Toronto Mayor John Tory, nursing a strained Achilles tendon, has not let his noticeable limp slow him down. He walked the entire Santa Claus parade in mid-November and even hurled a bowling ball against his better judgment at recent ceremonies marking the end of north Toronto’s Bathurst Bowlerama.
“That was stupid. Because if you do it properly – and when I was a kid I bowled – you have to really bend down, and it puts the strain right on your Achilles tendon,” the 64-year-old mayor says, adding his staff were more concerned he would toss a gutter ball with a bank of TV cameras looking on.
He expects his ankle – now free of the plastic boot he wore for weeks after his Oct. 22 election win – to heal in the new year. But by then, aches and pains of a political kind may be getting worse. While the city’s economy is still humming, Mr. Tory will face unavoidable battles with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, have to grapple with the city’s rising gang violence and need to balance the city’s $11-billion operating budget.
In an hour-long conversation with The Globe and Mail in his city hall office, Mr. Tory said he is confident his approach to handling Mr. Ford – working with him on issues on which they agree, avoiding unnecessary conflict – can work, although he acknowledges his relationship with the Premier remains a “work in progress.”
He also argues voters overwhelmingly endorsed his tactics in the fall municipal election, when Torontonians chose him over his chief rival, former city-planner Jennifer Keesmaat, who had called for a more confrontational approach with Mr. Ford.
“My approach to the relationship will be to go in as an optimist, as a person who will be looking for the things that we can get done successfully together,” Mr. Tory said. “If it goes a different direction, that’s fine. My job is to stand up for Toronto.”
The first battle could be over Mr. Ford’s plan to “upload” or take over the ownership of the city’s subway system – a move Mr. Tory may be as powerless to fight as he was Mr. Ford’s unprecedented intervention in the municipal election when he slashed city council nearly in half. But for now, Mr. Tory, while skeptical, has taken a wait-and-see approach, voting with almost all of council to at least share information with the province on the issue.
Mr. Tory reflected on the past year, which was marred by violent tragedies he describes as out of keeping with the city’s character: the April van attack that left 10 people dead and 16 injured along a stretch of Yonge Street, and the seemingly random shooting rampage along the Danforth that left two victims dead – a teenager and a 10-year-old girl – and 13 injured.
The mayor said he was inspired at the various vigils held in honour of the victims by the ability of Torontonians to come together and heal after these two tragedies: “It showed me the great strength of this city in terms of that fact people really do – it’s not just a slogan – people care about each other.”
Meanwhile, the city continues to suffer through what the mayor and the city’s police chief say is a gang-driven wave of brazen shootings and a record year for homicides, a problem Mr. Tory pledges to tackle with more of everything: more police, more pleas for tougher laws and more youth programs in troubled neighbourhoods. He warns the issue is too complex for an easy fix, adding that he has attended many memorials for shooting victims and feels a “personal” obligation to make change happen.
Less than a month after politicians return to city hall in the new year, Mr. Tory will be staring down the next city budget. This year, city number crunchers are projecting revenues from the city’s land-transfer tax – which brought in a substantial $817-million in 2017 – could be $99-million lower than expected, thanks to the faltering real-estate market.
The city is still on track to run an overall operating surplus in 2018. (It cannot legally run a deficit.) But the land-transfer tax shortfall could make next year’s budget more difficult to balance without substantial service cuts, some of Mr. Tory’s left-leaning critics on council warn.
The crunch will be worsened, they say, by Mr. Tory’s campaign pledge to once again to keep any residential property-tax hikes at or below inflation – never mind any surprises in the form of potential future cuts to city funding from Queen’s Park.
But Mr. Tory is as sanguine about the city’s books as he is about his recovering ankle.
“We have had people predicting budget calamities and therefore the need for massive property-tax increases every year I’ve been here and for many years before that,” he said. “And we got through the last four years without those property-tax increases, with a substantial surplus each year.”
He makes no apologies for what he says his critics label as his boring style, noting politicians elsewhere are choosing to polarize rather than unite. (His political mentor, former Ontario premier Bill Davis, once famously said of his own success: “Bland works.”)
“There are other governments in other places that are in the headlines all time,” Mr. Tory said. “Sometimes I think if you ask people, would you rather have all that excitement or just steady, solid, predictable, responsible, rational government – that yes is addressing the problems but not necessarily doing it in a way that is going to get World War Three headlines – I think people would pick the steady government,” he said. “And they just did.”