Skip to main content

The election of John Tory as the 65th mayor of the City of Toronto comes as a profound relief. The bad dream is over. After four years of turmoil and drift, the city has a chance at a fresh start.

Rob Ford's mayoralty has been the weirdest episode in the modern politics of the city, perhaps of the country. Everyone knew Rob Ford was a wild card when he barrelled into the mayor's office at Toronto's modernist City Hall in 2010. No one expected the non-stop spectacle that made Mr. Ford the world's most infamous mayor.

The circus came to town as Toronto was struggling with some big challenges, from renewing its aging infrastructure to building out its outdated transit system. The city desperately needed strong, steady leadership. Instead it got the Ford follies. To the outside world, the city itself seemed to have fallen into a kind of drunken stupor.

Mr. Tory promises to help Toronto recover. Toronto, he argued, needs a dose of stability under a sensible, accountable, dependable leader. That was music to the ears of Ford-weary voters. With their support, Mr. Tory took about 40 per cent of the vote.

The blustering Doug Ford, who replaced his ailing brother on the ballot in a last-minute switcheroo last month, came a surprisingly strong second; Olivia Chow, the former NDP MP who ran an honest, vigorous campaign but never managed to connect with voters, came a disappointing third.

For Mr. Tory, the win was sweet vindication after a series of stumbles and losses in his earlier political life that left him struggling to shake the loser label. For the Ford family, it was a hard defeat. Though, health permitting, Rob Ford will be returning to city council to represent a ward in the Ford bastion of Etobicoke, the brother he chose to carry the torch for Ford Nation is out.

One of Mr. Tory's first tasks will be to work on healing the divisions between the suburbs and the core that typified the Ford era. That could prove difficult if the strong suburban support for Doug Ford in Monday's vote is anything to go by. But Mr. Tory's background makes him well equipped to give it a try.

As a civic leader, champion of charitable causes and past chairman of the Canadian Football League, among many other roles, Mr. Tory has won a reputation for hard work, intelligence and integrity. As a moderate Conservative in the Red Tory tradition, he promises to continue the welcome drive for efficiency and better customer service that came in the Ford years while avoiding the mindless sloganeering and antique left-right clashes. As someone who has spoken out about the need to lift up struggling low-income neighbourhoods and help new immigrants make good, he has the credibility to take on issues of inequality.

"Tonight we begin the work of building one Toronto," he said in his victory speech. His call for unity was the most appealing part of his message.

If he is a little on the bland side of life, well, hallelujah. Toronto could use a little bland. It is impossible to imagine him cursing the police chief in Jamaican patois in a suburban diner. In the unlikely event Mr. Tory were ever videotaped hanging out in his sister's basement, he would at worst be shown playing a rousing game of Scrabble.

Whether he can achieve everything he promised is another question. In his zeal to present a confident can-do face to frustrated voters, he oversold his ability to create jobs, "solve" congestion and win concessions from higher orders of government. His proposal for a system of new "surface subways" has an ambitious timeline and a questionable funding plan.

His promise to end the "armed combat" at city council will be tested in that rough-and-tumble chamber, where the mayor, in the absence of a party system, has no obedient caucus to command. Sometimes thin-skinned, he will have to overcome his tendency to take things personally.

But whatever his future success and failures, you can be sure that Mr. Tory won't bowl over a fellow councillor in the city hall chamber, charge at a reporter with a cocked fist or call the cops on a comedian who shows up on his driveway in a plastic breastplate. If the only thing he achieves is to return decorum and dignity to city politics, most voters will thank him for it.

He has a chance to do much more. "We can do better," Mr. Tory often said during the campaign. He is surely right about that.