John Tory ends Rob Ford's reign over Toronto
The mayor-elect promises decisions over division
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In many private conversations leading up to election day with voters, incumbent councillors and newcomers, it was clear they believed as many of them put it to me that "the circus had to leave town" — code for an end to Ford rule at Toronto City Hall and an end to what many, frankly, called "Toronto’s embarrassment."
But, city hall is not a Ford-free zone, with Rob Ford easily winning his brother’s Etobicoke ward and offering up a defiant speech that the Fords "never give up."
Tory was, by and large, elected to bring steady but not necessarily spectacular leadership to city hall, though people who know him and who have worked with him say he is capable of both.
Their one concern is the nagging question of whether Tory’s tough enough to take on the 44 city councillors.
He will clearly have his backers on the new council. But, there will be others determined to make his life as mayor difficult.
As provincial Conservative leader at Queen’s Park, Tory faced some difficult times as a so-called "Red Tory" in trying to wrangle his very "blue" caucus.
After he failed at that and was unable to win a seat in the legislature and, resigned as leader, one of his former MPPs said Tory was “too nice to be leader,” though there was never any question about his dedication to the job.
Many others thought he was out of step, with the civility he tried to bring to the daily question period, asking solid questions and expecting in return solid answers.
Tory seemed more interested in conversation and not confrontation — ironically, exactly the same approach Kathleen Wynne brought to the legislature as Liberal leader and premier. She succeeded. Tory did not. But the times were different.
In the years since, while the wounds have healed from his Queen’s Park experience, Tory’s approach has not changed, whether it was pushing ideas as head of the group Civic Action or fielding phone calls as host of a Toronto open-line radio show.
Better prepared, cooler than in 2003 bid
He’s polite and developed along the way an ability to listen — a skill not easily learned by someone who’s spent a lifetime as an adviser to premiers, prime ministers and mayors.
People around Tory in this campaign openly say he learned from past mistakes and past setbacks — that he was better equipped this time than he was in 2003 when ran and lost to David Miller.
Tory is not quick to anger, unless it’s an attack on, for example, his integrity, which he jealously guards.
He is not into name-calling. And, his pre-written "jabs" during the long mayoral campaign often fell flat — primarily because he wasn’t always comfortable in delivering them.
Tory will respect city councillors — something absent on many days under Toronto’s current mayor — and, in return he will work to win their respect.
Some will be won over and, some not.
Some may not be able to see past "party labels" — forgetting perhaps that his mentor — former Premier Bill Davis was a master at occupying the so-called "mushy middle" on the political spectrum with an ability to move "left" and bring in rent controls and move "right" and buy into Suncor.
So, Tory’s a Tory. He is a fiscal conservative. But, his time as Davis’s principal secretary and, years later, heading up successful United Way campaigns in Toronto, should be seen as proof, regardless of his upbringing in wealth and privilege, that he understands people in the city are being left behind and that he’s prepared to do something about it.
In large part, even though she didn’t win, Olivia Chow’s message on the need for better affordable housing and childcare should not be lost on Tory.
And in his victory speech Tory indicated he understands that those votes for the one-time MP represent support for improvements to city issues besides transit.
But, change will take time at Toronto City Hall, especially after the Ford years and because Tory is, after all, just one vote.
A healing process at city hall
So, he’s got his work cut out for him. There is a long list of election promises, bringing the city back together — ending the "them and us" attitude though the results don’t match his slogan of: “OneCity.” And he’s got to unite the council, to almost immediately begin the healing process.
Then, there is the city’s critically important relationship with the two other levels of government.
Tory’s election has come as a huge relief to Premier Wynne and her government — many members of which came out, with her blessing, to endorse Tory’s campaign — something that should not have come as a surprise — since it’s been an open secret that Wynne and Ford had little use for each other, especially with the mayor’s threat to unleash what he likes to calls “Ford Nation” against the Liberals — a threat Dalton McGuinty initially worried about but then dismissed.
Wynne and Tory — even as former foes — liked and respected each other, and that ongoing friendship will change the dynamic between city hall and Queen’s Park.
And then there’s Ottawa.
The Fords — Mayor Rob and councillor- turned-mayoral-candidate Doug — always made much of their ties to the Harper government.
But, with the death of former finance minister Jim Flaherty, a life-long Ford family friend, the connection quickly disappeared, as it became clear the Harper Tories, including the prime minister, wanted to keep their distance from the antics and turmoil at Toronto City Hall.
It was not by accident that someone last month leaked to the Globe and Mail the fact that Tory and Harper had met in Ottawa over the summer to discuss all things Toronto.
And, in confirming that, Tory acknowledged to reporters that, in fact, he had had “several meetings” with the prime minister long before he decided to run for mayor of Toronto — a city where Harper was born — a city the Tories need in the next federal election to secure another mandate.
So, it is ironic that Tory’s win is welcome news to the provincial Liberals and the federal Conservatives. But, there it is: "politics does make for strange bedfellows."
But at city hall, while Tory will still have to win over some of those on council, there is nothing strange about their collective desire to change what has gone on there for the past four years — a view shared by Torontonians who voted for Tory and turned out in record numbers — wanting decisions and not division. As mayor, he may well appear on U.S. network television but only not as the butt of jokes by late-night talk show hosts.