Cities everywhere are in big trouble, unable to cope with a cascade of problems, and Toronto is a prime example. Traffic, housing, infrastructure, racialized poverty, finances, gangs - the long list of tough "challenges" adds up to nothing less than an immediate crisis.
I grew up near Bathurst and College streets and lived in Toronto for much of my life. And though I'm now a 905er, Toronto's fate significantly affects mine and my family's.
That's why the city's mayoralty race is so important to all Ontarians. Put it this way: It doesn't much matter to Torontonians what happens in the smaller cities and towns across Ontario but it matters greatly to us what happens there.
At the moment, nothing good is happening. The race to replace David Miller has proven to be a shocking disappointment. No one expected such a slate of unappealing candidates, not one of whom gives the slightest sense he or she can move this city forward.
I know two of the candidates, and like them both. Joe Pantalone has a deep understanding of how the city works and an unparalleled ability to make an ornery city council work. I wish he could be mayor but I'm afraid his victory is just not in the cards. I've gotta say it's so, Joe.
George Smitherman's a complicated person. As Ontario's minister of health he proved to be a dynamic figure who sometimes got things done. But he's been a real disappointment as a mayoral candidate, when we've had the right to expect great and inspiring things from him.
But beyond that, his managerial style is deplorable and completely unacceptable. A parallel exists with RCMP commissioner William Elliot, who is under fire for being a screamer, an intimidator, a bully, a cruncher and someone who humiliates subordinates in front of their peers. There is never an excuse for superiors to treat subordinates in a disrespectful, intimidating way, and anyone who believes leadership depends on being abusive doesn't deserve support.
Rocco Rossi has run a campaign characterized by unearned arrogance and flagrant opportunism. With no public experience whatever, he needed to prove he deserved to be listened to. Yet he has peddled a series of foolish nostrums designed to play not to the entire city but to a conservative constituency. Even his target group pays him little attention. He'd be wise to withdraw very soon.
As for Sarah Thomson, I'm afraid I can't at all figure out what she stands for or why she should be considered a serious candidate.
Finally, Rob Ford. Here's the dilemma. Like Fox News, Tea Party nutbars and Sarah Palin, Mr. Ford's camp loves to be attacked by people like me. We're exactly who they're running against - boogey-man liberal elitists who worship Big Government. Try this: Imagine a meeting of Canadian mayors, or imagine an international meeting where Toronto's mayor represented us, and imagine Rob Ford as that mayor.
That leaves the man who should be mayor. I've known John Tory for many years. We used to do many television political panels together, where he was - while tough - largely respectful and sensible. He's has had an admirable life beyond politics too. His generosity of community spirit, repeatedly demonstrated even when no one was looking, is inarguably genuine.
He's a true man of the centre, maybe the last living progressive conservative in Canada. Unlike Mike Harris and Stephen Harper, Mr. Tory has shown that he rejects ignorance-based public policy driven by extreme partisanship, ideology and a disdain for evidence, which have made the Harper government a national laughingstock among all thinking Canadians.
It's well-known that his failure as Ontario PC leader (the ill-considered promise to fund faith-based private schools aside) had two sources: He insisted on treating his rivals with respect, and he insisted that any opposition to government policies be based on fact, reason, commonsense and logic, all of which are scorned by Ontario Tories.
Mr. Tory has serious executive experience, running Rogers when it was even more infuriating than it is now. (Ever tried figuring out your Rogers bill, John?) He worked indefatigably trying to address dissatisfied customer dissatisfaction. I know, I was one. I wrote a furious letter to John back then about our frustration with our Rogers service and was astonished to find a long personal voicemail response agreeing we had every right to be angry and swearing they were breaking their butts trying to deal with the problems.
He understands Toronto's main challenges and how tough they are - who besides Rob Ford does not? - and can be counted on to be open to all possibilities to meet them. Mr. Tory knows Toronto intimately, both the privileged and the badly unprivileged, and he has demonstrated much concern and sensitivity for the latter.
No question progressives will disagree with him on some occasions and won't appreciate some of his advisers. Of course it'd be nice if he were more of a leftie. But we know what he is and what he can be counted on to remain: moderate, sensible, open, and perhaps above all, civil.
I wish there were a viable left-wing candidate. Since there isn't, I join the many frustrated, concerned Torontonians in urging him again to change his mind and run. Toronto needs Mayor Tory.