John Tory’s first year as Toronto’s mayor has brought a welcome change of tone from the Rob Ford circus. But in terms of policy, he has a lot more in common with his predecessor than meets the eye.
Let’s start with the positive. While Ford ridiculed anyone on council who disagreed with him, Tory has expressed a willingness to listen to other points of view. You won’t hear Tory say that his opponents on council are “two steps left of Joe Stalin,” as Ford said of Liberal MP and former councillor Adam Vaughan, among others.
Both men are Conservatives, but only Ford was out on the hustings stumping for then-prime minister Stephen Harper’s ultimately unsuccessful re-election bid. True, Ford is no longer mayor, but he is still a wildly popular city councillor for Ward 2 (Etobicoke North), which is a staunchly Liberal riding federally.
By contrast, Mayor Tory was careful to avoid endorsing any candidate in the federal election, lest he alienate any of his constituents.
“I will stay uninvolved in the campaign because I think I’m the mayor of all the people – I’m the mayor of Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, Greens, Rhinoceros Party, Marijuana Party people,” Tory said. “I’m the mayor of all the people and it is my job to get the best deal for Toronto and not to get involved in the campaign.”
It’s undoubtedly refreshing to have a mayor with a less partisan approach to representing the city, but this does not entirely lessen the political similarities between Ford and Tory.
Both men have positioned themselves as champions of the oft-neglected inner suburbs – Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York.
Tory doesn’t make a habit of raging against “downtown elites” like Ford, but his policy on the Gardiner Expressway appears as a giant middle finger towards downtown city councillors.
Instead of tearing down the troubled highway east of Jarvis Street to make way for a scenic boulevard, as the downtown councilors preferred, Tory advocated the far more costly partial tear down, or hybrid option, advocated by many suburban councilors.
The vote was a frightfully close 24 – 21 in favour of Tory’s plan. Not exactly what’s expected from the man who pledges to unite all Torontonians.
Every single downtown councilor voted against the hybrid plan, plus notable suburbanites like Maria Augimeri of North York and Paul Ainslie of Scarborough.
Ford was the only councillor to vote for keeping the Gardiner as is, but this appears more as political grandstanding than actual policy difference.
The Gardiner connects Etobicoke with the rest of the city, so Ford’s support for it is understandable. If he were still mayor he’d likely take Tory’s position on the matter, salvaging whatever he can of the expressway.
Though Ford pledges “support for taxpayers,” he’s been more than willing to spend when it’s politically expedient.
The most prominent example is the Scarborough subway, supported by both the current and ex-mayor. The subway costs about $3.5 billion, whereas the light rail option, which serves the same purpose, costs $1.5 billion, according to a University of Toronto study from March.
The 24 – 20 vote, which occurred under Ford’s watch, was split along regional lines, like the more recent Gardiner vote.
Like many Torontonians, I’ve met the mayor. He seems like a genuinely nice guy. But Tory’s sky high 72 per-cent approval rating may be more reflective of his likable persona than actual policies.
Like his predecessor, Tory taps into the very real disconnect between the suburbs and downtown core. This is not specifically a mayoral problem, but a Toronto one, that existed before Ford and will continue after Tory.
If Tory’s policies were consistent with his rhetoric, he would have spent the last year attempting to bridge this gap. Regrettably, he’s done anything but that.