Mayor John Tory scored some major political victories in 2019, but perhaps none so surprising as his newly warm relationship with Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
“He’s a very receptive texter and if you text him, he answers immediately,” said Tory, during a year-end interview with the Toronto Star this week, covering the first year of his second term as mayor, and his hopes for the future of the city.
Although Ford has in the past said things about Tory that are unprintable in a family newspaper, and their relationship in the first months of Ford’s premiership seemed frosty at best, the two now speak often and meet privately to discuss issues, including a transit deal, announced in April, which will see the province assume funding for the Ontario Line subway linking the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place.
“We get together without a formal agenda — and there is no one there except the two of us actually,” said Tory. “I am finding those are just very productive discussions.”
Tory said there is much more co-operation from ministries and ministers in the Ford government than there was previously, when the province unilaterally decided to slash the size of Toronto council from 47 to 25 councillors, during the 2018 municipal election and later announced funding decisions that would have wreaked havoc with the city’s budget.
“We’re talking to the ministers on a very regular basis, and we’re meeting with them — there have been more ministers come here in the last four months than happened in the first 14 months and similarly, I have gone to their offices,” said Tory.
“The difference between that … and what was going on before, when we were literally getting these midnight emails saying ‘we just changed a policy and good luck,’ or ‘we cut a fund that helped the city …’”
Tory, 65, said he is feeling more confident now in his second term as mayor, after handily winning re-election and successfully pushing through two major initiatives in his first year — a tax increase to fund transit repairs and affordable housing — and a comprehensive new housing plan that if successful, will provide 40,000 new affordable units to people of all ages struggling to make ends meet in an increasingly unaffordable city.
Critics of the plan point out that it requires substantial funding from the federal and provincial governments to be fully implemented.
“I was told by someone who is in public life … that once you get re-elected, that your confidence level would be higher,” said Tory, saying he believes that — that people trust him to do the right thing, and that he understands better now how to get things done.
He added that he also understands that the public’s trust can be lost quickly.
He said he knows there is a perception among some people that he’s not the type to fight. He points to his decision in May to campaign door-to-door to encourage residents to fight provincial cuts — providing them with the names of the Progressive Conservative MPs who were part of the government making the cuts — as proof that he can and will fight for the city.
The province backtracked soon after Tory’s campaign.
“If it comes to defending the interests of the City of Toronto, I’ll fight, I’ll fight as hard as I have to fight, and believe you me, if there hadn’t been some sort of change in the direction of the discussion, I would have … been canvassing three days a week door-to-door to get the province to change its funding positions.”
He said he won’t know until December 2021 whether he’ll run for office again, although he supports a campaign by Coun. Brad Bradford to limit service to three terms. It’s a job he loves, but has gruelling hours — the mayor is up at 4:50 each morning and at his desk by 6:30 a.m. to begin a day filled with meetings and events and can go as late as 10:30 at night. He works three weekends out of four.
He thinks Toronto doesn’t have a history of thinking big, but that is beginning to change. He points to Sidewalk Labs as evidence that Toronto is firmly entrenched on the list of global cities, capable of attracting bold new ventures.
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“That’s why I talk all the time about protecting the success. The city right now by any global measure, any standard whatsoever, is one of the most successful big cities in the world,” Tory said.
“Our job is to keep it going.”
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