Opinion
5 min

Toronto needs an experienced mayor — and it’s not John Tory

A bold, progressive mayor with a strong team of experienced councillors is what we need to weather the Ford storm

Toronto Mayor John Tory speaks during a press conference regarding the court’s stay of an earlier court ruling, returning Toronto’s election to a 25-ward race, in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. Credit: The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette

If there’s any silver lining to the election of Doug Ford as premier of Ontario, it’s that it has finally reminded Torontonians that their current mayor, John Tory, is the same craven, small-minded, political opportunist he has always been.

Suddenly quick to curry favour with the man who Tory once saw as unfit for the office of mayor, Tory has capitulated to Ford in his attacks on our city’s government, democracy, and Charter rights; and an agenda against vulnerable LGBT youth, the working poor, and the public services we all rely on. Tory has offered only token resistance to the Ford onslaught and has even loaned him political cover.

None of this should come as a surprise. The sum total of the last 15 years of John Tory’s political life has been a quixotic quest for holding office, and not having one clue what to do with it once he got it.

What even can be said of Tory’s performance as mayor? To be certain, his tenure has been less chaotic and embarrassing than that of his predecessor, the drug-addled bigot Rob Ford. But is the bar really that low?

Tory’s main obsession during his time in office has been spending massive sums of treasure to serve the priorities of the rich property owners — in particular, ones that don’t even live in Toronto.

On the transit file, he promised to deliver a new rapid transit line to the suburbs, but his SmartTrack has turned out to be little more than the previous provincial government’s already-planned GO Train expansion — except with the sudden innovation that Toronto taxpayers got to pay for most of it to spare the rest of the province. The relief line for the overburdened downtown was shunted aside so staff could develop a massively overbuilt one-stop subway extension that doesn’t really serve Scarborough so much as it’ll serve suburbanites who want to bypass it on the way to downtown. These two projects are projected to cost $5 billion, and most experts expect it to rise as detailed design and construction begin.

The Gardiner East Expressway rebuild is another example of Tory committing billions on an underused piece of infrastructure that serves mostly suburban commuters. The only major new legacy of Tory’s mayoralty is his bizarre endorsement of a plan to spend nearly $2 billion on a Rail Deck Park that would mostly serve as a backyard to some of the most expensive condos in the city.

When it comes to the most vulnerable and marginalized, Tory cannot even be bothered to give an audience, let alone billions of dollars. As Black activists demanded action on police brutality, Tory refused to meet with them for months. As the number of homeless people overwhelmed the city’s shelter and support services this winter, Tory balked at opening the city’s armouries as emergency shelters. As rent skyrocketed across the city, Tory closed hundreds of public housing units while a $2.6 billion repair backlog got bigger.

Far from being the bridge-builder he claimed to be during the tumultuous 2014 election, Tory shut out downtown progressives from key committees and decisions, and elevated the usual list of conservative numbskulls and homophobes to important positions in the city. Adding insult to injury, when Council was forced to replace the late Pam McConnell, he orchestrated a vote to place conservative Lucy Troisi in her seat over the explicit requests of McConnell’s family that she be replaced with a gay man who subscribed to her progressive politics.

Instead of abandoning the legacy of Rob Ford, John Tory has continued and magnified every dumb policy idea of his predecessor. By my accounting, he’s a far worse mayor than Ford was, if only because Ford was too incompetent and belligerent to actually accomplish the things he had set out to do.

With Ford’s older brother running the show at Queen’s Park, we can expect continued attacks on the rights of the marginalized and the services that our communities hold so dear. The provincial government has already floated bringing back invasive and discriminatory police search tactics used against Black Ontarians and rolling back labour rights, to say nothing of its anti-sex education agenda. Just wait until Doug Ford finds out how much money LGBT organizations receive from the province to support their vital work. Tory has thus far given no credible evidence that he will stand against attacks on our rights and institutions.

After eight years of failed conservative mayors, our city needs a change. Fortunately, Doug Ford’s meddling and John Tory’s duplicity finally inspired a strong, credible and worthy challenger to put her name on the ballot.

Jennifer Keesmaat is the right choice for mayor of Toronto. Where Tory is complacent, Keesmaat has presented bold and achievable ideas. Where Tory has prioritized the wealthy, Keesmaat has prioritized the vulnerable. Where Tory has been bent over for Ford, Keesmaat is standing up for the city and its citizens.

Keesmaat has presented a credible long-term vision for transit that both serves the needs of residents and adapts to Ford’s stated desire to fund a complete subway service to Scarborough. She’s announced a plan to restore local democracy through community councils after Ford’s meddling. She has a plan to prioritize affordable housing and help more Torontonians enter the housing market with support from a tax on homes valued over $4 million.

Toronto will face serious challenges over the next four years as young people find the city increasingly unaffordable and the provincial government continues its agenda of attacking the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized. We need a leader who will stand up for us, and present bold, achievable plans that will help all citizens thrive. Through her deeds and actions, Jennifer Keesmaat has shown that she is that leader.

She deserves your vote for mayor.

A strong mayor needs a solid team

Toronto also needs a strong, experienced team of councillors who can be counted on to do the work of building up local communities. Ford’s forced redistricting has eliminated several great candidates from contention, but also presents an opportunity to wrest control of council from the conservatives.

In Toronto Centre, the choice is obvious: Kristyn Wong-Tam. While I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye with Wong-Tam, she’s been the most reliable and forceful advocate for the LGBT community over the eight years she’s been on council. Her main competitors are Lucy Troisi, whose candidacy breaks her promise not to run when she sought the appointment to replace McConnell, and former deputy premier George Smitherman.

While Smitherman’s roots in community activism are admirable, in this race he’s offered little more than to criticize Wong-Tam for objecting too strongly to the Tory/Ford agenda, and a video denouncing a social housing project in the ward that Black activists have called racist. He’s not the leader we need.

Other downtown councillors Mike Layton, Joe Cressy and Gord Perks have been strong advocates for the queer community, the poor and marginalized, and deserve to return to council. Cressy in particular deserves credit for shepherding Sprott House, Canada’s first LGBT youth homeless shelter into existence in his (former) ward.

Josh Matlow, running in St Paul’s has been the de facto leader of the opposition to Tory on council and deserves re-election. Shelley Carroll, who’s making a bid to return to council after running for the Liberals in the provincial election, should also be re-elected.

In some new wards, strong progressives have a shot at removing some of the worst councillors. In York Centre, Maria Augimeri has a chance to block James Pasternak’s route back to council. Pasternak has for years attempted to defund Toronto Pride for one reason or another.

In Humber River-Black Creek the key objective should be removing noted bigot Giorgio Mammoliti from council. Anthony Perruzza has the strongest chance of doing so, and he’s been a good ally on council. Toronto school board trustee Tiffany Ford has a good record, but current polling doesn’t seem to give her the edge.