Toronto Mayor John Tory predicts 2015 will be the year leaders of Canada's largest cities find common cause – and a receptive audience for their message at other levels of government.
Mr. Tory, who took office this month promising a new era of consensus-building, sees that mandate extending beyond city hall to his peers in other cities. Mr. Tory says he frequently exchanges text messages with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and has chatted with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre. Don't be surprised, he says, if the three of them or some other combination of civic leaders shows up in the New Year to present "constructive proposals" in areas where they share interests, such as infrastructure or housing.
The way Mr. Tory sees it, the time is right for such action – and not just because 2015 is a federal election year and Finance Minister Joe Oliver represents a Toronto riding, although he concedes that doesn't hurt. Aside from the opportunity presented by an election, he says the individuals now leading Canada's biggest cities share a willingness to work together. That's something that did not exist when Rob Ford sat in the mayor's chair. Mr. Tory says next year also will be different because of the approach he expects he and his counterparts will adopt.
"We are not going to join together to pick fights; we are going to join together to say let's get some stuff done," Mr. Tory told The Globe and Mail in a year-end interview. "It's an important year. And I don't think it's just because of the election. I think it's because we have reached a certain stage."
To help encourage that stage's progress, Mr. Tory says he hopes to meet with other big-city mayors in Toronto early next year and to capitalize on what he says is a change in attitude toward urban issues. And if the money doesn't come from other governments, he says he believes it is up to him to find other ways to address pressing issues, such as the backlog of repairs in public housing.
"If I can't get money from the governments because they won't, they don't have it, for whatever reason, then I see there being some obligation on me to say 'Let's see if we can find another way to do this,' as opposed to throwing our hands up," he said.
Mr. Tory, who comes to city hall with no experience in municipal government, says he has been most surprised by the time it takes to get things done – including a vote by council.
Looking back at council's hours-long debate this month on a request to study his SmartTrack plan, Mr. Tory said he was surprised that "a group of people elected to very important positions of responsibility," couldn't decide that after 10 speakers, maybe they didn't need to stand up and repeat what someone else had said.
What he has noticed in his first weeks on the job, he says, is a fear of making decisions and an aversion to risk that drags out the time it takes to get things done. He sees his role as trying to push things forward, something he says has been missing from city hall in recent years.
"I'm in here saying, 'We've got to do better than that. Can't we get this done faster? Can't we have one less study, one less consultant?' I think it stems a lot, frankly, from a fear a lot of people started to have in politics and in public service about making decisions because they are afraid no matter what decision they make, somebody is going to dump on it. Somebody is going to find a reason to disagree with it."
Mr. Tory says he now sees his role not just as getting people to work together, but to work together faster.
"Now I realize, yes you have to build consensus in here, but you also have to be the person that is forcing change to move through the system."