News / Toronto

Olivia Chow, John Tory toe the negative campaign line

At the outset of the mayoral campaign Rob Ford predicted “bloodshed” and Doug Ford predicted dirty tricks. Were they right?

Leading mayoral candidates Olivia Chow and John Tory both said Wednesday they hoped the campaign wouldn’t get dirtier, after Chow adviser Warren Kinsella dubbed John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan is “Segregationist Track” on Twitter.

He tweeted an altered photo of Tory saying the transit line doesn’t go through Jane and Finch or Rexdale, and “John Tory: if you don’t come from his demographic, he doesn’t give a s--- if you lose transit service.”

It’s not the first time Kinsella or the Chow campaign have characterized Tory as out of touch or an elitist.

Kinsella later deleted the tweet and apologized.

Chow distanced herself from Kinsella Wednesday, saying he was only one of her many “volunteers” and doesn’t speak for the campaign. However, she acknowledged his company is being paid to monitor media for her campaign.

“I do not believe Mr. Tory discriminates. My campaign did not say that,” she said. “Mr. Kinsella does not speak on behalf of this campaign. I’m glad he apologized.”

In response, Tory called on Chow to take responsibility for Kinsella and “cut him a cheque” or “cut him loose.” He claimed to know that Kinsella wasn’t just another volunteer but someone Chow was likely talking to on a daily basis.

According to York University professor Robert MacDermid, when campaigns go 'negative,' they’re hoping that some truth in their attack will resonate with the public more than the blowback for going negative.

“In all attacks, there has to be some of kernel of truth in it, or it doesn’t work at all,” said MacDermid. “If the mass transit Tory is proposing doesn’t go near under-serviced communities, there is an issue there. But saying ‘segregationist,’ of course, is a tactic to draw comment and draw media attention. It’s so over-the-top.”

MacDermid said Tory personally would know the risk of negative campaigning, as in 1993 he was co-chair of the federal Progressive Conservative campaign that released “the face ad,” a commercial that appeared to attack Jean Chretien’s facial paralysis and provoked intense backlash.

Tory commented on that Wednesday. “I took responsibility then, and I took responsibility since,” he said. “I am sorry that it infected the politics of the day. Everyone learns lessons in life and that includes me.”

MacDermid said he doesn’t believe the mayoral campaign has been particularly dirty, especially compared to provincial and federal campaigns. However, he said that the candidates may end up attacking each other because it can be less risky than continuing to release policy ideas that must be defended and costed-out as time goes on.

As a result of the negativity, swing voters become disgusted by democratic politics and stay home, he said.

"It's another reason for voters to think of democratic politics as nothing but ego-driven personal attacks and forget that it has an important function in representing us," he said. "And that's the real loss in my mind."

In the campaign, Tory and Chow have frequently criticized each other.

Tory’s campaign launched an attack website that suggest Chow doesn’t know the value of a dollar and played a game of “Twister Chow” that used the retro party game to mock Chow’s positions on transit. His campaign has released an ad that mocks Chow for supporting a transit plan that will help Toronto eventually, which is spelled out on screen “[ih-ven-choo-uh-lee].”

Chow’s campaign has released an online attack video that calls Tory a flip-flopper and another similar ad, made by a supporter, that attacks Tory’s alleged “sexist remarks,” lobbying for Rogers and prior support for Rob Ford.

Tory said he doesn’t believe his campaign has gone negative against Chow. “I think there’s a difference between something that was kind of a spoof—the twister game—and using a word like segregation, an incredibly loaded word that has implications of racism.”

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