From Campaign 2010 to Campaign 2014: framing the #TOpoli narrative


It may be conventional, as we near the halfway point of Team Ford’s mandate, to expect a raft of think pieces, assessments, sententious analyses, and windy “Whither Toronto” wankfests. But enough about me.

Regular visitors to this little corner will be familiar, I think, with your humble servant’s fascination (obsession? – ed.) with framing, storylines, and narratives. It’s nothing new, of course; I harp on it because discourse – the words we use to talk to one another, the stories we tell each other, the themes we use in making sense of current events, the implicit assumptions – is at the very basis of civic engagement. It’s the most essential currency of citizenship. It’s from the basic discursive tools that everything else in the Citizen’s Toolbox – critical thinking, a sense of the public good, an appreciation for complexity – arises.

That’s part of the context for a discussion that developed earlier this afternoon on the Tweetr (kids these days). Regardless of what I may think of Team Ford’s approach to governance, you have to agree that the municipal election of 2010 was pretty much defined by the Ford campaign’s success in establishing and controlling the narrative. The messaging was so effective that with the exception of Joe Pantalone, all the other major mayoral contenders ended up buying into it to some extent. 

Nothing new or revealing there, of course. But as the subsequent two years have shown, there’s a big difference between campaigning and governing. Campaigning can be very effective when the messaging is straightforward and easy to grasp. Whether it’s truthful or constructive is another matter. Once you get into the nuts and bolts of governance, things get a bit more complicated. Either way, though, discourse and narratives matter. Words matter. Definitions matter. Connotations matter, because they’re all essential in establishing the terms whereby we communicate.

That’s not exactly a new insight either, and I’m not the first to suggest it, but I’d humbly suggest that it’s a lesson well worth repeating and establishing as one of the dominant memes for 2014. (I’m not tipping my hand or anyone else’s with this, I trust.)

It’s instructive, therefore, to read the tweets from Nick Kouvalis. Anyone tapped into Toronto politics knows about his role in getting Rob Ford into the mayor’s chair; as I’ve said before, regardless of what I may think about Ford’s politics and approach to governance, there’s no denying that Nick ran an effective and successful campaign. He knows about messaging and about mobilizing voters, and as the following collection of tweets shows, he’s got some insights we would do well to learn from. (Nick, why can’t you use your talents for niceness instead of evil?)

[View the story “Two years of #TeamFord, and what people voted for | #TOpoli” on Storify]


Perhaps it’s too soon. We don’t know what’s going to happen in two years. But I can’t help thinking that the difference between campaigning and governing is going to be central to almost every attempt to define and describe Team Ford’s record. 

Narratives, folks. Fasten your seat belts.

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