History may be written by the victors, but the vanquished always try to get in their licks. When it became clear last week that John Tory and his Progressive Conservatives weren’t going to achieve their dream of a majority government in Ontario, his supporters cranked up the spin machine. I could hear its whirring behind the calls I took about election issues on my Toronto radio show. Conservatives were hoping they could deny the punditocracy an unflattering portrayal of their leader and party by preemptively offering their own narrative. I’ve noticed three principal themes.
The first is the rather huffy assertion that the voters are simply misguided — or even out and out stupid. Admittedly, this is an argument raised only by the most embittered. (It should also be noted that the left has been known to trot out the same complaint as well: When George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, Britain’s Daily Mirror ran a full-page cover featuring the President, along with the banner headline, “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?”)
Whether from left or right, it’s a patronizing supposition. Every party plays to the same electorate. To dismiss one portion of the voters is to slander the entire population. Worse, it suggests a level of arrogance since it presumes that the superiority of your party is so self-evident that only an idiot could fail to recognize it.
A somewhat more sophisticated talking point is that John Tory is just too good a man; that he was an innocent eaten alive by the savagery of our political process. No small number of my talk-radio colleagues argued that Tory’s devouring would become a cautionary tale for any other titan of business who might consider a life in public service.
John Tory is indeed a good and decent man with an admirable record in the private sector and in public service. But to represent him as some kind of wide-eyed Tyro is a stretch. Tory contested one of the most competitive mayoralty races in Toronto’s history and nearly won. He fought two party stalwarts for the leadership of the provincial Conservatives, won a seat in the Ontario legislature and served two-and-a-half years before the launch of the campaign.
He’s a big boy, capable of taking on all comers. He wasn’t the victim of a vicious and soulless process. He made his own mistakes — first in running to head the wrong party, and second in embracing a faith-based schools policy that any Ontarian (save for his advisers) could have told him would become an unrecoverable fumble. Tory has not been consumed by the process nor suffered character assassination at the hands of the Liberals. In a fair fight, an able man has simply failed to win the population’s favour.