Who should be Toronto’s next mayor?

It’s a good question to consider heading into the new year

The next mayor of Toronto? That’s a key question as we embark on a new year with a municipal election just over 10 months away. Prospective candidates should be getting their ducks in a row to wage a successful campaign.

Except it is difficult to see any prospective candidates out there. No city councillor seems prepared to make the leap. The most likely ones — Josh Matlow or Mike Layton, for instance — are all based in the central city, making it difficult for them to secure the much-needed suburban votes.

Nor do any outsiders seem ready to throw their hats in the ring.

Perhaps the next mayor of Toronto will be the same as the current mayor — John Tory. At the time of publication of Post City, he has carefully not excluded that possibility in his forays into his future, and some will undoubtedly encourage him to continue on.

John Tory does offer some advantages as mayor. He’s very approachable and hard-working. He shows up at many events and says the right things even if sometimes in a bland tone. He has created a much-needed sense of civility at City Hall, turning down the confrontational heat. He is friendly and tries to find common ground on issues. He has a strong sense of integrity. He manages to straddle the inner city/outer suburb cultural divide, which is no mean feat.

What he is not good at is the big issues. He has difficulty providing leadership on them, and his record is lamentable.

You may remember 2016 when, without warning, he convinced the Toronto Police Services Board to have police officers continue to card young people, particularly Black youth, after a decision had been made to abandon the practice. The outcry was so significant that Kathleen Wynne’s provincial government intervened and stopped the practice throughout Ontario.

When he first ran for mayor against David Miller in 2003, he accepted an endorsement by the Toronto Police Association. That endorsement sank his campaign. When he ran as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario against Kathleen Wynne in 2007, he said, if elected, his government would fund faith-based schools. That announcement was considered the reason for his personal defeat.

In 1993, as chair of the federal Conservative Party campaign, Tory defended the decision to run television advertisements mocking Jean Chretien’s facial paralysis. Chretien responded, “God gave me a physical defect, and I have accepted that since [I was] a kid.”

Conservative party leader Kim Campbell immediately apologized and withdrew the ads but the damage was done, and the party elected only two MPs in all of Canada.

In the 1990s, he was involved in the negative billing fiasco at Rogers, when the company said it would bill customers unless they responded that they did not wish to be billed for a particular service. After an outcry, Rogers abandoned that approach.

With these mistakes, one can see why John Tory shies away from making strong statements which would put him in a position of leadership on important issues: he is very worried he might get it wrong. But a person cannot be judged simply on mistakes and missed opportunities, and as noted Tory has other positive attributes.

However, what Toronto needs at the moment is strong leadership. The provincial government of Premier Doug Ford seems to have little interest in providing the city with the tools it needs to provide effective local government, and that’s something the next Toronto mayor needs to address in a powerful manner. There’s a strong constituency that longs for such a mayor for the city.

Which is why we need to focus on the next mayor of Toronto who has those skills. That person, whether or not it is John Tory, must provide us with the leadership that we need.

Post City Magazines’ columnist John Sewell is a former mayor of Toronto and the author of a number of urban planning books, including The Shape of the Suburbs.