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John Tory, seen here on Dec. 16, has spent his time in office making small, symbolic victories.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Toronto Mayor John Tory stood in an east-end subway station last week joined by transit CEO Andy Byford and new TTC chair Josh Colle to announce that riders could use debit and credit cards to buy groups of tokens.

One day later, he held a press conference at City Hall to tell commuters the city would spend an extra $2-million to shave two months off the latest phase of construction on the Gardiner Expressway.

Mr. Tory has peppered his first month in the mayor's office with such announcements – incremental changes meant to demonstrate he is on the job and getting things done.

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"I think it is what people were yearning for," Mr. Tory told The Globe and Mail in a recent interview in his City Hall office. "Yes, they are small victories, but they also are meant to be symbolic of what has to happen."

It's a different approach than four years ago, when Rob Ford nixed the city's light rail Transit City plan on his first day in power and cancelled the vehicle registration tax at his first council meeting.

Some of the changes Mr. Tory has announced – such as backdoor boarding of the King streetcar and the use of credit and debit cards – were in the works.

Council was already trying to crack down on illegal parking at rush hour, voting in the last term to hike fines as an added deterrent to drivers who stop during peak times and add to gridlock.

But as Mr. Tory has said, "there is a new sheriff in town," and he is aiming to show he means business, even if it entails making the most of the small stuff.

In fact, Mr. Tory argues, it is prudent to go slowly in turning around the ship that is Toronto's civic government. History shows that big initiatives to transform antiquated government systems – especially technology – can be ruinous, he says, giving the Ontario government's attempt to move to electronic health records as an example. Wiser "to do it in bite-size pieces," he reasons.

"This government is badly in need of modernization," he said. "And it's not going to happen overnight. It's going to happen in small steps. In fact, it's when you try to modernize in one fell swoop with some grand system that someone invented that you start to get into deep trouble and you get into a fiasco of some kind."

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Mr. Tory plans to keep the small initiatives coming in the new year. Eventually, he concedes, he will need some big wins.

A tough round of budget talks, a backlog of repairs in public housing and hot-button issues such as the fate of the eastern Gardiner Expressway all are on the horizon.

"These are all big, tough challenges," he said. "The real part of the job begins in January."

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