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LILLEY: Mark Saunders says only he can beat Olivia Chow for mayor

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Mark Saunders has gone from pitching himself as a strong leader who can “solve Toronto’s major problems” to saying he’s the only one who can beat Olivia Chow.

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His new message, summed up on the website StopChow.ca, may be the winning one given that so far no one has laid a glove on Chow in the polling.

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In poll after poll, including the internals of several campaigns, Chow is the definite leader usually polling around 30% or above. Everyone else is well back, sitting in the mid-teens in terms of popular support, but Saunders is in the lead of that batch of candidates.

Now, he wants to use a simple message to propel himself into the mayor’s chair.

“It’s time to choose who can stop Olivia Chow. The fact is, I’m the one who can,” Saunders said during a Thursday morning news conference.

“A vote for any other candidate is a vote for Chow. I invite all the other candidates to join me in this campaign.”

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He said there are decent people, men and women running for mayor who want what is best for this city but they can’t beat Chow. To be honest, it’s not clear if Saunders can either, but he’s currently the closest to being able to accomplish this feat.

Neither Josh Matlow nor Mitzie Hunter are going to catch on fire and pull voters away from the progressive side to beat Chow. Brad Bradford and Ana Bailao are simply too far back and fighting for much of the same centrist ground as Saunders, but like Matlow and Hunter, aren’t finding a spark with voters.

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As for polls putting Bailao in second, no one who seriously follows politics and isn’t connected to the Bailao campaign believes she’s in second place.

Anthony Furey does have momentum, “it’s real” a competing campaign said of his move from back of the pack to contending with these other candidates. The question is whether he has enough time – there’s less than three weeks until voting day – to catch Chow.

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One of them needs to beat Chow and Saunders is making the pitch that he’s the only one for the job.

“She’ll defund the police, she’ll raise your property taxes by at least 25%, she’ll ram bike lanes onto every single major street,” Saunders said, explaining why Chow isn’t the right person to be mayor.

“I will fund the police, I will freeze taxes, I will get traffic moving,” Saunders said.

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“I know how to lead. Olivia Chow has never led anything, she’s an activist, she only cares about her special interest friends.”

Chow has been an MP, a city councillor and a member of the Toronto Police Services Board – though she was squeezed out of that role for protesting against police. Yet, for all that experience, Chow has never held an executive role in a large organization.

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The City of Toronto is a corporation with a $16 billion per year operating budget, 40,000 employees and hundreds of pieces of property across the city. Being mayor, effectively the CEO of the organization, is a serious job.

It’s not clear that Chow has the experience needed to run an organization of this size and her policies on crime, on raising taxes – she won’t say how high – are real problems.

As for issues like the tent encampments taking over parks, she has no plan to remove them and her support for decriminalizing hard drugs would only make the situation worse by taking Toronto down the road of Vancouver, San Fransisco or Philadelphia.

Saunders is offering solutions on these issues. Whether he is the man to beat Chow remains to be seen. But he’s asking other candidates, and their supporters, to rally behind him to make sure Chow doesn’t become mayor.

We’ve got three weeks to see if voters will buy what he’s selling.

blilley@postmedia.com

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