The 2018 Toronto municipal election played out as most people expected it to, with John Tory cruising to a second term as mayor. Tory easily defeated runner-up candidate Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s former chief city planner, by more than 300,000 votes.
However, despite Tory’s landslide victory, the Toronto mayoral election was not without controversy or public intrigue. Faith Goldy’s campaign for mayor sparked intense public outrage and debate throughout the election campaign.
Goldy ran a platform that included a number of divisive proposals aimed at stoking ethnic tensions in Canada’s most populous city.
Included in her platform were promises to expel all illegal immigrants from Toronto’s shelter system, monitor the finances of mosques and other Islamic organizations and reinstitute the controversial police practice known as carding — essentially, demanding people of colour show their ID to police officers.
While Goldy, a onetime Rebel Media darling, finished in third place with a paltry 3.4 per cent of the popular vote, the fact that she accumulated 25,667 votes in one of the world’s most diverse and multicultural cities has raised concerns about the potential for a far-right populist candidate to succeed in the future.
It’s imperative that Torontonians and Canadians as a whole understand what Goldy represents in terms of the broader context of right-wing populist ideology, as well as how Goldy’s campaign may serve as a jumping-off point for other extremist parties and candidates to succeed in Canada.
Canada’s Donald Trump
While probably unknown to the average Toronto voter, Goldy has been a prominent right-wing media figure in both the United States and Canada for quite some time. She most recently worked as a media reporter and commentator for the right-wing news website The Rebel Media.
While working for the site, Goldy was an infamous promoter of the conspiracy of white genocide while producing content that rallied Islamophobic opposition against refugees and immigrants. Goldy’s employment at The Rebel Media was ultimately terminated in August 2017 when she appeared on a podcast published on the neo-Nazi website, the Daily Stormer.
Despite her unceremonious departure from Rebel, Goldy has retained a healthy following, with more than 80,000 subscribers to her personal YouTube channel.
As a mayoral candidate, Goldy sought to repackage her racist, xenophobic and extremist views into a populist campaign that would appeal to Toronto voters.
She framed Toronto as a city in decline, ravaged by gun crime and gang violence, deteriorating infrastructure and home to a political establishment catering to special interests.
As the “people’s candidate,” Goldy positioned herself against the political establishment by attacking the media, the courts and private corporations over the course of the campaign.
Different types of populism
Goldy’s populist appeal to Ontario residents comes on the heels of Doug Ford’s ascent to power as premier of the province. Ford’s populist ideology and rhetoric during the Ontario election campaign proved a successful pathway to victory for the PCs, who were able to oust the Liberal Party from power after 15 years in government.
However, while both Ford and Goldy share an affinity for populism, there are important ideological distinctions between them.
Ford’s appeal to Ontario voters is rooted in a neo-liberal world view ostensibly centred on cleaning up government waste, maximizing efficiency and protecting taxpayers. His brand of populism largely eschews the cultural and social anxieties promoted by populists in other parts of the world.
Goldy’s populist ideology, on the other hand, fits neatly within a category of populism that scholars have termed “the populist radical right.” These radical populists emphasize xenophobia and nativism in their appeals to voters while promising to reassert law and order by taking authoritarian measures.
In other words, with her fixation on promoting ethnic nationalism, Islamophobia and racially motivated policing, Goldy’s campaign deviates from the neo-liberal tradition of Canadian populism to more closely mirror international examples of radical right-wing populists like Donald Trump, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen.
Thus, Goldy’s campaign has ushered in a rare instance of radical right-wing populism in mainstream Canadian politics. The question for many, even in light of a distant third-place finish, is whether the Toronto municipal election may signal the beginning of further radical right-wing populism in Canada.
Normalizing radical right-wing populism
The danger of a far-right politician like Goldy achieving even minuscule electoral success is that it may help to normalize xenophobia and nativism within mainstream political discourse.
Both her political opponents and media organizations appear well aware of this danger. Goldy was barred from participating in electoral debates with other mayoral candidates in the lead-up to the election and Bell Media refused to run her campaign ads on their television stations.
While these efforts to avoid granting Goldy’s messages legitimacy in public discourse should be applauded, they obscure the reality: in many ways, Goldy’s brand of radical right-wing populism has already been normalized within Canadian politics.
Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada share some blame. During their time in power, the Harper government engaged in a number of thinly veiled flirtations with Islamophobia while actively promoting a Euro-Canadian conception of Canadian identity.
In many ways, Goldy’s campaign can be understood as an outgrowth of the cultural populism ushered in by the Harper government that has helped radical right-wing ideologies in Canada find a place in the mainstream.
Adept at social media
Goldy is uniquely troubling not merely due to her commitment to a radical right-wing ideology, but also her adeptness at promoting her message to supporters. At only 29 years old and with a slew of media experience, Goldy is a skilled social media practitioner, using Twitter and YouTube to connect with supporters while circumventing traditional media outlets.
And so the danger of Goldy’s mayoral campaign is not only that it demonstrates the increasing normalization of xenophobia and nativism within Canadian right-wing political discourse. It also shows how extremist rhetoric can spread and gain traction via the use of social media.
It’s important that Goldy’s campaign isn’t laughed off or dismissed as a delusional political incursion by an extreme right-wing media figure.
Rather, we ought to be wary and watchful of the potential lessons that other politicians may draw from her campaign.