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John Tory: Toronto's next mayor, or once again the loser? (PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

John Tory: Toronto's next mayor, or once again the loser?

(PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

POLITICS

Can John Tory win this time? Add to ...

To his credit, though, his campaign message is concise, catchy and you know what it’s about. It fits into his wider vision of transportation not just as set of vehicles, but as part of an economic tide that lifts under-serviced, under-privileged areas such as Jane-Finch out of their geographic and professional isolation, connecting them to far-flung parts of city to work or pleasure and then carries them back to shore.

Mr. Tory believes that there is no contradiction between careful spending on social programs and transportation and fiscal conservatism. To him, the philosophy is a means to an end: the wider creation of wealth across classes. “I think one of the reasons you are a fiscal conservative is that you want to preserve and conserve and create the resources to help people who need help. That’s not hand outs. That’s hand ups. And that’s something we prize as citizens: that we’re going to be there with a little bit of help.”

“You want to talk about something I’m against? I’m against the notion that you can’t be fiscally conservative and have a social conscience,” he said.

His former opponent and current friend, David Peterson, says too much is made of Mr. Tory’s past failures. Losing comes with the political territory. “Who the hell hasn’t lost an election? The only ones who haven’t lost haven’t run,” says the former Liberal Ontario Premier. “You gotta want to win and John does. He has the bug.”

The people who are paid to look into the minds of their foes – including Mr. Tory’s – say he lacks the killer instinct, and this week has been proven to be a surprise test. The October 27 contest is shaping up to be as vicious a contest as Toronto has ever seen, and so far, Mr. Tory has not been as restrained as one might imagine. The occasional flash of aggression likely comes from the flinty mind of Nick Kouvalis, the former Ford campaign manager who has joined Mr. Tory’s team.

On Monday, Mr. Tory dramatically preempted the entry of conservative rival Karen Stintz with his own announcement.

“It was cheeky to rain on Karen’s parade, and because of who he is, he didn’t come out looking like he was mean,” said Mark Towhey, Mr. Ford’s former chief of staff.

For the earlier part of the week, Mr. Tory made a careful effort not to criticize the Fords by name. But after the Fords alleged that conspiracy between him, Mr. Pringle (a Ford appointee who sits on the police services board) and the police chief, the Tory campaign quickly issued a statement, calling the accusation “a disgrace” and said that “Torontonians deserve better.”

(Sources close to the relationship say that in the interest of not looking partial to any potential candidate, Mr. Blair has been keeping a careful distance from Mr. Tory – he has stopped appearing on Mr. Tory’s radio show – since the TPS investigation of Mr. Ford, Project Traveller, accelerated.)

Political operatives say Toronto remains an angry, disaffected city that demands a steel-toed Greb boot be applied to city council. “They want someone to go to city hall, kick ass and get things done,” says Mark Towhey, who knows a thing about capitalizing on civic disaffection. Mr. Towhey, along with several other political operatives, suggested Mr. Tory still has to work hard to shake off his image as someone who isn’t tough enough to make hard decisions.

It’s a contention that Mr. Tory takes great issue with. Talking over the tinny whine of a Top 40 song, his sentences speed up, his even tone unusually exercised. “I don’t think you can do the things in life that I’ve done and not be tough. Be the CEO of two large companies for nine years and produce successful results and, by the way, work for Ted Rogers? He was a great friend and mentor, but very difficult to work for,” he said. “If you say being a gentleman means being respectful to other people, no matter who they are and no matter what their point of view is, yeah I’ll take that.”

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