Everything You Need to Know About Toronto Mayoral Candidate John Tory

Dan Carbin is a young(ish) professional who has been actively engaged in politics in three countries for more than two decades. He pays his bills working as a public affairs consultant in Toronto.

In just over a month, Toronto is going to have a new mayor.

And when you head to the polls on October 27th to vote for the new leader of our city (as well as city council members), we want you to be informed.

As if you didn’t already know, this year’s contest is sparking significant local and international attention due to the notoriety and divisive shenanigans of incumbent mayor Rob Ford. Although Ford himself has recently withdrawn from the impending election due to health issues, his presence continues to loom large. 

With older brother Doug stepping in to carry the family banner and run for mayor in Rob’s absence, the election is shaping up to be a referendum on whether the city truly wants “Ford More Years” (of any kind) at city hall. 

So over the next three weeks we’ll be profiling the three leading candidates for mayor – Doug Ford, John Tory, and Olivia Chow – with the goal of cutting through the clutter and offering the straight goods you need to assess each candidate’s suitability for the job and how their election would impact you and your city.

We start the series this week with a profile of John Tory, who, if the polls are to be believed, is the current front-runner for the job.


Notable For:
Some readers may know Tory best due to his recent stint as the host of the Live Drive on Newstalk 1010. That gig was just the latest in a long series of prominent roles that have seen Tory straddle the worlds of business, media, and politics. 

Over the past three decades Tory has occupied such varied roles as Commissioner of the CFL, Chair of Civic Action, and the CEO of Rogers Media.

Despite his numerous career accomplishments, however, Tory’s CV is perhaps most notable for his long series of political setbacks. Tory helmed Kim Campbell’s disastrous 1993 campaign, which saw the old federal Progressive Conservative (PC) party eviscerated as a national political force. After placing second to David Miller in the 2003 Toronto mayoral election, Tory entered provincial politics as the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. Under Tory’s leadership, the PCs were routed in the 2007 election – a loss widely attributed to Tory’s push to extend public funding to private religious schools.  Tory lost his own seat in the 2007 loss to now Premier Kathleen Wynne and was eventually forced to resign the party leadership due to mounting internal dissent. 

His Pitch:
Throughout his political career, Tory has worked to position himself as a centrist conservative with a strong social conscience (aka: an old-school Red Tory). His high-level message to voters is that he has the leadership skills, smarts, and business acumen to make government work more effectively. Tory claims that, unlike Rob Ford, he can offer voters a “safe hand on the wheel.” And we’re pretty sure that was a carefully selected turn of phrase.

Since launching his mayoral bid, Tory has focused his pitch to voters around his plan to improve transit and tackle congestion.

In fact, this April, Tory announced that his number one priority as mayor would be to build the downtown relief line (DRL) subway. A little more than a month later, however, Tory dropped the relief line from his platform and advanced an alternative plan called SmartTrack (which certainly has a catchier name). 

Tory claims that the $8-billion SmartTrack initiative would connect 53 kilometres of the GTA from Mississauga to Markham (and through Toronto of course) with a series of “surface subways.” Tory has justified ditching the DRL from his plan by pointing out that SmartTrack could realistically be built in as little as seven years, leveraging the existing GO Train infrastructure. By contrast, the DRL would not be completed until 2031 at the earliest. 

Like Rob and Doug Ford, Tory has also committed to build the council-backed subway extension in Scarborough. This position appears to be very popular with voters in Scarborough, although critics, including mayoral candidate Olivia Chow and a number of councillors, have panned the subway plan as a waste of money compared to an alternative scheme based on light rail transit (LRT).

The Inside Scoop:
Tory’s chequered political track record has led political analysts to discount him in the past as a nice guy but lacking the judgement and killer instinct needed to succeed in the cutthroat world of politics. 

As a result, the 2014 mayoral election is likely Tory’s last chance for political vindication. 

One of Tory’s greatest challenges as a politician is that he clearly sees the world as a complex place filled with shades of grey. While this attribute is laudable and even refreshing in a politician, it compromises Tory’s ability to clearly communicate a message. 

It’s been noted by political insiders that “Tory talks in paragraphs” and often gives long and overly detailed responses to simple questions. Although this quality clearly reveals Tory’s intelligence and innate intellectual curiosity, it sometimes gives the impression that he waffles on issues or can’t make clear decisions.

Somewhat paradoxically, Tory has also been dogged in the past by those occasions when he has taken clear stands on divisive issues. According to those who have worked with him in the past, Tory will sometimes dig-in on a policy issue that he believes is the right thing to do even if there is a clear indication that the policy is difficult to defend with the public.  This dynamic played out most notably with the aforementioned issue of funding for private religious schools in the 2007 provincial election.

Despite his political track record, however, there are many political insiders who remain convinced that Tory would make an excellent municipal political leader due to his obvious intelligence, dedication to civic life, and courteous, respectful disposition. After years of polarized debate and gridlock at City Hall, Tory is seen as someone who could build consensus and work with both ends of the ideological spectrum on council to get things done.

By running a strong campaign over the next six weeks, Tory may just get the chance to prove these insiders right.

The Path to Victory
Despite a lacklustre start, Tory’s campaign has been building significant momentum over the past few months. 

According to recent polls, Tory has now opened up a commanding lead between 7 and 12 points (over Doug Ford) with six weeks to go until Election Day. 

Tory’s campaign strategy is to target the broad cross-section of the electorate who welcome change at City Hall but don’t have rigid ideological or partisan beliefs. He will probably never secure the support of the approximately 20% or so of voters who identify as hard-core members of Ford nation, nor will he be able to appeal to loyal NDP voters (most of whom are lining up behind Olivia Chow) – but he is making significant efforts to woo the other 60% or so of the voting public. 

His campaign is adopting a big tent approach that seeks support from disenchanted former Ford supporters, progressive conservatives, traditional Liberal party supporters, and even (soft) NDP voters.

While this strategy seems to be working very well so far, it is also risky. 

Unlike the Fords and Olivia Chow, Tory doesn’t have a strong voting block that forms his base. By positioning his campaign in what analysts refer to as the mushy middle, Tory risks having his support squeezed from both sides as the campaign heats up. To avoid this fate his campaign needs to continue its – to date successful – strategy of controlling the news cycle by pushing their plan while simultaneously pointing out the risks posed by both the Ford and Chow campaign.

Vote for John Tory if:

– You define yourself as a “fiscally conservative, socially liberal.”

– You used to think Rob Ford might have been an okay mayor if he wasn’t chronically high, actually showed up for work, and had a social conscience. 

– You can’t stand Rob Ford but you don’t necessarily want to see a return to the Miller years at City Hall. 

– You think that the ability to get along well with others might be an important personality trait for a prospective mayor given the parochial and fractured nature of Toronto’s city council.  



Images courtesy of Facebook/JohnToryTO

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