Q&A: John Tory, one-year veteran of the mayor’s chair

Q&A: John Tory, one-year veteran of the mayor’s chair

John Tory cruised through year one at city hall, but a shifting transit strategy, a fractious police force and budget battles threaten the peace

John Tory (Image: Markian Lozowchuk)
 

You’ve had a relatively smooth first year as mayor but have taken some flak recently for your U-turn on the Scarborough subway: you now want one stop instead of three. Please explain.
Our chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, presented me with new facts: by cutting two stops, we could free up $1 billion to finance a light rail line to service more of Scarborough. I didn’t drag my heels and object; I accepted the evidence from the experts. I think that’s what people want from their leaders.

If you’re truly committed to evidence-based decision making, shouldn’t you scrap the Scarborough subway entirely? A $2.5-billion tunnel to one location seems outrageous.
It’s a large sum of money, but it will connect 625,000 people to the rest of the transit system, and it will create jobs and development and a substantial return on investment. I’m also being realistic. Scarborough MPP Brad Duguid, minister of economic development, said that if anyone tries to cancel the subway, they’ll do it over his dead body.

Should mayoral candidates be proposing transit plans in the first place? You hatched SmartTrack without data or expertise. Now your political fortunes are tied to its success.
I don’t think you want to discourage candidates from making bold proposals.

Sure, but had council left Metrolinx alone, Scarborough would now have an operational LRT, and the city would have $85 million not wasted when Ford swapped in his personal transit plan.
Metrolinx is extremely useful, but there’s no guarantee its members are going to be right 10 times out of 10. And they might think a certain proposal is too challenging. SmartTrack was an ambitious proposal, and it will happen.

Unless a Ford wins in 2018 and we’re back to subways, subways, subways.
If Mr. Ford wants to run an election proposing to reverse my transit decisions, I’d relish the prospect.

You met with Justin Trudeau recently. I couldn’t help but notice: Harper made you meet him at the airport. Trudeau came straight to your office.
People have made that into more than it was. If either one asked me to meet him at, say, a Tim Hortons at 3 a.m., I’d have been there.

What did you and Trudeau talk about?
Family, sports, and how he wants to flow money into transit and community housing as fast as possible. These are developments that Toronto has been seeking for years, so I was thrilled.

Deputy Chief Sloly recently said that the police force is aware of how to modernize and cut costs but, essentially, won’t. What did you make of his comments?
He and Chief Saunders are effectively on the same page. And we are pursuing many of those ideas. For example, putting some traffic duties into the hands of technology is something we may see as early as June 2016.

Was it improper of him to speak out like he did?
That’s for the chief to decide. But when you’re in a senior position at a big organization, you must be careful what you say and where.

Was the James Forcillo verdict fair?
He intends to appeal, so I won’t comment while the case is before the courts. But I do support the Iacobucci report, which sets the goal of no injuries or deaths as a result of encounters with the police.

Which of Iacobucci’s 84 recommendations will help most?
The additional de-escalation training. An officer told me recently how he distracted an agitated person by asking about sports. It bought enough time that the person calmed down, and the incident was soon over. In many cases, it’s not rocket science.

You’ve become a ubiquitous presence in the city, even for a mayor. Tell us about your schedule. When does the day start?
I wake up at 4:55 a.m., shave, shower, dress, eat, am on the subway at 6:10 and in my office at 6:30. Coffee, strong with sweetener. I work until my 7:30 meeting with my senior advisors. Then the day takes off, followed by events in the evening. I get home around 9 p.m., watch sports, then go to sleep at 11:30 p.m.

How does that schedule sit with your wife, Barbara?
I wouldn’t be doing it if she weren’t fully on board. We sit down every week and schedule times to be together.

Your first year at city hall is done. What would the Yelp review say if you wrote one?
“Restoring respect, showing promise, progress made. More to come.”