Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow may be polling in third place, but she and John Tory are neck-and-neck in another battle: the accumulation of political endorsements.
On Thursday, Ms. Chow released a list of nearly five dozen influential women publicly backing her run, including academics, journalists, child-care advocates and city councillors, as she pledged to help fight what she called "Toronto's gender pay gap." Minutes later, Mr. Tory announced another city councillor backing his run.
But whether the political endorsements will help them, or hurt their rival Doug Ford because he has none other than his brother, Mayor Rob Ford, is an open question.
Activists Judy Rebick, Michele Landsberg, Naomi Klein and filmmaker Deepa Mehta joined councillors Paula Fletcher, Janet Davis and Sarah Doucette in a statement praising Ms. Chow's experience and policies: "Olivia Chow's entire platform is based on a profound understanding of issues of concern to women – and that 'women's issues' such as accessible, affordable child care are equality issues, economic issues, and should be election issues." Ms. Fletcher said she had not intended to pick sides, but felt compelled to step up because of the racist and sexist comments Ms. Chow has faced during the campaign.
Shortly after that mass endorsement, Mr. Tory appeared with Denzil Minnan-Wong, a former Rob Ford ally who cited the "complete legislative gridlock" at city hall over the past two years of Ford scandals as the primary reason he and other former Ford supporters, including councillor Gary Crawford, have moved their support to the front-runner. Mr. Minnan-Wong added that "the Fords … are just so toxic and divisive."
Over the past few weeks, Mr. Tory's campaign has issued a steady drumbeat of similar endorsements from business leaders, city councillors and both Liberal and Conservative politicians.
Still, observers note that Rob Ford swept to victory in 2010 with very few endorsements, even as his opponent George Smitherman collected them like good-luck charms.
One political scientist said endorsements can help guide voters in a municipal election, where political parties are not openly involved. "Your average voter, I'm not sure they would really know the difference, ideologically speaking, between an Olivia Chow and a John Tory," said Neil Thomlinson, an associate professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson University. Endorsements "become a kind of shorthand, similar to party labels in a provincial or federal election, that tells the voter what kind of person they're dealing with here."
But a lack of endorsements can also be spun to political advantage. On Thursday, Doug Ford boasted that he would not owe any favours if he were elected mayor. "I have the endorsement of the people. I look forward to working with all the councillors," he said. "I'm not indebted to anyone. I don't make deals with anyone."
Besides, he argued, councillors would line up behind him after the election, just as they did with his brother at the beginning of his tenure. "I can assure you one thing, when I am mayor on Oct. 27, they'll all be hopping on the bandwagon like they did before."
Pollster Nik Nanos said endorsements are only significant when they are counterintuitive. "If Denzil Minan-Wong decided to endorse Olivia Chow, that would actually have an impact, because that would signal to people: 'Perhaps we should look at Olivia Chow in a different light.'"
Still, endorsements are "a bit like nuclear warfare," Mr. Nanos said. "These are things you stockpile, you never use, and will never be deployed, and will not have an impact. But there's a compulsion to feel you need them, for your own political security."
With a report from Ann Hui