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Mayor Rob Ford at City Hall on Feb. 20, 2014.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

It's like a Toronto-area highway at the start of rush hour: One minute the road is half-empty, the next it's so crowded that traffic grinds to a halt. After Councillor Karen Stintz and former Ontario Conservative leader John Tory jumped into the mayoral race minutes apart on Monday, doubling the number of big names in the field, Toronto suddenly finds itself with four major declared candidates for mayor. This election just got very crowded, and there's gridlock in the right lane.

Also in the race are former councillor David Soknacki and the incumbent, a fellow named Rob Ford. The big name still to come is NDP MP Olivia Chow, expected to announce in the coming weeks. She's in no hurry to make it official. She'll be the only significant driver on the left side of the road, so for the moment, she's content to sit back and watch the four-car pileup on the right.

Three non-Ford candidates on the right is two too many. The election is still eight months off, but unless the field slims down, and soon, this could be a cakewalk for Ms. Chow. A fractured opposition could even result in the re-election of Mr. Ford; it's not hard to come up with scenarios where he wins with as little as 30 per cent of the vote. The non-Ford right has to unite.

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Mr. Tory is the biggest name in the group. He's a thoughtful and non-ideological conservative, and a reasonable man who would make a good mayor. He has a record of success in the private sector. In politics, however, he has a track record of almost winning – or as it is more commonly known, losing. He ran for mayor, and almost won. He ran for premier and almost won. He lost his seat at Queen's Park, ran again, lost again, and stepped down. Two decades ago, he helped run Kim Campbell's election campaign.

On Monday, his first day of campaigning, he was the old John Tory – keeping things positive, pleasant and genteel. He didn't much want to talk about Mr. Ford. Big mistake. The path to victory runs directly through Mr. Ford. For Mr. Tory to have any hope of victory, he has to pick up a lot of people who voted Ford last time around. He can't ignore the elephant in the room; he's got to go after him and push him out. Mr. Tory must challenge Mr. Ford directly, criticizing the incumbent's record, ideas and behaviour, and showing how he would be different. He has to do that again and again, and then do it some more, and he has to do it with passion. John Tory has to be ready for the fight of his life. If he isn't, he won't be Toronto's next mayor.

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