On the morning after, and the mornings after that, there will be no honeymoon between them.
John Tory and Doug Ford know each other all too well for that. For there is no love lost here.
Like a warring couple, their destinies have been — and will remain — hopelessly intertwined. Leaving us, all of us, caught in the middle.
Monday’s mayoral contest was never really between Tory and Jennifer Keesmaat, who finished a distant second. His real nemesis has been, and will be, Ford — that shape-shifting mirage who long aspired to replace him as mayor, but has now one-upped him as premier.
That Tory so handily won re-election is mostly thanks to Ford abruptly opting out of their looming confrontation last January, when he seized upon the easier path that opened up in provincial politics. Until then, the mayoral campaign was shaping up as a revenge rematch between the two old antagonists.
Now, Tory gets to keep city hall. And Ford gets to run Queen’s Park.
But as we’ve seen — courtesy of Ford’s political war with city council over seat size, and his constitutional war with the judiciary over the bench’s dimensions — municipalities are mere creatures of the province. Which means Ford, who got trounced by Tory in 2014 and probably would have been beaten again in 2018 — has now trumped him.
In any future showdowns the premier gets the final word and the last laugh. Sad to say, that would come not merely at Tory’s expense, but at our cost.
As for those who pined for a passionate Keesmaat mayoralty, replete with progressive policy prescriptions, municipal-provincial conflicts do not take place on a level playing field. David Miller, another idealistic policy wonk, discovered his lack of power as mayor when his furious protests against the provincial government went unheard and unheeded.
While Keesmaat’s quixotic campaign never caught on, Tory played for keeps — and a good thing too. That’s how Ford plays.
All those criticisms of Tory’s buttoned-down, patrician politeness miss the point. He knows he’s in the political fight of his life to protect Toronto’s interests, because he knows better than most who he’s dealing with.
At city hall, Tory’s purported weakness may be his strength, for his consensual style of politics will be vital in rallying councillors toward unified — and coherent — positions in the coming months. In our municipality, the mayor has but one vote — which is why it is called a “weak mayor” system, where the leader’s word is not law, mere words.
The province, by contrast, overpowers the city but is also governed by what we could call a “strong premier” system — where Ford wields supreme control over his Progressive Conservative caucus. In his majority government, the premier’s word is not only law, it can override the law courts (as when he threatened to invoke the “notwithstanding” clause to suspend charter rights after an “appointed judge” rendered a verdict he disliked).
Tory well knows that imbalance of power. And understands our premier’s penchant for unbalanced decision-making.
He can also count on his top political strategist, Nick Kouvalis, to keep watch over Ford’s modus operandi. Often cited as the tactical wizard (or evil genius) who plotted Rob Ford’s mayoral victory in the 2010 election, Kouvalis soon had to fend off Doug, the overbearing big brother who believed the victory was his.
Kouvalis knows the premier better than most, which is why he was hired to help Tory defeat him in 2014, and again for the 2018 mayoral showdown that never was. He will be relied upon to help Tory fend off Ford in future conflicts — whether the province uploads TTC subway operations, downloads social service costs, or whips up Torontonians with yet more wedge issues (such as the phony “crisis” over so-called “illegal border crossers” that Ford fomented over the summer, and that Tory fended off with political acumen and generosity of spirit).
Perhaps voters still see in Tory the “grownup” who can push back in a modulated way against an immoderate Ford. Possibly they understand that Tory is not a pushover but a practitioner of jiu jitsu, who allows his heavier opponent to swing and miss. Maybe people rallied to a politician who can recruit allies and rally opponents alike on council, who knows how to win votes in the suburbs as well as downtown — the better to match Ford’s mandate.
Read more: For up-to-the-minute results, visit the Star’s municipal election page thestar.com/news/toronto-election.html.
True, Tory may not be passionate, nor perfect (David Crombie having acquired sole rights to the “tiny perfect mayor” moniker). But he has won a powerful mandate, in part because he understands power politics.
Next year’s federal campaign will, on current trends, re-elect a majority Liberal government with a strong mandate from Torontonians and Ontarians. Perhaps by then, if not now, our all-powerful, all-popular, all-populist-all-the-time premier will stop claiming to run the world’s only “Government For The People.”
Elections, like honeymoons, have a way of changing the outlook. The morning after, and the mornings after that.
Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn