John Tory is sensitive. He often gets cranky and defensive when under attack. The mayor believes he is a good man working hard for his city and wants others to believe it, too. So it must have come as a blow when, twice in the space of three days this week, he found himself assailed by some of Toronto's leading citizens.
On Monday, respected former mayor David Crombie joined Ryerson University president Sheldon Levy and former chief planner Paul Bedford to tell Mr. Tory he is wrong – in Mr. Crombie's words, "tragically wrong" – to oppose pulling down the eastern end of the Gardiner Expressway and replacing it with a grand boulevard. Then, on Wednesday, a much bigger group of notables – including former chief justice Roy McMurtry, former United Way head Anne Golden and three former mayors (again, Mr. Crombie among them) – held a press conference to say he should end the police practice of carding.
It is one thing to be under attack from your enemies, but these, in many cases, were Mr. Tory's friends – people he has known and worked with for years on good works and city causes. To see so many members of his crowd differ with him on two such prominent issues just six months into his term was startling. How he reacts to this friendly fire will say a lot about the prospects of his young mayoralty.
The guy who held the job before him would have blasted his critics as a pack of elitists and lefties, claimed he was doing what the real people wanted and moved on. Mr. Tory, thank goodness, is a different sort of mayor. His tendency is to smooth things over. He sees himself as a mediator, bringing people together behind a consensus. Fighting a lonely battle for an unpopular cause is not his thing.
This week's events put him in an awkward spot. He wants to show he is the sort of mayor who listens. He can hardly do as Rob Ford did and wave off all criticism as political, especially when it comes from well-known voices such as these. On the other hand, he can't reverse himself at the first sign of opposition. That would only confirm one of the main knocks against him throughout his career: that he is a wavering, uncertain leader who doesn't stand for anything.
The carding issue is particularly delicate. When Mr. Tory took office, the police service and the police board were at loggerheads over the procedure of stopping people, taking their information and recording it – a variety, say police commanders, of community policing. Mr. Tory, who is a member of the police board, tried to, yes, smooth things over. He helped the parties reach a mediated compromise that would reform but not end carding. That is not enough for the group of concerned citizens that issued a call on Wednesday to "stop carding now."
When he appeared at City Hall to respond, Mr. Tory made it sound as if he totally, completely gets where they are coming from. "I heard their message very clearly," he said. And he has no problem with it. After all, "vigorous democracy is something that is very healthy."
He left the impression that the deal between the police and police board that was announced with such fanfare only a couple of months ago (Mr. Tory called it a "landmark" at the time) is now open to renegotiation. Carding policy, he said, is a work in progress, and those who are reforming it want to make sure that it is not random and does not amount to racial profiling. His tone throughout was conciliatory. He even called the carding issue "personally agonizing."
But none of this can disguise the fact that he finds himself at odds with a vigorous, high-profile new group that wants carding not reformed but ended for good and all. It will be interesting to watch him try to steer his way out of this one. Even a mayor who prides himself on striking sensible compromises can't smooth everything over.