The announcement that Olivia Chow will run against Rob Ford in the upcoming Toronto municipal election reconfirms the spectacle of the electoral system. The recent scandals experienced by the Ford administration are such that, in the minds of those outside of “the Ford Nation,” Chow will serve as the magical pill to cure Toronto’s illness. This illness is seen as corruption––Ford’s improper use of municipal money, the revelation of his crack abuse, the rumours of illegal electoral behaviour––and the cure is the return to honest and sober governance.
Years ago, David Miller ran for Toronto mayor on the platform of ending the corruption of Mel Lastman’s administration. Many Torontonians will remember the broom Miller brandished during his campaign, a symbol of his desire to end the rampant corruption of the Lastman regime. To his credit, Miller fulfilled his promise, locating and prosecuting those councillors who were living off illegal corporate kick-backs or accepting bribes in the parking lot of City Hall.
Doubtless, Chow plans to perform a similar cleaning-up of Ford’s farcical repetition of the Lastman administration, confirming the desire of middle-class voters for an honest and morally upstanding mayor. Olivia Chow, whose late partner is mythologized, will not be dishonest, corrupt or morally lax, we are told. Better yet, if she does make mistakes, she won’t have the poor taste to flaunt them on US television to the embarrassment of us all!
If the problems facing people in this society, Toronto or anywhere, could be solved through the moral behaviour of elected officials––if the problem was simply corruption––then Chow is probably the solution. But what does the moral behaviour of a mayor and her/his administration really have to do with the actual social ills that affect our lives? The real problems are due to class disparity: poverty, affordable housing, racism, sexism––all of the symptoms of capitalism.
After all, Miller’s administration was known for being honest and fulfilling its anti-corruption goals without, for all that, succeeding in dealing with any of the problems that the majority of people in Toronto face every day. Miller honestly, without being corrupt, gave tax breaks to businesses and corporations, supported gentrification that led to homelessness, sent in police to evict squatters, and generally bowed to the “honest” practices of capitalism. He was in charge when the Toronto police bashed heads during the G20. A system is not corrupt if it does simply what is logic demands; it is the system, not its supposed corruption, that is the problem.
The electoral spectacle represented by Chow and Ford simply serves to mask the real problems. We are presented with duelling personalities who, whether corrupt or uncorrupt, have no desire to change the underlying state of affairs. Ford slings mud at Chow, causing us to wince and his rudeness and rush to her defense… Meanwhile, housing costs rise, people live on the street, racialized neighbourhoods are policed, gentrification results in mass evictions, and the police brutalize the masses.