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It has been clear since the day he took office that Rob Ford would face a rival from the left when he ran for re-election in 2014. Olivia Chow, the NDP MP, is the most anticipated potential challenger from that quarter.
What is more surprising is that he faces so many potential rivals on the right. David Soknacki, a businessman and former city budget chief, was first in, declaring last month that he plans to be on the ballot when voters choose a mayor next Oct. 27. Former Ontario Conservative leader John Tory, the Hamlet of Toronto politics, continues to wring his hands over whether to join the race, telling CP24 television that "the universe will unfold as it should."
Denzil Minnan-Wong, a member of Mr. Ford's executive committee who often complains about sloppy and wasteful spending at city hall, is waiting in the wings. Then there is Karen Stintz, the Toronto Transit Commission chair and Ward 16 (Eglinton-Lawrence) councillor who has often been a thorn in the mayor's side.
All of them are counting on the fact that, while many voters still support the Ford promise of a streamlined city government that delivers better service at a more reasonable cost, they are weary of the Ford Brothers sideshow. The anti-Ford conservatives are offering up Fordism without the Rob. They would claim to deliver efficient government without the antics, progress without all the crazy scenes at city council.
It is a tempting vision. One reason that Mr. Ford still commands so much support despite all the nonsense is that many people like what he stands for.
The conservative anti-Fords sense that. Ms. Stintz, in particular, has carefully built a record as a fiscal conservative who would run a tight ship but at the same time move the vessel forward. In a flurry of media interviews since acknowledging over the weekend that she was running, she painted herself as a consensus builder who has proven she can make deals on big files like transit.
On the fiscal side, she will argue that she supported Mr. Ford on moves such as contracting out garbage collection in half the city, negotiating a hard-headed deal with city unions, killing the vehicle-registration tax and trimming spending at budget time. At the TTC, she has supported moves to outsource some jobs and improve customer service while keeping fare increases within the rate of inflation.
On the city-building side, Ms. Stintz has been at the centre of the transit saga in every chapter. It was she who challenged Mr. Ford's ill-advised plan to spend billions on burying the Eglinton Crosstown light-rail line while going it alone on a Sheppard subway with no credible plan to pay for it. It was she who – not Mr. Ford – who helped revive the idea of extending the Bloor-Danforth subway line to the east.
It is a sound record that makes her a serious candidate – an appealing, articulate alternative to Mr. Ford. Whether she can get any traction is another issue. Mr. Ford has made it clear he will go after her with everything he has got. On Monday he said it was too early to comment on her candidacy but predicted, with obvious relish, that the election campaign would be a "bloodbath."
He is likely to portray Ms. Stintz as an inconsistent flip-flopper who killed his original subway plan. That is true, but it deserved execution, and Mr. Ford will have to explain why he now supports a Stintz-engineered plan to raise property taxes to pay for the Bloor-Danforth extension.
Whether it is Ms. Stintz or someone else who ends up leading the charge, the fact remains that the most conservative mayor in Toronto's recent history remains vulnerable to an attack from the right. Who would have thought?
Marcus Gee is The Globe's Toronto City Hall columnist.