Our blog has moved

24 Aug

Vaughan Today’s election blog has moved to our home site! We have expanded it to include commentary from our staff writers on all things political in Vaughan. Click here to read the latest installments.

Genco better than PC party

22 Aug

I have come to like Tony Genco, the Progressive Conservative candidate in the Oct. 6 provincial election. I like his spunk, his tenacity, his ability to withstand the howling winds of change, and also the howling voices of detractors, while pressing on to do what it is he feels he needs to do.

No matter that he willingly stepped out into the storm that now assails him as he trudges purposefully across the Vaughan political landscape. At least he trudges with purpose. He has appointed himself well in recent interviews, has shown himself capable of the wider view and has exhibited a political intelligence for which he does not often get credit. And his will to win far surpasses that demonstrated by the exclusive, reclusive and elusive local political entity to which he has hitched his wagon.

In fact, were it not for the outrageously media-unsavvy Conservative association around him, I might be inclined to suggest he is capable of stealing some of the spotlight from Liberal incumbent Greg Sorbara in the campaign that has just now begun to unfold.

A full cast of colourful characters have burst out of the gate, full of bravado all, as they prepare to mount a challenge to the giant that is Sorbara. All have fought on other fields — Genco ran federally as a Liberal, the NDP’s Paul Donofrio and the Reform Party of Ontario’s David Natale have run municipally — and are now ready for their first taste of victory. All will draw some media attention simply because they are interesting characters, but it will take more than in-passing notation to outshine Sorbara The Quotable.

As though finding a way to outmaneuver Sorbara The Deliverer, Sorbara The Accomplished and Sorbara The Entrenched were any small feat.

Genco has a profile, but there’s nothing coming his way in the line of support beyond what he manufactures himself. Successful political parties have systems in place, layers deep, to ensure that their messaging is both well crafted and well distributed. The Liberal party wrote the book on that; the Conservatives apparently failed to read it.

Vaughan Today, for some odd reason, doesn’t seem to stay on local Conservative contact lists very long. Which probably explains why it takes a certain resolute impoliteness on our part to gain entry to most of their important events.

We found ourselves shut out of the Ontario PC party GTA fundraiser in Vaughan last week too. We had to resort to other means to listen in as premier-hopeful Tim Hudak trumpeted the party’s [changebook] platform in his 20-minute speech. I still marvel at how it never occurred to him to use the occasion and locale to put in a word for Vaughan candidate Genco.

This disconnect with local organizers was reminiscent of the Julian Fantino federal campaign in May, where Vaughan Today had to practically beat down the door to be included in Conservative events such as a Prime Minister Stephen Harper visit (which we almost always found out about from other sources). We elected not to beat down the door for the Hudak event, lest we exhibit bad form and perhaps barge in right in the middle of … oh … Richmond Hill candidate Vic Gupta’s address. (Guess the braintrust figured that, this being the Weston Road and Highway 7 area, they should “localize” things — with York Region representation.)

Ideology aside, what Genco lost when he left the Liberal party is access to a credible political vehicle to deliver him and his message to the people. The loss makes him the contemporary of Donofrio and Natale — not of Sorbara — in this race. Only Sorbara has the luxury of strong party presence to draw on. Genco might be better off following his own maverick spirit than conforming to the “strategy” of a group that behaves as though it does not recognize the need to sell its message.

— Dan Hoddinott

So this is the way it would end

5 May

MP JULIAN FANTINO’s softer side was seldom portrayed in media coverage of his often-stoic, no-nonsense campaign. Vaughan Today photographer Agnes Ramos captured this moment as Fantino campaigned door to door in Woodbridge.

The federal election just past is one for the history books. What started out as an expensive exercise no political party seemed willing to take responsibility for spawning — not to mention having no readily apparent aim, drive or direction — ended up rewriting the electoral map in Canada.

It was not without its drama, either. Not insignificant were some garish examples of major media outlets (CBC with the bogus Conservatives-fleeing-Fantino-camp tale in Vaughan; the Toronto Sun with its tawdry story masquerading as a Jack Layton exposé in Toronto) that blurred the lines between reporting and activism.

As it turned out, neither of the stories had much beyond the accusatory headlines, and neither Julian Fantino nor Layton were any the worse for wear in the end. In fact, Fantino won the Vaughan riding with a whopping 56.3 percent of the vote, and became part of the story of the night on Monday as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives rolled to their first majority. Layton survived to lead a breathtaking orange onslaught that vaulted the NDP into the position of official Opposition.

The adage that all politics is local didn’t hold true any better here than it did in most ridings across Canada. Incumbent Conservatives Fantino and, in Thornhill, Peter Kent were no doubt buoyed by the Blue Wave that swept 167 seats into the Harper fold. And their respective Liberal challengers, Mario Ferri and Dr. Karen Mock, surely lost ground on two fronts they could not possibly have fought: the national apathy toward the Liberal party and the impossible late-campaign NDP surge that impacted races everywhere.

The NDP phenomenon ballooned the perennially third-place party’s take to 102 seats, delivering a plethora of unlikely MPs in ridings across Canada. It was particularly felt in Quebec where it decimated the Bloc Quebecois, leaving that separatist party with a mere four seats.

In Vaughan, it manifested itself in no-show NDP candidate Mark Pratt collecting an astonishing 7,950 votes. Not bad for a media-shy candidate who provided no contact information, put in no appearances, posted no election signs and handed out no literature! In Thornhill, Simon Strelchik finished a distant third, as he did in 2008, but this time he almost doubled his vote count, getting 7,106.

So what lessons did we learn from the exercise? Beyond the obvious one that pistol-whipped Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe learned about being careful what you wish for, that is!

The once-proud Liberal party, complete with its understood divine right to rule, was reduced to a mere shadow of itself (34 seats). Its lock on the riding of Vaughan, which Fantino first broke in a narrow November byelection victory, is clearly a thing of the past. Perhaps Ignatieff did the right thing in stepping down after the drubbing his party took on Monday night (and losing his own seat in the process), but to blame him for the result is to give no credit to the parties that did win.

I did not sense, based on the couple of stops he made in Vaughan, that Ignatieff was doing such a terrible job connecting with the people. Ferri and Mock were both credible candidates, and the faithful who turned out to the rallies I dropped in on were as vibrant and enthusiastic as you’d expect from a Liberal crowd. I don’t see the result of this election, then, being a matter of the people saying no to one party and its message as much as it was saying yes to another.

The Conservatives succeeded in selling their message, plain and simple.

Harper showed nowhere near the social flair of an Ignatieff (or Layton) at campaign stops. Where other leaders blew into town pumped, in a party mood and ready to get down with the people, Harper made an entrance. And though he didn’t whip the faithful into a giddy frenzy, from his mouth flowed streams of flawless data that, even in the absence of resonance, seemed to compute.

Fantino very much reflected his party’s stoic image. While the media and the public alike looked to see more personality, what we saw for the most part was absolute focus on what he deemed to be priorities. Like his party in general, he soldiered on with his message and would not be sidetracked by grenades lobbed at him or barbs from a media that wasn’t always private in its discomfort with his rigid personality.

Nonetheless, I found the sheer efficiency of the Conservative campaign admirable, even if I was not a fan of its austerity. We won’t know now whether Ignatieff as prime minister would have created a kinder, gentler climate, but I wouldn’t argue very enthusiastically that Harper is not, of those available, the best CEO we could have chosen to run the business of the country.

The NDP didn’t exactly come from nowhere to supplant the Liberals as the official Opposition. Under Layton’s dynamic leadership they were going to be players anyway, even in third place. Where their fortunes turned, though, was in the French-language leaders debate. Quebec voters have traditionally gone after carrots en masse. Layton, who is no stranger to charm or to fantastic promises, was able to articulate it well enough in French to dazzle the electorate right out from under Duceppe, whose own promises were not going to be coming to pass any time soon.

And then the Greens won a seat, with party leader Elizabeth May finally finding a province, a riding and an occasion that was just enough this side of impossible to win.

Yes indeed, it’s been one for the history books. I can’t imagine what kind of story would have to develop to see the fall provincial election in Ontario top that!

— Dan Hoddinott

Signs of having had enough

2 May

The normally easygoing Peter Kent is more than a little testy with Karen Mock, after she accused him of illegally placing election signs. He sent 23 images to Vaughan Today to remind her of a possible mote in her eye, Dan Hoddinott says.

Vaughan Today did not wish to be a player in this election. And in the end, I hope we will not have been one — or, worse, been seen as having desired to be one.

With the ruckus kicked up by our having come to the defense of Conservative incumbent Julian Fantino’s honour — and Vaughan’s reputation, and our profession’s integrity — having died down, I was really hoping we could have escaped the rest of this election cycle without doing anything that would see us become the story.

Not so fast! Quiet, sedate, how-do-you-do Thornhill has arisen. At the eleventh hour, no less, its cruise-controlled re-affirmation of the very congenial Peter Kent as its MP has combusted. Kent and his only conceivable rival, Liberal Dr. Karen Mock, have got into it about the legality of each other’s election sign placement. And wouldn’t you know it? The fire was lit by remarks Mock made in a story appearing on VaughanToday.ca on Friday.

Peter Kent was rather steamed to have Dr. Mock suggesting he was placing his signs illegally. In the age of digital photography, one really should consider one’s quips, I suppose, no matter how clever they seem at the time. Kent reminded us all in a letter to the editor of Vaughan Today — to which he attached 23 photos, complete with descriptions of the Mock team’s transgressions in each one.

I am including Kent’s letter here for your perusal, but not all the photos! Candidates have been taking barbs at each other all campaign long about sign placement issues. We’ve got in on the jabbing phenomenon ourselves, sometimes at the expense of Claudia Rodriguez-Larrain (Vaughan) and Norbert Koehl (Thornhill), two good people who happened to be running for a terribly disorganized party.

Here, then, is the Kent letter:

To The Editor:

So, Karen Mock claims to have “discovered” that I have been placing my election signs without getting people’s permission (Vaughan Today, online edition, April 29)?

Perhaps she can explain the huge pile of documents we have at our campaign office, detailing the permission from each of the more than 4,000 people who took our signs.

Perhaps she can also explain how so many of our signs have gone missing overnight, or how they often turn up planted in another lawn nearby.

Apparently, she has yet to “discover” that her own staff has seemingly been putting up illegal signs all over the riding.  I have attached nearly two dozen examples to get the ball rolling.

Election campaigns should be about serious issues, including trust and honesty, not about sophomoric game playing and libel.

Yours truly,
Peter Kent
Conservative candidate in Thornhill

A time for moving on

23 Apr

Vaughan's leading candidates Mario Ferri, left, and Julian Fantino are on the campaign trail and no worse for wear now that the contrived story of local Conservative controversy has run out of steam.

It’s a credit to both Julian Fantino and Mario Ferri that they didn’t fall into the trap of lashing out at each other in the aftermath of the brouhaha kicked up mid-campaign by that infamous tale of controversy conjured up by the CBC. Instead, they appear to have weathered the storm, and have now returned to campaigning as they would have done.

Good, because whichever one goes to Ottawa on May 2 as the Vaughan MP should do so based on how well he represented himself and his party in the context of moving forward Vaughan’s interests, and for no other reason. (It will be one of them; the Green Party and the NDP fielded candidates, but they did not bring game.)

Partisan supporters, whose passions become inflamed in situations like these, are always at the ready to divide the world into two camps: Us and Them. So it’s not surprising to say we have heard it all, from both sides, in the last week. In fact, it’s been like a conspiracy theorists’ retreat around here, with Conservatives blaming Liberals for setting up the CBC writers with a bogus story, Liberals accusing Conservatives of somehow having a hand in Michael Ignatieff unwisely sounding off about Vaughan (for which local candidate Ferri stands to bear the brunt of any backlash) and we, ourselves, being accused of doing the right wing thing — and not the right thing — in pointing out that a gross injustice had been committed.

Now that the bit actors and jesters appear to have left the stage, you can see that little skit for the sideshow it was. The real performers are of far greater character, and the drama they participate in much more substantive. It is worth noting that Fantino, the Conservative incumbent, and Ferri, his Liberal challenger, are both good men who have performed appreciable community service through the years, often without fanfare, and with the best interest of Vaughan at heart.

They have both been involved in the drive to bring a hospital to Vaughan, long before Fantino became the MP (and the conduit through which federal funds for the project would come). And they likely will be found working on that shared mission after the election is over, regardless of whether Fantino returns to Ottawa or Ferri takes his place in the time-honoured quest to find favour with the federal government.

In an election campaign, though, the gloves come off, and when an unexpected storm blows up to threaten the predictability of schedules and campaign plans, it is not uncommon for fingers to be pointed at each other in all sorts of ridiculous ways. In war, the other side is always responsible for the bad things that happen.

Fantino and Ferri are to be commended for recognizing that the enemy in this one truly was out there.

 The CBC story that started it all on April 13 may have begun locally, using local ingredients even, but it never did describe a local controversy. It was a shabby tale tacked together by a couple of reporters unfamiliar with the territory, who mistook an activist’s pitch for a scoop and then ignored all the warning flags as they raced to file a “national” story.

Truth be told, its narrative suggests a lot more about the ethical state of Canadian journalism at the national level than it does about how development is achieved in Vaughan. The wider discussion coming out of this needs to be about the presence of activism in the dissemination of news to the Canadian public. It needs to address the elements of entitlement, impunity, careless copycat practices and a willingness by so-called impartial journalists to change effects in a desire to effect change. And perhaps more importantly, someone needs to initiate a discussion about the zoned out audience, which seems more outraged by being roused from its slumber than by what is taking place around it while it lies sleeping.

We have hopefully moved on from that particular story in Vaughan. There is nothing we can do about the attitudes of Canadians afar who have been influenced by it, nor about the unrepentant and seemingly ungovernable national media machine. But as I’ve said all along, we in Vaughan never were impacted by the ridiculous premise of the story, for there was no story; it is the blow to reputations — done callously and with seeming impunity — that wounded. But even that has lessened.

When last we checked, Fantino and Ferri were out and about, getting on with the business of conducting their campaigns — not surprisingly, in step with the character their parties portray. They’re both out knocking on doors: Fantino in his terse, no-nonsense, all-business approach; Ferri, whose personality many see as the honey to Fantino’s vinegar, doing his thing in Aussie hat and upbeat, easygoing style.

Business as usual. And that’s a good thing.

— Dan Hoddinott

No F in ‘CBC’, but one in ‘Fail’

14 Apr

Vaughan MP Julian Fantino at a recent media scrum in Woodbridge. CBC reporters sourced local activists to advance a story suggesting impropriety about VHCC funding caused Conservative departures.

That’s not Igg the CBC has on its face today, though a mindless story it hurled onto the Web on Wednesday, suggesting resignations from the Conservative riding association here were based on impropriety by Vaughan incumbent Julian Fantino, moved along the viral trail all the way up to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who found the lure irresistible.

That’s egg, and it drips rather well, considering they got suckered by a combination of activist zeal and questionable journalism.

But enough about them. The story is a problem for Vaughan’s image — more so than for Fantino’s, I would wager — because it presented the national media with the something-smarmy-in-Vaughan-politics story they expected to find in this campaign. And given the viral nature of the Internet, and some media outlets’ desire to grab and repeat rather than produce original content, away it went.

The story named two prominent community activists — Richard Lorello and Tracey Kent — who told the reporters they resigned from the riding association due to moral outrage about who may stand to get their hands on some of the $10 million in federal funds Fantino attracted for the Vaughan Health Campus of Care project.

Well, actually, Kent had already resigned, due to a self-confessed conflict about Fantino accepting the endorsement of former Liberal rival Tony Genco. At least a week earlier I was in receipt of her “open letter” of resignation (which seems to be the popular way of bowing out around here this year).

“Due to the recent undertaking with Liberal Tony Genco, I can no longer be a member of the Vaughan Conservative Association,” she said in the letter, dated simply April 2011. “My values do not shift overnight, nor can be compromised. So it was with great disappointment to see my own riding association and representative, take advantage of a man who is clearly in personal distress about his true values, and use it for political spin.”

The CBC story failed to point out that both the subjects and the primary sources for the story are, in fact, the same activists who happen to be intimately engaged and very publicly active in keeping watch over who is doing what in regards to the development of a new hospital in Vaughan. They are not impartial witnesses. Anyone with a Twitter account and a #vaughan hash tag — or a Vaughan driveway that receives weekly Metroland drops — would have known that those sources have vested interests.

Lorello takes issue with the fact that two men connected with the VHCC — Michael DeGasperis and Sam Ciccolini — also worked as fundraisers for Fantino’s successful byelection run in November. That’s fair. A resignation in the absence of wrongdoing having yet occurred strikes me as a little extreme, but I get his point.

However, at the time of the funding announcement Fantino was up front with Vaughan Today reporter Tristan Carter, and I presume other news outlets that contacted him, about it being earmarked for VHCC infrastructure, and not the hospital itself. And as far as I’m concerned, finding out now that he has had dealings with people involved in the project is not the same as having made a breathtaking discovery of some new racket going down. What are we expected to do — insist that a medical development we’ve desparately needed be put on hold until we can elect a politician who can both a) attract government funding, and b) demonstrate that he has had no previous associations with any of the players involved in the development?

Vaughan has a formidable army of watchdogs who can follow the money. Lorello is not the least among them. In fact, he might even be the best. He has the tools, the drive and the understanding to hold people accountable. And he exhibits a willingness to be held accountable for anything he says and does himself. I have every confidence that he could follow the $10 million from start to finish, knowing all the while whether the rules are followed, and if the plans and schedules are on target. (Or, if they’re off, by precisely how much!)

That Fantino has had relationship with persons connected to projects for which he has just attracted government funding is not a news story. Not for us. Not for the CBC. Not for the Toronto Star. It is simply the way the process works — here and everywhere else, regardless of the riding, regardless of who the Member of Parliament may be and regardless of which party happens to be in power. Perhaps Lorello was quick to blow the whistle, because no wrongdoing has taken place merely on the basis of the funding having arrived. It’s when the money starts to disappear, or when nothing has appeared by the project’s due date, that you have a problem.

That the CBC has taken this story, spun it oddly and deceptively, and run with it — all the way to Ignatieff — disappoints me greatly. It is especially disconcerting in light of their inability to get either Mario Ferri, who is the local Liberal candidate in this race, or MPP Greg Sorbara (also a Liberal) to even mention any perceived impropriety in their comments.

The recklessness continued today. I cringed when I saw how they exposed a potential prime minister (Ignatieff) by soliciting comment on a thin story he could not possibly validate on the spot. Unlike Fantino, who had handed them their hats, Ignatieff took the bait.

“The fact that someone resigned from his inner campaign circle indicates, you know, real doubts within the Conservative camp as to the appropriateness of this bit of government largesse to help a Conservative candidate,” Ignatieff responded, as one might expect, to a CBC reporter.

You didn’t know Vaughan was so readily on the minds of the nation’s leaders, did you? I would expect that, until Fantino’s name was invoked in the leaders’ debate on Tuesday night, the CBC didn’t, either.

I am affronted both as a citizen of Vaughan and on a professional level. In spite of the optics, though, this may not be an agenda-driven story. It could very well be just a matter of lazy reporters not bothering to dig beyond the easy source. In fact, if I had to make a call based on examining the story as evidence, I would lean toward sloppy reporting being the genesis. But in journalism, laziness is as lethal as venom.

The one word I can reach for without effort to summarize the CBC job is this: Fail.

— Dan Hoddinott

Peter Kent’s ruff, ruff ride

13 Apr

Thornhill Conservative incumbent weathered a full-on attack by rival candidates in Sunday's debate.

My first reaction when reporter Tristan Carter told me that Peter Kent was given a rough ride at Sunday’s all-candidates debate in Thornhill was: “Really? Peter Kent? The Peter Kent?”

What has Peter Kent, one of the nicest guys you’ll meet in politics (if not on the street), ever done to invite the wrath of anyone? Steal a bite out of someone else’s apple when he was in Grade 3, perhaps?

Well, actually, it was the rival candidates, and not the crowd of some 500 gathered at Beth Avraham Yoseph Synagogue, who gave him a hard time. And it’s his position as Minister of the Environment in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government that brought the activist element of those opponents out with guns blazing. Or, as NDP candidate Simon Strelchik puts it, his record as Harper’s environment minister.

For the record, he has been in that cabinet post only since January, so his personal legacy as to decision-making on environmental issues would be limited. It is most likely that it was Peter Kent the Conservative and not Peter Kent the environment minister — and especially not Peter Kent the local candidate — who came under fire. He was grilled on all sides for the Harper government’s position on mining crude oil deposits in the Alberta tar sands, issues well outside the scope of immediate concern for the average Thornhill voter.

This is further evidence that this election is about issues other than things local. In fact, Liz White, of the Animal Alliance Environment Voters of Canada Party, told VaughanToday.ca that she threw her hat into the ring in Thornhill for one reason: an opportunity to run against Kent.

“I decided to run there to … see if we can move some votes away from him to somebody else, so he loses,” she said.

White, who, à la Elizabeth May, has run twice before in impossible-to-win Toronto Centre, was not invited to participate in the Sunday debate, but will make her debut in a locally televised debate Thursday night.

Situations where self-serving individuals pick a riding — any riding — and stride into unsuspecting communities with pillage and not contribution on their minds, serve to weaken, not strengthen, my faith in democracy as we practise it here. It is conceivable that one day a crazy roll of the dice will see one of these rabble-rousing, single-issue candidates pitch a tent in my riding — and win the right to become my esteemed parliamentary representative!

Now is not a good time to remind me of my “duty” to vote on May 2.

— Dan Hoddinott

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