Smitherman’s dubious mayoral credentials
No loyalty, no sense of duty. That’s the image George Smitherman, Ontario’s Deputy Minister and Minister of Energy, projects as he sets out to become Mayor of Toronto.
At a time when the McGuinty government faces all the problems of a crumbling manufacturing sector and a deep recessionary budget, it has been very much in need of Smitherman’s continued service as one of the strongest of Ontario cabinet ministers.
Instead, he’s thrown this over in favor of stepping down to the municipal level in a bid to head up a civic administration that is, technically and constitutionally, “a creature of the provincial government.”
The text of his announcement is here.
The folks who write on Toronto politics are going to have a field day with this one.
Besides abandoning the provincial scene at a difficult time, Smitherman will take with him into his mayoralty campaign some heavy baggage from his days in Cabinet.
The billion dollar eHealth scandal began under his watch as Health Minister, although it didn’t come to light until his successor, David Caplan, was in that job. Problems over untendered contracts cost Caplan his job, but it’s said that many in the government feel Smitherman unfairly dodged the responsibility which properly belonged to him.
Then there’s the controversies over various alternative energy schemes Smitherman has been pushing in his role as overseer of Ontario’s new Green Energy Act.
Are these the credentials needed by a future Mayor?
The scuttlebutt around Queen’s Park is that Smitherman’s announcement of his mayoralty intentions was handled none too well. Rumors leaked out at the weekend resulting in media confirmations before most highly-placed Liberals were aware of the Monday announcement.
McGuinty’s chair of cabinet and long-time supporter, Gerry Phillips, has been called on to pick up the Energy portfolio. He’s held that job before, and is unlikely to want to stay long in a second run at it.
The upshot is that Smitherman’s move puts McGunity in an awkward position and leaves him vulnerable to charges of piloting a rudderless ship.
Smitherman’s reputation as an attack dog promises that next year’s mayoralty campaign will be a lively one. He’s no doubt counting on the short memories of voters by the time the campaign gets rolling.
With John Tory, the former provincial Conservative leader likely to come into the race the stage is set for a two-party fight in what has traditionally been a nonpartisan arena.
That raises another question. Is it really in the public interest that the job of Mayor of Toronto become a prize top be fought over by the three provincial political parties?
Either Smitherman or Tory would be a more effective mayor than the NDP-leaning David Miller, who won’t be running again.
But Tory’s record of straight-out, honest politicking — even though he’s had more defeats than he deserves — may earn him a lot of support when put up against Smitherman’s seemingly self-centered approach to public life.
Stand by for “a helluva ride.”