As the Toronto Maple Leafs stare at a Game 4 against the Florida Panthers that has the potential to end their Stanely Cup pursuit, mayoral campaigns across Toronto are weighing the cost.
The city has briefly been swept by hockey fever as the Leafs recorded their first victory in round one of the playoffs in almost 20 years.
For some mayoral candidates, it has been the perfect conversation starter, an opportunity to speak to voters about an election that most are yet to think about. For others, it has been a logistical nightmare, with an entire city distracted every few nights and glued to the TV.
Signs the Stanley Cup was beginning to percolate in Toronto’s crowded mayoral race trickled in through April and May, growing with each new victory.
Ana Bailão posted a photograph with fellow Portuguese Canadian and Leafs captain John Tavaras, while Mark Saunders tweeted the famous Go Leafs Go slogan after their first-round victory.
Anthony Furey announced he would be “cutting red tape for Leafs fans.”
Brad Bradford posted a video about the Ontario Science Centre wearing a Maple Leafs jacket.
Josh Matlow tweeted “Better is possible” alongside a video of the team’s first-round winning goal.
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“It’s certainly a way to connect with people,” Matlow told Global News.
“I genuinely cheer for our teams and if you do that in an authentic way, then people can see that and people can feel that. People aren’t dumb … (they can tell) if you’re the kind of politician who clearly has never heard of that team before.”
Despite the clamour to share in the Leafs spirit, it is the candidate who isn’t in the race who has the most to gain from Toronto’s — potentially fleeting — sports success, one expert says.
“There is some research suggesting that things like sports success can give a boost to the imbuement,” Daniel Rubenson, a professor in Toronto Metropolitan University’s politics and public administration department, told Global News.
“Basically, people feel good about themselves when the home team wins. And that is associated more with voting for the incumbent. In this case, there’s no incumbent. So any effect that you would get … from the Maple Leafs doing well, you would have to, as a candidate, manufacture yourself.”
Toronto’s mayoral byelection will be held on June 26, after John Tory stepped down and admitted to a relationship with a staffer in his office.
The race to replace him now has more than 65 candidates — the most crowded race in Toronto mayoral history.
The Race to be Mayor Begins
Although much of the city has not yet started to focus on the byelection, many campaigns are in full swing with daily policy announcements. The Leafs’ run may not offer an advantage to one specific camp over another, but some have been able to use it nonetheless.
One staffer with the Bailão campaign told Global News the Leafs’ buzz, fragile as it may now be, had proved a great point to start conversations. The mayoral hopeful spent one afternoon in Yonge-Dundas Square bedecked in a blue jersey, which reportedly acted as a key conversation piece.
Admitting that few in the general population were ready to talk about detailed mayoral policy yet, the Bailão campaign member said the Leafs conversation offered a route in to remind voters she was running.
One member of Olivia Chow’s team said that the candidate had taken control of her campaign account to tweet her support for the Buds and “genuinely loves” the team.
The Leafs’ run to the second round of the Stanley Cup, however, has also created some campaign hiccups, and an extra element to navigate.
The Saunders campaign, for example, has watched the games suck attention away from the mayoral race and change the news cycle. That’s not something new — campaigns contend with the unpredictable news cycle at every election — but it is another factor to keep in mind.
For example, the Saunders campaign already expects a debate set for Wednesday night – the same night the Leafs face the Florida Panthers for Game 4 – to receive little attention, even saying some candidates had pulled out.
The business of playoff hockey
A tele-townhall organized by the Bailão campaign was not announced until after the second-round fixtures were published to avoid the same fate.
Even some polling companies are feeling the effects.
Quito Maggi of Mainstreet Research told Global News his staff avoid doing polling fieldwork in both Alberta and Toronto while NHL playoff games are being played. That, he said, has been normal practice over “many elections” when local teams are set for a playoff run.
Internal polling for some campaigns has seen similar impacts. Ipsos, on the other hand, said it had seen no change to its fieldwork, which is done largely online.
As the Toronto Maple Leafs prepare for their fight to keep their Stanley Cup dream alive in a must-win game Wednesday evening, few will be paying attention to Toronto’s upcoming mayoral race.
Even staffers who already live and breathe the municipal election will take a break.
When the game is over and the final buzzer sounds, election teams will return to work and assess how — or if — the action on the ice has affected June’s ballot.
You can find a full list of candidates in the Toronto mayoral election race by clicking here.
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