The recent Toronto elections saw a landslide victory by Rob Ford, a fiscal conservative, nuclear-family type candidate, over his closest opponent, George Smitherman, a city-booster who is dedicated to Toronto’s ascension. In recent years, Toronto and Torontonians have wanted to view themselves as a cosmopolitan city, open to new ideas, sort of a “next Manhattan”. Smitherman seemed to be in touch with that at the beginning of the campaign. In our city, much of the popular press has dedicated itself to promoting ideas like local shopping, use of public transit, bike lanes, and heavy spending on art and culture. The election of Mayor Ford was greeted in many quarters with a collective gasp – a true of “shock and awe” response. But should we have seen it coming? Frequently we see a similar reaction amongst our clients, when their customers take a direction that seems to come from completely out of left field. Yet, there are usually all sorts of clues.
First, regardless of their political stripe, most people are mad as heck over the financial debacles that led us into a global recession. For many Canadians, the reaction has been to buckle down, to work harder, and to tighten our belts. So theoretically, a man who proposes to make Toronto do the same, should be appealing. Ford has said he’ll cut some extraneous taxes, and at the same time, start slashing wasteful spending. We cynics aren’t sure how he thinks he’ll manage that. He’s also not a card-carrying member of the sort of literati we expect to see supporting high-minded causes around the city. He is, however, someone who was willing to take a stand, when most of his opponents focused on what others were not doing. Most were in the “Anyone but Ford” camp.
Was Rob Ford more conservative than those who want to save the planet with the whole “buy local”, ride transit, get-to-know-your-neighbourhood thing? While those initiatives are appealing to some because we have a 60’s-style, planet-saving mindset, for just as many, is a protectionist response to the ever-increasing hollowing-out of our local businesses and industries. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by the Ford landslide. Maybe the clues were there. Strangely, maybe Rob Ford was listening and gave people what they wanted. We could do well to do the same with our own customers and prospects – and make sure that we don’t settle for what we see on the surface, but that we dig deep to understand the essential zeitgeist that is at work in their worlds.
Megann and Steve