The John Tory drama is an opportunity wrapped in a tragedy.
The tragedy is obvious. Mr. Tory summoned reporters on Friday night to say he was resigning after having an affair with a former staffer, “a serious error in judgment on my part.” His career in politics is over, his sterling reputation stained. It’s difficult even to imagine what those close to him must be going through: his wife, his children, his grandchildren.
His fall came from a perch he had worked all his life to reach. The scion of a prominent Canadian family, he got the politics bug early. After stints as a political staffer, election campaign organizer, business executive and admired community leader, he ran for mayor a first time in 2003, but lost to David Miller, then stumbled badly in a foray into provincial politics.
The Rob Ford scandal gave him a last shot. Running against Rob and then, when an ailing Rob stepped aside, Doug Ford, Mr. Tory finally prevailed, becoming Toronto’s 65th mayor in 2014. He seemed just what the doctor ordered. Smart, earnest, moderate and fanatically hard-working, he promised to return sanity to the city after the tumult of the Ford years.
Voters rewarded him with a second term and then, last fall, a third. Had he completed his four-year mandate, he would have become the city’s longest-serving mayor, best remembered for steering it through the pandemic with a steady hand. Now it has all come crashing down.
The end came not because he stole from the public purse or failed to do his job but because he had an extramarital relationship with someone who had worked for him, a lapse that he will have all his days to rue. Once the affair was exposed, he announced right away that he would step down, said he was deeply sorry, asked the city integrity commissioner to review the matter, and admitted he had acted “in a way that did not meet the standards to which I hold myself as mayor and as a family man.”
All weekend the city has been poring over the news, wondering what on Earth he was thinking, and combing the internet to see who that woman might be. Let’s hope all the gawking stops soon. Mr. Tory has paid a heavy price already. He and his family deserve the privacy he pleaded for in his resignation statement, which was as dignified as such a thing can be. This was a sad episode for everyone involved.
But the opportunity is obvious, too. Toronto badly needs a fresh start.
After years of bounding growth, the metropolis finds itself quite suddenly in a fragile, anxious state. The ever-rising real estate market that buoyed its animal spirits is in a bad slump. The city’s finances are sagging from the burden of fighting COVID-19. Its thriving downtown has yet to rebound from the big pandemic exodus. A series of random attacks is making residents fret about their personal safety. The plight of the homeless is painfully visible all around.
Mr. Tory stayed too long in the mayor’s chair. By rights, he should have called it quits at the end of his second term, as he had said he would. Instead, he ran again in October.
It was a disappointing election. Though an energetic urbanist, Gil Penalosa made a brave run at the mayor, the outcome was never in doubt. Mr. Tory’s dominance muffled opposing voices and discouraged other contenders. Toronto has a wealth of them, not just in local or provincial politics but in business, the arts and other fields. The special election that must be held soon should be a wide-open, freewheeling, all-comers contest. Anyone could take it. Mr. Penalosa has already thrown his hat into the ring.
The issues are important and urgent. How does Toronto house the unhoused and become a city where young people can afford a place to live again? How does it get spooked commuters back onto public transit, plagued recently by violent incidents? How does it even pay its bills, while keeping taxes within reason? Should it move to reject the strong-mayor system, just imposed by Queen’s Park and embraced by Mr. Tory?
If Toronto is to tackle all the problems in front of it, it badly needs new leadership, new energy, new ideas. It’s a shame it happened this way, but here is its chance.