Metro Morning

Grading the mayor: One year in, how is John Tory doing?

Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of John Tory as mayor of Toronto.

Two columnists discuss the performance of the Toronto mayor

Toronto Mayor John Tory does a good job of being the public face of the city, but can be ineffectual in council, say his critics. (CBC News)

Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of John Tory as mayor of Toronto.

He campaigned on a platform of uniting the city, boosting transit, fixing up Toronto Community Housing and ending the what he called a circus atmosphere at City Hall.

So how's he doing? 

We asked two municipal watchers to grade Tory on his performance thus far.

Metro city hall columnist Matt Elliott thinks that while John Tory has been a good public face for Toronto, he's been ineffectual on some of the key issues because he isn't able to manage councillors and build consensus.

Activist and journalist Desmond Cole is optimistic about Tory because, despite not being effective on matters like policing, he represents the city well and showed passion in pushing for affordable housing.

Mayor Tory, the anti-Ford

Elliot says when evaluating Tory as chief magistrate, it's impossible to ignore his predecessor, Rob Ford.

"Looking at him in context is taking into account what had happened for the four years beforehand," says the columnist. "In that case, he's done very well because he shows up on time, and he acts like a mayor probably should act."

Cole agrees that Tory represents a break from the turbulent Ford years. He says there is far less commotion at the clamshell.

"We can certainly say that John Tory has restored a sense of calm to city hall," he says. "I personally think this is not a very big accomplishment given his predecessor, but I know it matters to a lot of people, and that folks will be willing to give him more time to implement his plans based on his positive demeanour as mayor."

Elliot likes the job Tory has done selling the city to the world, and being a public Toronto booster at events like Blue Jays games, riding the subway to work most days, being available to the media. "That has been really nice and refreshing," he says.

Cole adds that housing is in the positive column for Mayor Tory as well.

"I think Tory deserves a lot of credit for pushing the issue of social housing during the recent federal campaign," says Cole. "The city desperately needs help to repair TCHC units before they become uninhabitable, and Tory did his best to push that agenda publicly."

Tory, the ineffectual leader

Overall, however, both pundits say Tory scores low on many issues. 

"He hasn't been entirely successful at getting a majority of councillors on side on issues like the [restructuring of the] Gardiner Expressway," says Elliot.

Elliot saw the issue of raked ballots in municipal elections as a sign that this is not a mayor with a firm grip on his council. He said the same has been evident with the Uber debate.

The Uber debate, which has consumed good portion of Tory's first year, is an area where the mayor loses marks for Cole too.

"Tory's handling of the issue suggests he is so sympathetic to Uber that he is reluctant to make its drivers comply with existing rules for taxis," he says. "I think this makes him seem somewhat unprincipled, not necessarily in the public's eyes, but most definitely in the eyes of the many cab drivers I talk to."

On Uber and other policy issues, Elliot says Tory seems too concerned with making decisions that will be immediately popular, not whether it will be good for the city in the long term.

Cole says policing has been a huge negative for the mayor.

"On policing, I feel that mayor Tory has really failed to lead," he says.

Cole points out that Tory has been inconsistent on issues like carding and police budgets. He chose not to renew the term of councillor Michael Thompson, who had become a vocal critic of police carding and rising budgets. Tory initially pledged his support for carding, then promised to eliminate it, then withdrew from the discussion altogether once the province began discussing the issue.

Neophyte mayor

Elliot was surprised when the new mayor announced his first council meeting was in fact his first time in the chambers, ever.

It underlined how inexperienced Tory was at municipal politics, despite having run for mayor in the past. 

"He's the first mayor in a long time to have not had any city council experience," says Elliot. 

Cole says that has affected his judgement on other issues, like the aforementioned police file.

"I was surprised when he announced he would sit on the police services board, a tough assignment for anyone on council, let alone a neophyte like Tory," says Cole.

Elliot says contributing to the lack of experience is that Tory hired people with experience in other levels of government but not much municipal experience.

Confused on congestion

SmartTrack was the cornerstone of Tory's election platform. It was thought to be an interconnected rail system using already existing track. But, as Elliot points out, the transportation plan "has taken a weird turn as an issue."

"It suddenly seems unclear that anyone really knows what SmartTrack is," says Elliot, calling it a vague plan. 

"Is it a brand that will be slapped on GO corridors? Something with the TTC?  Overall, I'm unsure if it's a transit plan or something that looked really good as a campaign platform," says Elliot.

Cole argues Tory's other ideas on congestion relief are muddled.

In the outset of the mayor's first year, he announced a campaign to stop delivery trucks, parked cars and other vehicles from blocking traffic in rush hour. He later announced the same campaign again.

"Tory has made traffic congestion a major issue, and seemed to please many people with his early blitzes on parked cars. But now he says he needs more blitzes, so it's fair to wonder if the strategy is working."


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