Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

John Tory is a rookie when it comes to city hall politics — and it shows

By: Metro Published on Mon Dec 08 2014

This kicks off a new era of Matt Elliott’s column, focusing on the city under Mayor John Tory. Elliott appears every Monday in Metro.

Let’s flash back to Sept. 23, when the days were longer and it seemed like Toronto’s mayoral election would never end. It was the first mayoral debate with all three leading candidates, following the great Ford switcheroo. Candidate Doug Ford came out swinging.

He accused opponent John Tory of being inexperienced, at one point asking him how many standing committees there were at city hall. When Tory couldn’t answer, Ford erupted. He spent the remainder of the campaign saying that city hall is no place for on-the-job training.

At the time, I thought this was ridiculous. Tory has a long resumé, in politics and in business. “Trying to convince voters that Tory doesn’t have enough experience to be mayor is like trying to convince people Bruce Wayne doesn’t have enough gadgets to be Batman,” I wrote in an October column.

Now, though, after Tory’s first week as mayor, I’ve been reconsidering — just a bit. Because, after watching Tory’s start, I’m mostly left with the impression that he really is a rookie when it comes to municipal government — and it shows.

Consider his appointments. While a lot of the criticism of Tory’s picks for key posts focused on whether he had struck the right kind of ideological balance, I’m more concerned that his choices don’t seem very strategic. Take Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, for example. Whether you agree with his politics or not, Tory’s pick for deputy mayor has a reputation as a divisive and controversial figure. Because Minnan-Wong has spent much of the past year criticizing Waterfront Toronto, his appointment put citizens in support of waterfront development on high alert — ready to cause problems for the Tory administration if there’s even a hint of disrupting plans for the city’s lakefront.

Then there’s Frances Nunziata. It’s a puzzle to me what exactly Tory gains from reappointing Nunziata as council speaker. Her tenure in the position through the Ford years was fraught with shouting, general unpleasantness, shouting, and also more shouting. But Tory picked her anyway. In doing so, he created an opportunity for councillors to rise up and vote against the new mayor at his very first meeting — a super-embarrassing prospect.

In both cases, there were better, safer picks that seemingly would have offered all the benefits with few of the drawbacks. An experienced mayor, recognizing that a huge part of the mayor’s job is simply keeping a large majority of council happy, almost certainly would have picked differently.

But Tory is new to this. It’s important to remember that. Even with his experience, it’s now clear he will require some on-the-job training. Let’s just hope he’s a fast learner.

This post was originally published at on 2014-12-08T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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