The Political Life of Canadian Politician George Smitherman - Part 2

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The Political Life of Canadian Politician George Smitherman - Part 2

by Adonis Huggins with contribution by Nea Maaty
(Nea and Adonis are staff journalists with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)

George Smitherman was the former Toronto Centre Riding Member of Provincial Parliament from 1999 to 2009 (representing the communities of St. Jamestown, Regent Park, Moss Park, Cabbagetown and Church and Wellesley).  George Smitherman was the first openly gay cabinet minister and served as Minister of Health and Long-Term Care from 2003 to 2007 as well as Minister of Energy and Infrastructure from 2008 to 2009. George was also the Deputy Premier of Ontario from 2006 to 2009. George resigned as a MPP to contest the mayoralty of Toronto in 2010, finishing second with 35.6% vote and losing to Doug Ford who won with 41% of the vote.
 
When George Smitherman first received the Liberal Party nomination for Toronto Centre Riding in 1999, it’s fair to say not many residents of riding including Regent Park, Moss Park, St. James Town or Cabbagetown, had an inkling of who he was. George however was no newcomer to politics. George, ever passionate about politics, had served as a liberal party organizer to Premier David Peterson and senior advisor to several federal ministers.  George was also chief of staff and campaign manager to one time Mayor of Toronto, Barbara Hall, an experience that he would take with him to campaign in riding of Toronto Centre as the Liberal Party candidate and much later for the Toronto Mayoralty himself. On June 3, 1999, a Progressive Conservative government under Mike Harris would be re-elected, however Smitherman would succeed in winning the Toronto Centre seat for the Liberals.

It’s fair to say that George Smitherman was a kind of politician that one either felt affinity towards or felt strongly against.  Never one to sit on the fence, George had strong opinions on almost everything. But George was a straight shooter, it was often said that at least you knew where you stood with George. For instance, George did not hide the fact he was gay or had struggled with addictions and mental health. In the legislature George was known for his aggressiveness and gained the reputation “furious George.” George soon became the Liberal Party leader’s right-hand man and would be rewarded in 2003, when the Liberals won the election and Dalton McGuinty was sworn in as the 24th Premier of Ontario.  McGuinty named Smitherman to cabinet appointing him Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, considered one of the most important ministries of the government.  
 
Two important initiatives that Smitherman launched under the high profile leadership as the health minister was, the Wait Times Strategy (2004), focused on reducing wait times for cancer and other surgeries, and the Aging at Home Strategy ( 2007), aimed at enabling seniors to live independent, healthy lives at home through home care and community based services.

Smitherman was an effective politician and communicator but he also did his home work and was well prepared for the antics of the oppositional parties in the legislature, earning him the role of Deputy Premier. Despite Smitherman’s effectiveness in the legislature, he was never able to escape criticism for the failed implementation of eHealth, an electronic health records system devised to improve health care in which the health ministry spent millions on. What the public failed to understand about eHealth, argues George, “is that money had to be spent on the installation of hardware,” which at the time was incredibly lacking in the mid 2000’s.

In 2008, George Smitherman was appointed to the be Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, a super-ministry achieved through the merger of two formerly separate government departments. As Minister, George was responsible for the Green Energy Act, encouraging investment in green energy. The Act would result in making Ontario the leading wind energy jurisdiction in North America.

In 2010, George resigned from cabinet to run for Mayor of Toronto.  Leading up to the elections, public opinion polls, placed Smitherman practically tied with Rob Ford for first place. The Ford campaign would use the eHealth scandal controversy to mislead the public and ultimately George Smitherman would narrowly lose to Rob Ford. Reflecting on the loss, George remains bitter about the campaign, “The Ford people were nasty.”

George would end his political career with one more kick at the can, this time challenging incumbent councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Lucy Troisi for the ward’s single seat on council for Ward 13 (representing Regent Park, St. James Town, Moss Park and Cabbagetown). George would come in second to Kristyn Wong-Tam, but this time only winning 15% of the vote.  

 After years of departure from political life, George Smitherman is once again contemplating a return to the riding of Toronto Centre…this time not as a politician but as a resident of St. James Town. Welcome back George!

 

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Video Upload Date: April 30, 2021

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