John Tory adopting harder line with Queen’s Park

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This article first appeared in the Toronto Sun on May 7, 2017.

A funny thing happened down at Toronto City Hall last week. A provincial cabinet minister door-crashed the mayor of Toronto’s press conference.

On a scale of odd things that have occurred at our municipal seat of government, this barely registers, but when it comes to the relationship between the province and the city, it was beyond odd.

The minister in question went to City Hall in response to the mayor having the temerity to hold a joint press conference with Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown. This, on the heels of a campaign-style door-knocking tour of dilapidated Toronto Community Housing units, where the mayor passed out leaflets urging residents to contact their local MPPs to advocate for more funding, was deemed, in the words of the minister, “over the line.”

Pass me the smelling salts.

Substantively, the minister was there to provide a counterpoint to Tory’s assertion Toronto is getting shortchanged. Why that needed to happen in a poorly lit hallway at City Hall, and not Queen’s Park, remains a mystery. Rest assured, it sent one clear message to the mayor’s office: What John Tory is doing has their attention.

Of course, it should. Tory is well known for his preference for quiet diplomacy and bridge building over rhetoric and full frontal political attacks. Of late, he has been on what can only be described in Tory’s world as a tear. What has he got for it so far? Earlier last week, the province backed down from cutting $1.4 million from the Toronto Public Library after sustained outrage. I’d bet the question rolling around City Hall now is what else can be extracted?

Before World War III is declared, there is always a natural tension between levels of government. This is hardly the last time we will see a City Hall vs. Queen’s Park spat. But it’s a decided departure from one of Tory’s key campaign planks in the previous election: Getting things done with other levels of government. It shows he’s concluded he’s obtained all he can out of the provincial government by being Mr. Nice Guy and now he’s going to adopt a harder line leading into the coming provincial election.

There’s a line of clothing that has become increasingly popular around the city branded “Toronto vs. Everybody,” It inadvertently captures a latent sentiment among citizens: We’re all out hustling, but as a city, and as individuals, we’re still not getting our fair share. The mayor’s not wearing those shirts yet, but his new podium sign is a more John Tory version of the slogan: Standing up for Toronto.

My prediction? Those calling for peace in the valley may be left waiting a while.

— Amanda Galbraith is a principal at Navigator Ltd. and the former director of communications to Toronto Mayor John Tory. 

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