Run, Tory, Run!

Am I imagining things, or am I seeing the beginnings of a Draft Tory movement in the Toronto mayoralty race?

Articles seem to be coming fast and furious in the Toronto media as pundits, saddened by the perceived lack of quality of the five front runners, all express a desire that the former mayoralty candidate, business magnate and leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, goes back on his expressed desire to remain a private citizen. And, I have to admit, I’d like to jump on that bandwagon.

In my opinion, John Tory would be the best choice for mayor of Toronto, especially after comparing him to the current field of candidates vying for the job. Despite sparks of originality from Rocco Rossi and Sue Thompson, all five frontrunners seem bereft of ideas on how to respond to the challenges that Toronto faces in the near future. Most of the platforms seem to be knee-jerk reactions to the policies of the incumbent. If the incumbent mayor David Miller supported it, they opposed it — even perfectly decent policies like Transit City. None of the candidates for mayor have sound or realistic policies on maintaining and improving the state of public transportation in this city, or on maintaining the city’s fiscal health.

A late entry by John Tory would enable him to run not only against the flaws of David Miller, but on the failure of the five current frontrunners to craft a creative vision for the city in opposition to that legacy. He would, I believe, be required to come up with a platform that emphasized his positive ideas in order to distinguish himself from the chorus of negativity emanating from the other candidates. Tory would also have had the benefit of having run an effective, positive campaign in 2003 — one which hasn’t been tainted by seven years of trench warfare in Toronto’s City Hall.

In my recollection of the 2003 mayoralty race, I would say that there was considerable respect between David Miller and John Tory supporters for their respective opposing candidates, even though both candidates viewed each other from opposite sides of the political centre. For Miller supporters like myself, Tory was our second choice, and from what I heard among a number of Tory supporters, Miller was the second choice among many in their camp. And this was because, beyond politics, Tory and Miller shared many similarities in 2003. Both were outsiders, starting from single-digit levels of support in their respective campaigns. Both picked up supporters by running positive, ideas-based campaigns that emphasized the sort of city they could build, rather than the sort of city they wanted to tear down. Miller was standing up to a civic establishment embroiled in scandal. Tory was simply standing up and putting his money where his mouth was when it came to advocating what he believed the city needed in terms of leadership. Both knew that they were putting themselves in one of the hottest seats in the country. Yes, Dalton McGuinty and Stephen Harper wield handle far more responsibility in this country than the mayor of Toronto, but they have far more power to meet those responsibilities. Moreover, the decisions the premier and the prime minister make are rarely felt so directly by their constituents as, say, whether sidewalks get cleared of snow, or when and how often garbage collection takes place.

I caution that, if John Tory had won the race for mayor in 2003 instead of David Miller, Toronto would be roughly in the same shape as it is, now. Which is to say: mixed. Toronto is one of the very few governmental jurisdictions in this country to be running a surplus (a far cry from the situation in 2003), and the city appears to be avoiding the worst of the recession. However, challenges remain in ensuring that the city has the tax base it requires to build and maintain the infrastructure it needs to prosper in the twenty-first century.

Toronto in 2003 had serious structural problems that ensured that it would always struggle for funds in the face of mounting infrastructure problems and hefty social service burdens. David Miller helped make a number of changes to the structure of council and the powers of the city that made council and the mayor’s office better able to respond to the issues. This was thanks, in part, to working with McGuinty on a new City of Toronto Act. I believe that on most of the critical decisions that took us from there to here, Tory would have done much the same, and thank God for that.

But two terms on, it can be argued that it is time for a change. For all the good that Mayor Miller has done, and for all the challenges he has faced down, he has spent considerable political capital to get where he is today, and the well may be running dry.

Ironic though it may be for me to say, it seems to me that the candidate best suited for continuing the good work that David Miller has managed to achieve in building Toronto, in spite of a city council that remains highly dysfunctional, is John Tory — the man Miller beat for the job. Like Miller, Tory is intelligent, and able to build a broad base of support. He may even be more of a consensus builder than Miller (despite his lack of electoral success at the provincial level, he did manage to herd the cats of the Ontario Progressive Conservative caucus). Most importantly, he is one who has, by and large, stayed out of the political fray on city council for the past seven years. His ideas are still fresh, and he has great potential to do much good for the city.

The time has come for a higher quality candidate for the job of mayor of Toronto. The time has come for John Tory.

Run, Tory. Run.

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