Tea Party, Toronto Style

The story last night is so familiar to U.S. political reporters:  the business community and other elites line up behind one candidate, but the opponent rallies the conservative base with talk of rolling back government spending and no more taxes.  The press mocks the latter candidate for off-hand comments and what they consider simplistic rhetoric.   But the political grass-roots is more emboldened than ever and people are fed up with and nervous about government in general and take a chance on the “risky” candidate.

It could have been Nevada, Alaska, or any of the states and races where the “tea party” movement emerged triumphant last year.  But, instead it was Toronto, Canada, where voters last night resoundingly rejected the “establishment” choice for mayor and instead went with “outsider” candidate Rob Ford.  With nearly half the eligible voters turning out, 41-year-old City Councilor Ford rolled up a landslide win over “establishment” favorite George Smittherman, who had the backing of the business community and organized labor.

In reporting the stunning win of the outspoken Ford, the Financial Times this morning likened the mayor-elect to a “tea party” candidate.  Indeed, Ford campaigned on an agenda to cut city spending and roll back taxes, his cogent slogan being: “Stop the Gravy Train!”  At a time when Canada’s largest city has an operating budget of $9.2 billion, Ford’s slogan clearly resonated with voters.  Specifically, the conservative hopeful promised to repeal the vehicle registration in the city along with land transfer taxes signed into law by lameduck Mayor David Miller.  As to where the revenue sure to be lost would come from, Candidate Ford replied that there was “enough fat and inefficiency to slash costs while dramatically improving customer service.”

Like many of the tea party candidates nominated for office by Republicans in the U.S, Ford has long been considered a iconoclast among the political class.  Since his election to the City Council in ’03, Ford has criticized the perks of his colleagues and proudly turned in expense reports totaling zero or close to it.  In this campaign, he said he would try to cut the number of Council members by half.

So even in Canada, where conservatives historically tone down their message and agenda, a right-of-center candidate won big by saying precisely what he would do to roll back government if elected —not unlike the Republicans here who speak increasingly of abolishing the Department of Education or other federal government agencies.

It appears as though the Canadian brand of tea, while somewhat different from its American counterpart, nonetheless has a bite to it.