Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

John Tory’s greatest political threat is still John Tory

By: Metro Canada Published on Fri Sep 12 2014

First, a word about Mayor Rob Ford: I hope he gets well. I hope he stays in the race.

In the meantime, let’s talk about John Tory, now the established front-runner in the race for mayor.

Based on recent poll numbers, Tory doesn’t have a lot to worry about. With Olivia Chow’s campaign cratering and Ford running into a hard ceiling at about 30 per cent of the vote, all smart money is on Tory winning next month.

But there is one person who could still hurt John Tory’s chances: John Tory.

As a politician, Tory has a long history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. And while he’s mostly done a decent job of avoiding the kind of gaffes that have hampered his previous political ambitions, there were a few incidents this week that make me wonder if Tory isn’t setting himself up for another fall.

Take the ranked ballots issue, for example. Earlier this week, when Chow, Tory and David Soknacki were asked if they would petition the province to institute a ranked ballot system, Tory was the only one to avoid a straight answer.

Instead, he said this: “Both the city and the province are examining electoral reforms and I look forward to seeing the results of those studies. While I am in favour of examining ways to improve civic engagement, I wouldn’t preempt that process.”

That's a weirdly noncommittal response. In June 2013, city council voted 26-15 in favour of asking the province to allow the city to use ranked ballots for municipal elections. The Liberal election platform promised to give all municipalities the option of using ranked ballots. There doesn’t seem to be much of a process left to preempt.

So why can’t Tory just be clear and decisive? Why not just say yes?

Tory’s lack of clarity extends to the centrepiece of his election effort. His much-hyped SmartTrack plan came under fire this week after critics pointed out that the surface track set to run along Eglinton to Mississauga might be very hard to build, largely owing to the fact that there will be, um, houses in the way.

The Tory campaign stumbled in response, before ultimately acknowledging that maybe they’d have to put this new track connection in a tunnel — but tunnels aren’t cheap.

Even if we do accept that as a satisfying response, a bigger question remains: why?

Why does this part of the SmartTrack plan even exist? If the whole idea behind SmartTrack is to provide more bang for our transit buck by using existing GO transit rail corridors, why commit to building a costly section of new track — which will likely have to be in a tunnel — all for a couple of new stops in Etobicoke?

As a more sensible alternative, why not continue SmartTrack along the existing GO corridor to Pearson Airport, then extend the Eglinton Crosstown LRT westwards on the surface?

The campaign has yet to really explain this decision. Instead, as they often are with Tory, things are muddled.

It’s a worrying trend. These were both easily avoidable missteps. In the case of ranked ballots, all Tory had to do was commit himself to one small thing. In the case of SmartTrack, all he had to do was make sure there won't be houses in the way of the rail track he wants to build — and explain clearly why he wants to build that piece of rail track in the first place.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, Tory demonstrated his uncanny ability to trip himself up. If he wants to keep his poll numbers where they are, Tory really needs to find a way to stay steady on his feet.

This post was originally published at on 2014-09-12T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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