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With Uber, John Tory proves he can make Toronto’s council work

MayorJohn Tory discusses the future of Uber in the Toronto City Hall Chambers in anticipation for a vote to determining the ridesharing app's future in Toronto on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Mayor John Tory's success in persuading Toronto City Council to vote strongly in favour – 27 to 15 – of a set of rules to regulate Uber, the ride-sharing service, goes to show that the "weak mayor system" that prevails in Canada remains viable when there is good, solid leadership.

In most major American cities, there are "strong mayors" with executive powers who can impose their will on council. Not so in Toronto, where a mayor needs to wheedle, coax, twist arms, flatter, trade, pull strings, make deals and find compromises that will still get the job done. He or she needs to be like a prime minister with an unusually rambunctious caucus.

One great exemplar of this craft was Lyndon Johnson as majority leader of the U.S. Senate from 1954 to 1960, and in his early years as president of the United States.

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Mr. Tory was unmistakably the best choice to be mayor of Toronto in the city's 2014 election. Even so, some observers had doubts about how he would manage a large, unwieldy council, in which some long-serving councillors treat their wards as their fiefs. At times, he has seemed too reasonable, balanced, polite and moderate for his own good, or too patrician for the city's good.

On Tuesday, however, in an exhaustingly long session well into the evening, Mr. Tory got previously recalcitrant, sometimes difficult councillors such as Jim Karygiannis and Giorgio Mammoliti to somehow come around. The essence of the Mayor's proposed rules for the taxi industry and Uber remained intact.

Former councillor Doug Ford, brother of the late mayor Rob Ford, dropped by to cheer on the taxi plate owners. One left-wing councillor from downtown Toronto objected to letting in Uber, and similar businesses such as Lyft, as foreign investments by "billionaires and millionaires."

But Mr. Tory persisted. His mentor, former Ontario premier William Davis, is famous for saying, "Bland works." On the surface, blandness isn't always successful, but when it conceals a rigid determination to get things done, it can be highly effective.

Mr. Tory himself says, "There is no ideal answer that is going to satisfy everybody." That truism is a bland remark in its own way, but Mr. Tory's success on the Uber file is proof that he knows exactly what he is doing.

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