Decades of feeding false narrative of “competent” dealmaker have left city in shambles
When former Toronto mayor John Tory was caught with his pants down, many were prepared to let him slink off into the sunset.
But like a political vampire, Tory seems to be rising from the dead in this post-sunset world. His “I’m still here” grin is showing up in selfies and political self-promotion with alarming regularity – just this weekend he photo-bombed the real mayor, Olivia Chow at a local Ukrainian Independence Day celebration. Easy to imagine, he’s lurking, looking for an opportunity to join the politically undead.
As a result, a wooden stake must be sharpened, the garlic gathered and the true story of Toronto’s “competent” ex-mayor must be told.
The recent mayoralty by-election, caused by Tory, saw every candidate running against the city that Tory’s inept rule created, although more than half of the candidates claimed to be Tory’s pet and preferred replacement. This fundamentally flawed logic was largely presented unchallenged by Toronto media, the formerly progressive Toronto Star endorsing Tory’s right-hand person Ana Bailão, who had a ringside seat creating the underfunded, underperforming wreck of a city she, Tory and their pals have created.
Hats off to Tory for pulling off this amazing con, helped in part by a compliant mainstream press that has been feeding his persona as the competent foot soldier for decades. This despite a steady string of electoral defeats, some of them full bellyflops like his failed leadership of the provincial Conservatives.
If, as everyone on all sides acknowledges, you accept that Toronto is currently a crumbling mess, it got that way on Tory’s watch, preceded by the scandal-filled and scandalously incompetent rule of Rob Ford.
Yet, Tory lurked at the edges of the election, like an old-school Communist ruler, ready to hand out his favours to those showing the greatest fealty to the former boss.
Turns out, Tory’s blessing may be a curse as both Bailão and his city council lap dog Gary Crawford — running for MPP after cashing in a $120,000 severance the day before the vote — were defeated after receiving Tory’s robocall endorsement.
Why aren’t Conservatives furious with Tory? He literally betrayed them, risked everything they were counting on him to achieve for an incredibly and obviously inappropriate relationship with a much younger staff member. There’s nothing grey about this except his hair; basic workplace ethics say the boss can’t sleep with subordinates (even if it is consensual) and if they do, they should, at the very least, report it.
He knew that and did it anyway, ready to risk everything for an explicitly forbidden fling that only a fool — or someone arrogant and entitled — would think could be kept hidden forever.
Tory was apparently tipped off that the Toronto Star was going to break the story before the last election but, in his arrogance, he ran anyway, convinced the forever-compliant press would continue its obedience.
It’s a gamble that cost the city $15 million and it cost his team City Hall.
Tory’s insistence on hanging around after he was outed to pass his “carefully crafted” budget with the billion-dollar hole in it was treated as some kind of noble sacrifice, the captain staying at his post to the last minute.
It was a fantasy, a delusion or a con job, but it was not a competent or reasonable budget. It was a fiscal disaster that Mayor Olivia Chow will now have to clean up.
Tory was running the city like a 17-year-old car owner who had put two dollars’ worth of gas into their vehicle days ago and continued to hopefully drive with the gauge below empty.
Even after disastrously slashing services to the bone, Tory and his hatchet-wielding pals couldn’t come up with a remotely balanced budget, left to operate like a hopeful Blanche DuBois and count on “the kindness of strangers.” Though both the Feds and the province that Tory was wistfully hoping would bail out the city were supposed to be his buddies, they just didn’t act like it.
Much is made of Tory’s “relationships” and how they were supposed to help the city with little demonstrable proof.
He led a group that was supposed to generate new uses for Ontario Place, and we’re now looking at a disastrous plan, the massive Fort Sweat sauna complex that real city builders — and the new mayor — are fighting.
What of his scandalous relationship with Rogers? How has it been remotely acceptable that Tory has been brazenly receiving $100,000 a year from Rogers Communications, one of the city’s biggest employers, a huge consumer of city services at the (former) Skydome alone, and of which Tory was once CEO.
And what about the horrible World Cup hosting deal he “negotiated” with his employer, since Rogers is one of the owners of MLSE. This is an obvious conflict of interest, and the deal is screamingly one sided, with the City on the hook for all inevitable cost overruns and the cash-rich mega-corps getting a massive stake in the benefits. To make it worse, much of the deal remains secret, with even new Mayor Chow forced to hunt for details.
We only know of these obvious conflicts, like when he shilled for Rogers when the Blue Jays had issues with street closures, but we’re left to guess what went on in private. Can you imagine if any other major firm in the city was handing the mayor 100 grand a year and that would be okay? In the old days, they did this by subtly sliding an envelope across a desk while looking the other way; apparently, now it’s okay to be upfront about it. (Actually, Doug Ford’s government recently employed “the envelope slide” in his fetid Greenbelt deal.)
Why was this allowed and why wasn’t Tory hounded on this? Imagine if Chow was getting $100,000 a year from a union for “consulting” while she was mayor. There’d be riots and media outrage.
And what did the city get from Tory’s fiscally fruitful deal with Rogers? He couldn’t even get his buddies to supply Wi-Fi in the subways like any other 21st century city. It was proven to be a security issue and yet Tory could do nothing to get his pals to stand down and allow the service to function. Almost a million dollars went in Tory’s pocket, and he couldn’t leverage anything for the city from his pals. This alone is scandalous and pathetic for the “great dealmaker.”
Speaking of fiscal fantasies, where’s “Smart Track,” that “almost-free” transit system Tory was first elected on promising to deliver? Nothing.
And what of the billion-plus we are spending to put the decaying Gardiner back up in the air? The highway has to come down for repair and the city could save a half-billion by leaving it at grade instead of sticking it back up in the air like some 1950s car-worshipping city. We will be paying the price of Tory’s pandering to the car lobby for generations unless Chow, Josh Matlow and other gutsy members of council do the responsible thing and leave the road at grade.
Of course, he got some things right, though they have been over-reported elsewhere.
Personally, he was very supportive of me in my role as head of NXNE, both publicly and privately, and I will always be grateful. I had written pretty scathing things about him in NOW, and he never let that affect his support of the festival. Tory truly was a champion of live music and built on the work of, yup, Rob Ford, after David Miller had started conversations about supporting the scene at City Hall.
But, as Tory appears determined to lurk in the background, possibly to emerge yet again from the rubble, ready to be “begged” to return to save the city he set on a path of decline, he has to wear his record, including his recklessness, both personally and fiscally.
He’s not the steady hand his media pals, including former employees, are eager to depict. He’s a guy who did a billion-dollar whoopsie on his treasured last budget, brought on a $15-million-dollar byelection because of irresponsible behaviour and has failed to deliver the basic promise that scored him his first mayoralty win: SmartTrack.
Olivia Chow has been handed a mess by Tory and his city-service-slashing pals. It would be a crime if he successfully lurked in the background and was able to position himself, three years from now, as someone who could come in and clean up the residue of his mess.
Time for John to high-five and back-slap his way back into the many board rooms that will embrace him, and leave the city-building to people who will realistically do the job instead of running it into the ground to pander to city elites and tax-phobic billionaires.