It’s municipal Election Day in Toronto. As I sit at my desk typing these words, the outcome is still unknown. Voters are still casting their ballots for mayor, city councilors and school trustees.
As is usually the case in city elections, the race for mayor has garnered the most attention. This is especially true this time around because of the scandals surrounding the crack-smoking incumbent, Rob Ford, who some Americans may remember from his appearances on Jimmy Kimmel and other TV shows.
Rob dropped out of the race after being diagnosed with cancer, but his brother Doug’s last minute decision to run has ensured that the election would be largely a referendum on Rob Ford’s record.
Although it is rarely, if ever, mentioned, this election was about something else: immigration. In fact, every election in Toronto is about immigration, because it touches all aspects of city life. (See Kathy Shaidle's Toronto A “Multicultural Paradise”? What Was Cato`s Wilkinson Smoking?)
Take the debate over public transit, which dominated the campaign. There is a consensus that city’s public transportation system is overburdened and needs to be expanded. The disagreements are over how to do it, with the Fords advocating more subways, while critics say they are too expensive.
Old-school WASP candidate John Tory, who polls show to be the frontrunner in the mayoralty race, has advocated something he calls the SmartTrack plan. Whenever he defended his proposal during the campaign, he would make the point that the Toronto-Hamilton urban region would have to accommodate two million more people by the year 2031. His point: we need to do something about transit because this population growth is inevitable. None of the other candidates disagreed.
Left unsaid was the fact that this growth is a political choice that can be changed.
Granted mayors and city councilors don’t have jurisdiction over immigration. Immigration levels and criteria are set by the federal government in Ottawa with input from the provinces through federal-provincial immigration agreements.
Municipal officials do, however, have a bully pulpit. They could, if they wanted to, make local elections a referendum about immigration, but given that 49% of Torontonians are immigrants, our municipal officials are more apt to pander to ethnic constituencies than ask uncomfortable questions about a bad public policy.