Former candidate Sarah Thomson makes second Toronto mayoral run to ‘keep it real’

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew

Get the gang back together, it's the 2010 Toronto mayoral campaign all over again. Another notable name has jumped onto the competitive campaign trail to replace Rob Ford, and this time it is a blast from the past.

Sarah Thomson, a somewhat high-profile candidate from Toronto's previous election, launched a second bid to be mayor on Thursday, telling reporters she is “in it to win it.”

“It is time to get this city back in line,” Thomson said at city hall.

This will be Thomson's second bid for Toronto's top job, after polling as high as third place in the 2010 campaign before eventually withdrawing her after her campaign ran out of money.

But Thomson is joining a very different race this time around. Unlike last time, there are several conservative options already on the docket, undermining her business-savvy background. Unlike last time, there are two high-profile female candidates that undermine her appeal as a family woman.

And unlike last time, Thomson has a local profile that stands in contrast to the relatively unknown business-suited silhouette she cast in 2010.

During that campaign, Thomson entered a crowded mayoral campaign with some impressive pedigree. She was the business-minded publisher of the Women's Post magazine who came off, for a time, as a refreshing voice in a sea of aggressive male competitors.

She made some headway during the campaign, rising to third in the polls, but eventually stopped campaigning and tossed her support to runner-up George Smitherman.

But Thomson has lost some of her shine since then.

She ran for the Ontario Liberal Party in the 2011 election, losing in a downtown Toronto riding to the NDP incumbent.

She later abandoned her image as a clean-cut businesswoman and replaced her conservative hairstyle with dreadlocks. As the Toronto Star's Robyn Doolittle wrote in her book, Crazy Town, "Almost as soon as people started to take her seriously, Thomson seemed to go a bit loopy."

Thomson was also at the centre of one of the biggest controversies of Ford's time in office. In 2013, Thomson accused Ford of grabbing her butt during a party, later adding that he seemed to be on drugs. Ford denied the claim.

One thing that hasn’t changed from the previous campaign is Thomson’s key focus. She says she is determined to improve Toronto’s transit system (she has been working as the chair of the Toronto Transit Alliance). She is still in favour of building underground transit, and still supports placing road tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway, charged exclusively to visitors to the city.

Thomson is certainly not shying away from her “outside the box” profile. She travelled to city hall on Thursday in the back of a horse and buggy, apparently to highlight Toronto’s need for transit.

But her campaign really began with an interview posted to her website earlier in the day, which featured her son asking her questions. During the interview, Thomson stressed her business acumen, calling herself the "only candidate who built a multi-million-dollar company from the ground up."

She also said that she liked dogs more than cats because "if a cat were big enough it would eat you." She later explained why she chose her dreadlocks hairstyle.

"It's about keeping it real. I used to have dreadlocks, it is the easiest hairstyle and it takes multicultural to a whole new level," she said.

And, not to pile on to a video that might have been shot as a class assignment, but it seems to be heavily edited, with cuts in the middle of Thomson's responses, and pays a bizarrely high amount of attention to her hand motions.

We haven't seen a campaign video like this, to be sure. Maybe that's what Thomson is banking on. It's a crowded list of candidates, and the cards are stacked against her.

This time, it's all about keeping it real.