One of things that I noted about Ford’s seemingly surprising victory in Toronto is that the field of candidates was historically weak. Joe Pantalone was not a particularly suitable vessel for carrying on Miller’s centre-left legacy. (I recall reading someone who said that Pantalone had all of Miller’s negatives and none of his positives.) Smiterman ran a terrible campaign based around the fact that he was a sort of centrist technocrat who should be mayor because, well, he is a centrist technocrat. Rob Ford ran a fairly typical populist campaign and won by telling people over and over that the elite were unaccountably wasting our tax dollars. In the end the contest was between the centrist technocrat and the right-wing populist and the right-wing populist won.
Viewed through this lens, the Toronto election campaign is reminiscent of something that Slavoj Zizek said on a Dutch TV show recently. Zizek argues that throughout the West political movements are lining up in these two categories, centrist (be it centre-left or centre-right) technocrats and insurgent, far right populists driven more emotion than hard facts. These right-wing populist movements are now better able mobilize people than any particular left-wing group, they have even taken over the language of class by complaining about nebulous “elites” who don’t listen to the people. As Zizek says, “The only channel that functions for more radical forms of discontent is right-wing populism.”
There is no reason why more progressive political parties cannot own the issues of waste and government corruption or the sense that people get that government is unresponsive to them. I mean is Tommy Douglas’ “Mouseland” speech not an excellent example of a progressive attack on government that ignores the vast majority of citizens?