There is a lesson to be learned from John Tory’s unceremonious decision to resign as Toronto’s mayor.
The main takeaway isn’t that “No story Tory” is just as unimaginative as other powerful men who’ve had affairs with younger female staffers. It’s that Canada’s largest city is plagued by governance and transparency problems.
Mr. Tory’s successor needs to bring more than just dignity back to the mayor’s office – they must improve accountability. There is a trust deficit in Toronto’s decision making that risks harming its reputation internationally and chasing away investment.
That repair job starts with Mr. Tory himself, who owes the public proper answers about his abuse of power.
Sorry, pearl-clutchers, the issue here isn’t his adultery: Sharing the salacious details isn’t in the public interest. But taxpayers certainly deserve to know if his impropriety involved any misuse of public funds and whether the fallout from this scandal includes any litigation risk that will be borne by the city.
Mr. Tory’s refusal to take questions on Friday night was self-serving, selective disclosure. His mea culpa wasn’t prompted by his conscience, but rather the investigative journalism of The Toronto Star.
Torontonians deserve better.
Similarly, it is unacceptable that Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, who as Mr. Tory’s deputy is poised to serve as acting mayor once he vacates his post, kept residents guessing over the weekend about whether she would automatically inherit “strong-mayor” powers from her predecessor.
Legislated by the province of Ontario, such powers include the ability to veto council decisions and pass by-laws related to housing with only one-third support. As a result, the legislation concentrates more authority in the hands of mayors in Toronto and Ottawa, similar to those who rule some U.S. cities.
Mr. Tory, who pushed for extra powers as mayor, had previously said that he planned to make “very, very limited use” of them.
“They can trust me,” Mr. Tory said of Torontonians back in November. “I think they do trust me to exercise all the authorities that I have, as I have done for eight years, in a responsible manner.”
Yikes. That message didn’t age well.
Critics have long held that strong-mayor powers are undemocratic. So, it’s troubling that Ms. McKelvie’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the scope of her authority as acting mayor.
Such information should not be communicated with the public on a need-to-know basis. It makes Toronto look amateurish on the world stage, especially since strong-mayor powers are fundamentally undemocratic.
In fact, there is evidence to suggest such extraordinary mayoral authority is also reflecting poorly on Canada as a whole.
Last month, the country slipped by one spot to 14th place on Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index. The annual ranking is based on a host of factors, including what the anti-corruption organization called “worrying erosions to oversight” at the provincial and municipal levels.
There have also been other concerns about the opaque decision-making process at Toronto City Hall under Mr. Tory’s watch.
A 2021 analysis by Policy Options magazine detailed the outsized role that non-elected city staff play in policy making. That was followed by a Toronto Star report last October about the city’s dwindling response rates to Freedom of Information requests during Mr. Tory’s tenure.
His successor should also consider tightening up the city’s conflict-of-interest rules to rebuild the public’s trust.
Remember the time that Toronto Blue Jays president and chief executive officer Mark Shapiro urged Mr. Tory not to support a major road closure on the weekends as part of the ActiveTO program because it made it difficult for baseball fans to attend games at the Rogers Centre?
(Both the team and the stadium are owned by Rogers Communications Inc. Mr. Tory, who voted in favour of an amended ActiveTO plan, sits on the advisory committee to the Rogers Control Trust, which controls the cable giant.)
Sure, Toronto’s Integrity Commissioner determined there was no evidence that Mr. Tory broke the conflict-of-interest rules by participating in a council vote related to ActiveTO. Nonetheless, the optics of that incident were poor.
Toronto’s next mayor needs to raise the bar on governance and transparency, especially since last two office holders succumbed to their foibles. Mistrust in the city’s decision-making machinery coupled with regulatory uncertainty on critical issues, such as housing and transit, are investment killers.
Fixing city hall’s credibility must be top priority.