Ford next Toronto mayor, defeats Smitherman
By Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press
TORONTO -Right-wing juggernaut Rob Ford will take the top job in Canada’s most populous city, defeating former deputy premier George Smitherman in a bitter, 10-month race to become Toronto’s next mayor.
With 99 per cent of Toronto polls reporting Monday night, Ford took 47 per cent of the vote, compared to Smitherman’s 35 per cent and deputy mayor Joe Pantalone‘s 12 per cent.
Smitherman was considered an early favourite to win, but couldn’t compete against Ford, a scrappy city councillor who tapped into a potent well of voter fury with his promises to cut taxes and kill big spending at city hall.
“This victory is a clear call from the taxpayers, enough is enough,” Ford told cheering supporters. “The party with taxpayers’ money is over. We will respect the taxpayers again, and yes ladies and gentlemen we will stop the gravy train once and for all.”
The polarizing Toronto race was marred by ugly incidents, including homophobic ads targeting the openly gay Smitherman, and a newspaper article — later pulled from the Globe and Mail website — that took a shot at Ford’s weight.
His win is likely to send shockwaves all the way to Premier Dalton McGuinty‘s office. Many experts have predicted that a Ford victory could herald a Conservative sweep in next fall’s Ontario election. A grinning Mike Harris, Ontario’s former Conservative premier, called on both the provincial and federal governments to work with Toronto’s mayor-elect.
“It’s a good opportunity for Rob to reach out, for council to reach out to him, for the provincial-federal government to reach out to him, listen to what the voters of Toronto said and help him deliver,” Harris told TV station CP24 at Ford’s victory party.
After two terms of majority rule, recent polls suggest that McGuinty’s popularity is waning amid voter concerns with pocketbook issues, such as rising electricity bills and his controversial introduction of the harmonized sales tax. That may have played into the Toronto race, given Smitherman’s reputation as McGuinty’s former right-hand man and top enforcer.
“Differences aside, as a Torontonian who loves my city, I hope for your success Rob,” an emotional Smitherman told his supporters. “Toronto is too important, there are no boos tonight.”
Pantalone — the left-wing candidate endorsed by outgoing Mayor David Miller — was curt in his reaction to the night’s stunning outcome. “The people of Toronto have spoken and democracy is beautiful,” Pantalone said.
The night also saw Mike Layton, son of federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, walk in his father’s footsteps as he won Pantalone’s Trinity-Spadina ward — the same neighbourhood stepmother Olivia Chow represents federally. Meanwhile in Ottawa, another former provincial cabinet minister — Jim Watson — easily won the mayor’s race against businessman-turned-politician Larry O’Brien, in a race dominated by transit and urban development issues.
Watson, who served as the city’s mayor before a successful foray into provincial politics, took 49 per cent of the vote with nearly 98 per cent all polls reporting. Conservative incumbent O’Brien had 24 per cent.
Earlier this month, O’Brien made a startling admission that his first two years as mayor were a “disaster,” but implored voters to give him a second chance. His rocky term as mayor of Canada’s capital included allegations of influence peddling that forced him to step down temporarily as the matter went to trial. He resumed his duties after being acquitted.
By contrast, the race just west of the city in Mississauga has been decidedly uneventful, where voters simply watched to see how well 89-year-old Mayor Hazel McCallion performed in her 12th election campaign. “Hurricane” Hazel typically doesn’t campaign, put up signs or buy political ads. Her 31-year tenure as mayor is considered to be so rock solid, but a conflict-of-interest scandal appeared to put a dent in the 90 per cent voter support she’s known to command. With more than three-quarters of polls reporting Monday, McCallion had 76 per cent of the vote — a decisive victory for any politician but not the numbers of old.
In Vaughan, ex-Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua took the mayor’s seat from incumbent Linda Jackson, who is headed to court to face Municipal Elections Act charges.
Other interesting races include London, where former Liberal MP Joe Fontana was in a tight race to keep long-standing Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best from winning a fourth term. In all, there were 444 municipal votes in Ontario.