he said, adding that people keep asking him who they should vote for. "Up until now I was saying, 'Look, you choose.' But I think the stakes are high. I'm not kidding. So I had to be clear."

If Mr. Smitherman is elected, Mr. Crombie - once known as the "tiny, perfect mayor" - has agreed to act as his special adviser in pursuing a community hubs strategy that would turn schools and other neighbourhood centres into nuclei of services.

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