It's that time of year again. Christmas! And the Beyond the Ballot Box Awards. Fitting for the final episode of the Gang of Four, we salute the real heroes: the politicians and news stories we talk about weekly. If you were listening to the radio, you will have heard my picks already, but in case my justifications weren't clear, I decided to write them out in long form below. It was a very busy year in politics, and there were a lot of darts and laurels (mostly darts) to go around, but after considering all the factors and contenders, here are my choices for Best Politician, Worst and Dumpster Fire of the Year.
Best Politician of the Year - Mayor John Tory
True, the political breakthrough of John Tory as Mayor of Toronto is owed to a loose coalition of Red Tories, fiscal conservatives, political independents, centrists and people on the left who'd vote for anyone to get rid of Rob Ford, but the man himself deserves some credit. No, not because "Smart Track" is the best transit plan ever, and not because his platform included ideas such no brainers like retaining the land transfer tax and prompting the construction of more affordable housing. John Tory deserves credit because, unlike past electoral efforts, he managed to not stick his own foot in his mouth, and sabotage his own momentum. It was all the more impressive given the 10 month campaign for the municipal election.
But perhaps that's unfair to Tory. Certainly, Toronto is incredibly diverse, and to put together a platform and a personality that appeals to people across the entirety of the city - geographically, economically, demographically - is extremely difficult. Despite his previous electoral hiccups, Tory was the mayor Toronto needed if not the one it deserves. Headlines welcoming the Tory era saying "Strike up the Bland" send the message most Torontonians wanted to hear after the Ford years; in Tory, here was a man more likely to be more waffle house than crack house, and about as unlikely to tell a dirty joke in public as he is to air his own personal sex life to the press. If Tory does end up embarrassing the city it will be in an "out-of-touch dad with lame jokes" kind of way, and not in a "drunken in-law who calls you for bail money at 3 am" kind of way.
Of course, days in Tory Nation still show some signs of business as unusual at city hall, supporting Frances Nunziata's return to the speaker's seat and appointing Denzil Minnan-Wong as deputy mayor. Sure, Nunziata let Ford run roughshod over anyone and everyone during debate, and Minnan-Wong was one of the former mayor's biggest toadies till the crack hit the fan (not to mention his tirade against Sugar Beach this past summer), but, you know, change we can believe in, right? It's also worth noting that there are still more than a few controversy magnets on council, Rob Ford for example, not to mention the recently found guilty of campaign overspending Giorgio Mammoliti, so Tory has his work cut out for him. Rome wasn't rebuilt in a day.
Worst Politician of the Year - Former Quebec Premiere Pauline Marois
There were a lot of bad moves politically in 2014, but not all of them cost the bad move maker their job. But one of the ones that did was Pauline Marois, who barely squeaked out a victory for the Parti Quebecois in 2013 after a bribery scandal involving the governing Liberals forced the plurality of Quebec voters to take the PQ for another test drive. There wasn't immediate regret, even as Marois and the PQ government forced debate on the Quebec values charter, which elicited accusations of racism and xenophobia. Sure, it was legislation that was needlessly antagonistic, pointless, and if passed would have surely been challenged and defeated at the Supreme Court of Canada, but it got the ball rolling, creating just enough discord, to force Marois to get the plug pulled on her government, leading to her political doom.
But strangely it wasn't the bare-knuckle support for something as silly as Quebec Charter of Values that undid Marois, it was when Pierre Karl Péladeau announced his candidacy as a PQ candidate for the riding of Saint-Jérôme. PKP was the head of Quebecor, and not exactly known for being a labour supporter. Some people said he had a reputation as a union-buster, which rubbed many members of the typically social democratic PQ the wrong way up front. Then, at his March 9 campaign launch, PKP raised his fist high and said, "I want Quebec to become a country." Oops. Suddenly, the razor thin margin of support the PQ enjoyed evaporated as Quebecers seemed to remember that the central platform of the party was separation. Even Marois' face during PKP's announcement said that, in that moment, she knew she was boned.
And boned she was. On April 7, the PQ lost 24 seats and was returned to the Opposition bench. The Liberals under Philippe Couillard gained 20 seats, which didn't just make them a government, it made them a majority government. Barely seven months after the PQ swept out the corrupted Liberals, their roles were reversed again, and Marois had to resign from leadership in disgrace. The election proved just how sensitive the issue of separation still is, and when forced to choose between the easily corrupted Liberals and the potentiality of a new referendum, no matter how many times denied, Quebec voters would rather have bribery than sovereignty. The kicker? PKP is now the frontrunner for PQ leadership. If he can send voters running in the opposite direction as a simple MNA candidate, he's probably not going to be anymore appealing as a prospective Premier.
Dumpster Fire of the Year - Ontario Provincial Election
Once again, thank you Andrea Horwath for pushing that election on the Province of Ontario, because clearly change was at the forefront of the minds of many Ontarians deeply, deeply dissatisfied with the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne. The joke being that when it came to the 2014 Ontario Provincial Election, it was more a case of "We can't believe this is change" rather than anyone providing "change we can believe in." At the end of the day, Wynne was able to make the case that her Liberals were different from Dalton McGuinty's Liberals and when voters looked around at the options it seemed that they could also see the difference.
So what went wrong? Every card carrying Progressive Conservative member was asking that the morning after on June 13, and they could only come to one conclusion in two words: Tim Hudak. Hudak had four years of experience and one election as leader on Wynne, but it seemed that, in Hudak's case, experience was no teacher. Out of the gate, Hudak promised to cut 100,000 public service jobs, even while promising to create one million jobs. The math gave observers and analysts a headache, and Hudak lacked the rhetorical skill to explain how he was going to create a million jobs for half a million unemployed people (the rounded down number of actual unemployed Ontarians) while cutting another 100,000 jobs. The scandals of the Liberals should have buried Wynne, but people would rather talk about Hudak's gaffs, which for some strange reason, he couldn't vault in the wake of all the political anchors around Wynne's neck. Even in defeat Hudak was humiliated, basically forced out of caucus before the ink on the official returns was dry.
As for Andrea Horwarth, let's just say that Hudak wasn't the only one that miscalculated a hard right turn. Horwath was the instigator of this election, refusing to support a Liberal budget that had lots of NDP red meat on the pretense that this was the point that Wynne's government could no longer be trusted. Despite being the cause of the election, it took the NDP more than halfway through the election before they produced their own platform, and there wasn't a world of difference between what was on the plate from the Grits. Instead, Horwath pressed the idea that Wynne and Hudak have had their chance, and what Ontario needed was an Orange Wave, basically it was a "It's my turn now" campaign. The good news was that the NDP kept the same number of seats, the bad news was they barely grew support and lost some key ridings. A leadership review had rumblings of a rebellion, but without a clear candidate to replace her, Horwath stands for another election. For now.