Skip to main content

Mayor-elect John Tory speaks to reporters outside City Hall in Toronto on Tuesday.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

They have been in the trenches together over the past four years – 36 returning councillors who learned a lot about how to use the rule book and work the system to set the agenda during Rob Ford's time in office. Together, they sidestepped the mayor's office and convened special council meetings, introduced last-minute changes to the budget on the council floor, changed the tax rate, seized control of items from committees and captured the spotlight with members' motions on everything from backyard chickens to road tolls. And in the most extreme show of their power, they came together to take away the majority of the mayor's authority when he refused to resign. An now, Mr. Ford also is returning to their ranks as a councillor.

If the recent term of council has taught Toronto anything, it is that nothing gets done at city hall without 23 votes on council. Building that support is Job 1 for mayor-elect John Tory, who campaigned on a promise to end the "armed combat" in the council chamber.

How will he do it?

Here's some advice from councillors new and old.

The honeymoon
Councillors on the left, right and in the centre are saying they are willing to work with the man Toronto voters have just put in office. Mr. Tory said this week he'll be making council appointments based in part on councillors' willingness to work with him and their "temperament," as well as qualifications.

"We all know we need to work together," said Councillor Jaye Robinson, an early supporter of Mr. Tory and former member of Mr. Ford's executive. There is a "collective sigh of relief" among councillors that the turmoil is over, she said.

Councillor-elect Joe Cressy, who ran federally for the NDP, said he's looking forward to talking with Mr. Tory about a "common vision." Several councillors say Mr. Tory needs to build bridges among councillors and use this period of goodwill to make good on his his promise to unite.

Learn the ropes
Unlike past mayors of the megacity, Mr. Tory has never spent a day on council, and he is the first to admit he's got a big learning curve. He's made a point this week of showing up at his makeshift City Hall office before dawn, even carting out binders of briefing notes to a press conference and declaring he had some homework. The city has made special arrangements to get the office lights turned on earlier for him.

Transition team leader Case Ootes, a former councillor, says there will be a "steep learning curve," but describes Mr. Tory as a quick study and several councillors said that's a skill he's going to need to negotiate his way through council meetings where he will face vote after vote. Mr. Ootes says there are lots of "old warhorses" who know how the system works. He figures the new mayor will need someone watching out for him and "whispering in his ear," at least early on. "You can get blindsided pretty quickly on the floor of council," he said.

Everybody loves a winner
The best way for the new mayor to build and keep the support of council is to make sure the items he introduces will pass council, says Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a former member of Mr. Ford's executive who endorsed Mr. Tory. Long before the videos and the admissions of crack use, Mr. Ford lost control of the agenda when he was unwilling to compromise on a budget – even when a group of councillors went to him with a proposal and warned him that he did not have the votes to get his plan passed. The result was that he suffered a very public defeat on the council floor. It's best not to bring policy to council unless you know you have the votes, Mr. Minnan-Wong advised. No one enjoys being on the losing side of an issue, so a track record of success will lead to more success, he reckons.

Count carefully
There are no official political parties at city hall, but that doesn't mean there are no voting blocs. During the previous term, a group of moderate rookie councillors – dubbed the mighty or the mushy middle, depending on your perspective – became an important group of swing votes. When they stopped backing the mayor's office, they shifted the balance of power to council. The core of this group remains – councillors Ms. Robinson, Josh Colle, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Ana Bailao, Michelle Berardinetti and Josh Matlow. But some of the councillors that at times voted with them – Gloria Lindsay Luby, Peter Milczyn and John Parker – are no longer on council, reducing that bloc's influence. There are seven new councillors, two of whom were endorsed by Mr. Tory, suggesting they will share similar views on polities. Only one – Mr. Cressy – describes himself as a progressive. There are some big issues coming that will be early tests of how councillors will line up – the 2015 budget, and contracting out garbage, to name two. Councillors expect the new mayor will have no problems getting the 23 votes or more he needs early on, but say the real test will come in about a year.

Old habits die hard
During the past term, several councillors stepped up and worked with their colleagues to fill the vacuum left by the mayor's office. They learned how to work together to keep the city running, says Ms. Robinson, and also got more attention and authority. Some could be reluctant to give that up. "How do you put that back in the bottle?" wonders Ms. Berardinetti. "Council learned the mayor is just one vote and you have to work together to move the agenda."

Watch for wild cards
Most expect a shift in the tone of debate at council, but say there are still some "strong personalities" that could shake things up. Giorgio Mammoliti, an outspoken on-again, off-again ally of the Fords, is back at council. And Mr. Ford himself will be there, provided he is healthy. Add to that former Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, who comes to city hall with a reputation as a rabble-rouser. Already, some councillors have tried unsucessfully to change their seats in the chamber to distance themselves from him. Under the previous term's seating plan, Mr. Tory will find himself sitting beside Mr. Mammoliti in the chamber, with the former mayor four seats away, where his brother used to sit.

Mr. Karygiannis said he is coming to city hall with "good intentions" to work with people and get the best for his area. "I am going in with an open mind," he said, adding, "If somebody tries to stab me in the back I won't be a happy camper."

It will be up to the Speaker, who will be selected by the mayor and announced next month, to keep a lid on the "shennanigans," Councillor Paula Fletcher says. That person, she said, will have to manage disruptions at city council and "manage them very carefully."

Remember Grade 9?
Councillor Josh Matlow, re-elected for a second term, remembers how he felt as a rookie at city hall. People had their groups, he says. "It really felt like high school," he said. "It was like sit at our table, not at their table." He recommends any new member of council try to chart their own course.

With files from Ann Hui