John Tory’s final embarrassment | National Post

It is an unfitting and ugly end for the Toronto mayor

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John Tory has a winter home in Florida. On weekends when he wasn’t busy mayoring he’d fly down to spend time with his wife Barb and decant, as much as Tory was ever capable of decanting.

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You’d see him in the airport terminal, not hiding from anyone, accommodating the steady line of people who felt like having a word, which lots of people did. He’d sit in the ordinary seats in the back of the plane with the rest of the folks, chatting. He is, as was always evident, a voluble guy who likes to talk, enjoys sharing his views — when he wasn’t mayoring or politicking he took on a radio talk show, remember — and likes people.

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He loved his job as mayor. He was good at it. He probably could have done it forever — his standing was high enough that he didn’t have to worry much about serious challengers — if he hadn’t promised his wife Barb, again, that he’d give it up after one more term, and this time he’d probably have had to keep the promise.

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Then he blew it. He had an affair. Not just a brief encounter but a fling with a younger woman who was subordinate to him in the City Hall pecking order. Just like that the family man with the solid background and hard-earned reputation became just another sad old guy who couldn’t keep his zipper zipped. The fact he saw immediately that he had to resign, and did so with as much dignity as he could muster, was characteristic. He generally tried to do the right thing. He sought to be an upstanding citizen. His work ethic was legend. Then he blew it with one big mistake. Maybe if he’d gone home more often instead of putting in the crushing hours…

It was interesting, for lack of a better word, how quickly the startled news reports shifted to the usual online drek. Charlie Angus, the northern Ontario New Democratic member of Parliament who, like Tory, always struck me as the honourable type, had no problem throwing the first stone on Twitter:

It breaks my heart to see young families forced out by the developers, creative shops unable to pay rent, the homeless hunted by police, public transit failing.

And all while this aging mayor was focused on creeping on a young staffer.


 you failed us.”

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You have to expect that sort of treatment if you get into politics. Amira Elghawaby was probably thrilled to be asked to serve as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special representative on Islamophobia, and got publicly humiliated for her efforts. Dominic Barton could have gone on being a high-flying global big shot rather than serving as Canada’s ambassador to China; instead he spent last week being shredded by a Commons committee for his efforts. Bill Morneau and Jody Wilson-Raybould went to Ottawa thinking they were “giving back” and ended up writing books about their disappointment that are sure to give pause to any similarly naive enthusiasts.

You need thick skin to get through it. Tory definitely had the the skin for it. He’s been embarrassed more than once before. He wanted to be premier of Ontario, and very likely would have been if not for a perplexing error in judgement. As Progressive-Conservative party leader facing the less-than-loveable Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty in 2007 he proposed a plan to offer public funding to faith-based schools. The plan wasn’t without reason if you got to the nub of it, but to a lot of Ontarians it served mainly to raise anew the question of why they were still paying tax dollars to support two school systems, one of which was only for Catholics. It was easily ridiculed by McGuinty and Tory not only lost the election but his own seat.

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In Bad Idea No. 2, he chose in that same election to run in a riding pretty much owned by the then-formidable Kathleen Wynne, who wiped the floor with him. Just to complete the disaster, he then struggled to find anyone in his caucus willing to quit their seat so he could contest it, then — when someone finally agreed — managed to flub away what had previously been a safe seat and was forced to step down.

That he didn’t call it a day right then and there is evidence of the depth of his addiction to the game. There he was five years later taking on Doug Ford and former MP Olivia Chow, widow of the much-mourned NDP leader Jack Layton, for the Toronto mayoralty. He won handily, as he did again in 2018 and 2022.

Maybe his years as mayor weren’t a parade of success on success, though he did a good enough job to get twice re-elected and was still popular up to last Friday. Toronto is a very difficult city to run. The challenges are enormous: housing, poverty, sleepers on the street, weird crime, horrible traffic…

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There is never enough money to do all the things that need doing, no matter how worthy, and strictly limited means of raising new funds, forcing its leaders into constantly waving their begging bowls at higher levels of government. There is constant barracking from a network of well-organized interest groups whose vision and interest screeches to a halt at the limits of their own agenda. And plenty of egos who think they could do it better.

Until Ford peremptorily changed the rules, the mayor had just one vote out of 25 on city council (it used to be 47 until Ford chopped it down to size) and could only get his way by buttering up other councillors. Ford’s legislation introduced “strong mayor” powers that substantially increased Tory’s authority and ability to override council. That he willingly accepted the gift was criticized by all those people whose powers were diminished in the process; now we’ll get to see whether the next mayor instantly demands a return to being just one of the mob.

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Tory accepted the change, even if he didn’t necessarily need it. He’d shown himself to be pretty adept at the buttering-up part of the job, and usually got his way. He pledged he’d treat the new powers with great care and caution, deploying them only when strictly necessary. Now he’ll never get the chance. He’s 68, twelve years younger than the man who insists he’s perfectly fit to seek a second term as the president of the world’s most powerful country. But you have to figure this puts the kibosh on high office for Tory. Too bad it had to end ugly, though public politics so often does.

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