John Tory’s first actions as mayor aren’t divisive, they’re just smart
The Rob Ford era is over. Even if you didn’t catch a glimpse of John Tory’s swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday, you can feel the shift in the civic mood. Toronto’s genuine malaise over the crack-fueled, self-destructive exploits of its globally notorious former mayor has given way to hyperbolic partisan braying. Everything is back to normal.
Tory revealed his choices for key city hall appointments late Sunday night. Not a single councillor from within the boundaries of pre-amalgamation Toronto will chair anything noteworthy. Twitter detonated upon contact with the information, shrapnel flying from both the left and the right. Councillors wasted no time before fuming aloud in newspaper stories. It’s the same crew that ran the Ford administration was a common refrain, particularly from those willing to overlook the fact that, save for one exception, voters re-elected every incumbent councillor who ran. Voters gave Tory pretty much the same shallow talent pool they gave to Ford, and the worst that can be said about his choices is that some are uninspired.
Commentators on Twitter and in the press reserved their greatest outrage for Tory’s appointment of Denzil Minnan-Wong as deputy mayor. Minnan-Wong has run afoul of council’s left over the years for taunting and baiting them, making him, apparently, the most divisive choice possible. And yet, were it not for Minnan-Wong, council might never have mustered the will to curb Rob Ford’s power.
It was just over a year ago, on November 13, 2013, when Minnan-Wong stood up in council and tabled a motion calling for Ford to take a leave of absence and cooperate with police. In a scene that should be burnished in civic memory forever, Ford physically blocked Minnan-Wong from approaching Frances Nunziata in the speaker’s chair. A tense standoff ensued, but, in the political sense, that was the moment Ford was brought to his knees. The only recourse left to him was to use his bulk, because words could offer no defence. He was through.
Later that same day, in another memorable exchange, Minnan-Wong got Ford to admit aloud that he’d personally purchased illegal drugs. We have already forgotten—we have needed to forget—what a trying time that was, with the mayor’s craven attention-seeking antics intensifying daily and council unable to galvanize itself in opposition to him. With the global media watching, it was Denzil Minnan-Wong who administered a ruthless, thorough, and necessary public dismantling of Rob Ford. Many tried before him, but none succeeded as he did. Within days Ford had been stripped of his powers. That performance alone should have earned Minnan-Wong eternal gratitude. Instead it got him the consolation prize of the deputy mayor’s job.
He’ll be good at it. No government leader can rise above partisanship without a sidekick to whom partisan battles can be outsourced. Minnan-Wong will be to Tory what George Smitherman was to Dalton McGuinty: the human hand grenade he tosses into his opponents’ media availabilities. Arguably, a mischief-making deputy’s job is less important at Queen’s Park than at city hall, where everyone feigns collegial non-partisanship. Tory spent his first day in office showing he can play nice—with Premier Wynne, council’s left, the city bureaucracy, everyone. But the message is clear: if you don’t play nice in return you can deal with Denzil.
As for the argument that Tory no longer plans to be the unifying, One Toronto mayor he promised to be, that line of thinking has become a clichéd post-election non-sequitur. Every politician’s victory speech features bromide verses about inclusiveness, about leading for all the people—and it’s important they demonstrate efforts to do so. But that doesn’t mean political opponents should be treated as though they were fervid supporters all along. Elections also produce losers, and the 2014 Toronto election once again returned a tiny rump of NDP-backed progressives to council. One wonders where they get the idea, two drubbings in, that they’re nonetheless entitled to hold the levers of power and policy.
And just what are the policy preoccupations of downtown progressives anyway? One presumes, and hopes, that they include solving the plight of the city’s most disadvantaged populations in its most downtrodden areas, those neighbourhoods whose standards of living have been declining for decades and which have not shared in the prosperity brought by the condo boom. The downtown has its problems, but, as I have pointed out before, they are problems of abundance. The declining neighbourhoods are the places Tory has vowed to help, and as it happens none of them are downtown. They are in the far reaches of the city, in the places represented by—oh look!—many of the very people Tory has appointed to positions of power.
The administration Tory is crafting might not be progressive in the sense of being left of centre, but it is progressive in more important ways: it will be led by representatives of have-not regions, and it will not attempt its predecessor’s lone-wolf approach to reform. It also begins its work with far greater prospects for accomplishment. And that will be harder for council’s left wing to stick in their pipe than anything Don Cherry ever had to say.
11 thoughts on “John Tory’s first actions as mayor aren’t divisive, they’re just smart”
A well-written article. Welcome Mayor Tory. Good riddance, Mr. Ford.
The circus has left the building but obviously some clowns remain. Yea, that means you Mammoliti.
Umm people like Mammolliti, Nunziata and Cesar Palacio have been representing the suburbs for years now, and they are still as economically depressed as ever. Nice spin job that “finally representatives of have-not regions” are in control and things are going to be improving now that the stupid lefties are left out in the cold.
And yet they keep getting voted back in.!! These three are the reason there should be term limits on city council.
“Elections also produce losers, and the 2014 Toronto election once again returned a tiny rump of NDP-backed progressives to council. One wonders where they get the idea, two drubbings in, that they’re nonetheless entitled to hold the levers of power and policy.” Exactly.
This is a good article featuring clear-headed analysis. Watching the mayoral debacle unwind from afar, I had little idea of the key role that Denzil Minnan-Wong played in neutralizing Ford. As much as I dislike partisan politics, it’s reality and Mr. Minnan-Wong seems to play the game formidably.
Denzil Minnan-Wong – is not a player, he is a self-centered and likes sound-bites, he is the worst choice in this new city council. He is only a mouth, he hasn’t had an original thought since corn flakes were invented. He will do far more harm than good – that is easily predicted. He is not a progressive thinker and is the last, make that LAST man to make any substantial change for the good. He is a car lover and a pedestrian hater. Bad mistake Tory, very bad mistake.
The idea that people like Perks and Wong-Tam were elected to deal with “problems of abundance” is absurd. These councilors are traditional social democrats focused on social justice. The divide between the downtown and the burbs is not have vs. have-not (although that is a factor) – in reality it is citizen vs. consumer. Downtowners tend to elect councilors who believe that there is a collective responsibility to ensure that every citizen/resident gets a fair shake, and this means transferring wealth to lesser off individuals in the form of special services and abundant transit/housing (refer to: Transit City). Suburban voters, who on average haven’t seen the same increase in real incomes over the last decade as downtowners, are concerned primarily with being treated fairly as consumers, which includes lower taxes (i.e. more money in their pocket from week to week) and filled potholes. There is also a notion, pushed by people like Denzil, that the “consumers” or “taxpayers” in the suburbs deserve 1:1 equality with downtown in terms of certain services like subways, even though any reasonable planner would be able to explain why subways in the suburbs are an epic waste of “taxpayer” money. We’re all just talking past each other. It’s not what I would call “smart”.
Maybe because when Miller was in power, the suburbs demanded that they be handed the reins? Miller had 5 right councilors from the suburbs on his exec – suburbs that didn’t vote for him – and the right whined incessantly that it should have been more. Tory has zero downtown councilors on his exec, despite several downtown wards voting for him over anyone else.
Yes that car lover who backed the Adelaide and Richmond bikelanes…
More of the same old, same old. Don’t expect too much of Tory.
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