On a Friday evening in October, hundreds of Toronto voters attended a debate at Runnymede United featuring the three top contenders in the city’s hotly contested race for mayor. For two hours, the candidates lunged, weaved and dodged, but it wasn’t until the very end that someone actually spoke the truth.
The organizers had agreed to let a couple of fringe candidates deliver a three-minute pitch after the main part of the evening was over. The first speaker left most of the audience scratching their heads. The second was a tall, well-dressed, 40ish lawyer who introduced himself as Ari Goldkind. He acknowledged he was an outlier but said he was running for mayor because he was tired of politicians who are “so desperate for votes that [they] will do anything and everything to appeal to anyone and everyone.”
The sorry state of public transit in Toronto had emerged as the major issue of the campaign, and the three main candidates had spent much of the evening debating the complexities of each other’s plans for funding new subways and surface transit lines. Goldkind agreed that public transit was the top priority and that more subways and surface routes are needed. But where the other candidates turned themselves inside out trying to assure the audience how the new lines would materialize without Torontonians having to foot a big part of the bill, Goldkind offered an alternative that was audacious in its simplicity: “Let’s pay for the things we need.”
In other words, the problem was so dire that he would raise taxes to get it fixed. Goldkind said he would hike property taxes by five percent, charge tolls on expressways, increase the land transfer tax on high-end home sales and reinstitute a vehicle registration tax abolished amid the short-lived euphoria of Rob Ford’s “respect for taxpayers” election victory in 2010. The reasoning: Toronto needed to demonstrate that it was serious about fixing its transit woes before other levels of government would get serious about helping out. He made more sense in three minutes than the frontrunners had in two hours.
At the time, Goldkind barely registered in the opinion polls. Some pollsters didn’t even include him in their voter preference questionnaires. Undeterred, Goldkind soldiered on, funding his campaign out of his own pocket, insisting that he be included in subsequent debates and badgering the other candidates to tell the truth about themselves and their platforms.
Goldkind had a big advantage over the frontrunners: he had no chance of winning. He could speak candidly without having to worry about the truth getting in the way of his being elected. Some of the other candidates may have secretly envied him. But they also understand that voters don’t always think in terms of the greater civic good, so they dance around the truth in the name of electability.
Ari Goldkind remained a longshot candidate to the end, winning just 0.4 percent of the votes cast for mayor. Like a lot of Torontonians, I voted for another candidate who seemed more likely to end the Ford family circus at city hall. Maybe I’ll vote for Goldkind next time around, if he runs again — and stays true to his principles.
The lesson here is not just for Torontonians; it applies everywhere that ballots are cast. Pay attention to the fringes, because sometimes that’s where the truth is spoken. People of faith should understand this instinctively. Long ago, a voice challenging the conventions of his time arose from the fringes of Roman-controlled Galilee. The voice belonged to a carpenter’s son. His name was Jesus.
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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