This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on October 28, 2018.
This past Monday, John Tory won big at the polls.
To say it was a resounding victory doesn’t do the mayor’s win justice. He crushed his opponents: he won every ward in the city, capturing a plurality in each and a majority in most. He earned 63.5 per cent of the vote, 301,446 votes more than his closest competitor.
He now holds the record as the politician more Canadians have cast a ballot for than any other.
Tory’s achievement would be remarkable anywhere but, given how diverse Toronto is, it stands out as a seminal political achievement.
And more than just win at the polls, he earned a massive amount of that most precious of all political resources: political capital.
Today, he has a city united behind him. He has a successful, managerial first term under his belt. He has, thanks to Premier Ford, a more streamlined and manageable city council with which to work. He has a commitment to retire in four years.
In short, he has a very real opportunity to be a truly transformative leader, a leader whose mayorship will shape the city for decades to come. He has an opportunity to tangibly show just why it is he has committed himself to both public service and public life.
More than coincidentally, Toronto finds itself in a moment that sorely requires just that kind of leadership.
While many scoff at the insecurities that cause us to chase the dream of being an actual “world-class city,” it’s obvious Toronto is in the middle of major change. We are a city on the move, with a swiftly developing tech sector and a booming population. But we also have the problems that come with change as well. Increasing congestion. Decreasing social cohesion. Growing unaffordability.
Awkward teenagers, if you will.
John Tory has the chance to lead the city as it grows out of its current gangly, uncomfortable phase into an adult.
There is no shortage of challenges that face our city. Our public transportation infrastructure pales when compared with cities of our size. We lack many of the cultural hubs that support the development of the technology sector and attract the young professionals who feed that industry. Nightlife regulations and building restrictions seem as if they stem from decades ago — and indeed, they do.
Our current situation is not one that calls for tinkering around the edges, like allowing drinking in parks during the summer or raccoon-resistant green bins.
Rather it calls for a mayor who will spend the political capital he has worked so hard to earn.
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney often quoted James MacGregor Burns on the difference between “transactional” leaders and “transformative” ones. Burns wrote that transformative leaders “respond to fundamental hopes and expectations and may transcend and even seek to reconstruct the political system rather than operate within it.”
Mulroney would go on to say that transformative leaders spend the political capital they have earned in the great causes of their country.
And spend political capital Mulroney did. The Goods and Services Tax (now the HST), NAFTA, the Acid Rain Treaty with the United States and the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.
Four big, bold ideas that were ahead of their time. Four ideas that were not at all popular when first introduced. But four ideas that changed both Canada and the world for the better.
Can we imagine what things would be like today if prime minister Mulroney worried more about short-term popularity than long-term achievement?
Today, many of those who were Mulroney’s fiercest critics at the time have come to see the wisdom of his vision and to admire the courage of his convictions.
Mayor Tory has a very special opportunity in front of him. He has earned the opportunity to become a truly transformational leader. He has earned the opportunity to discard the short-term vicissitudes of political calculation in favour of driving real and long-lasting change in a city that desperately needs strong leadership. Let’s all, as a city in all our diverse glory, unite behind him and help him do it.
Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist. He is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @jaimewatt