A Basic Truth of John Tory
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A Basic Truth of John Tory

His response to carding, the Gardiner, and the Scarborough subway reminds us who John Tory is. And it doesn't bode well for City Hall.

john tory
Whoever thought John Tory would be even weirder than Rob Ford? At this stage of his mandate four years ago, Ford was striding triumphantly from one success to another while his left-wing opposition sat on its hands, stunned into quiescence. But today, the supposedly sensible, rational, moderate John Tory stumbles around City Hall like a blind man in an earthquake of his own making.

After this week, it almost doesn’t matter whether or not Tory wins in his push to rebuild the Gardiner Expressway. However the June 10 vote goes, the mayor seems almost certain to lose the last vestige of his reputation as a competent executive. For all the hope he might lead Toronto out of its civic wilderness, his handling of the Gardiner and other issues reminds us of a basic truth of the man: there isn’t a bear trap in the woods John Tory can’t sniff out and fall into.

In light of his recent ascension and refreshing presentability, one is apt to forget that Tory was formerly notorious as the most humiliated man in modern Ontario political history. But now, with his characteristic energy, he is bringing it all back home. The same leader whose always-wrong instincts handed Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty a second term on a platter is back in the kitchen. Ours, alas.

Events of the last few days are a virtual smorgasbord of political folly. What does Tory hope to gain by defending police carding in the face of an unmistakeable groundswell of opposition joined by every decent and respectable citizen of Toronto? You will never guess by listening to the marshmallow circumlocutions of his non-response to their clear demands.

Politically, any decision to end carding has zero downside. There is no countervailing public demand for it. With card-happy chief Bill Blair gone from 40 College Street, even the cops are backing off. Nothing but plaudits await the mayor who does the right thing. Instead, ours insists on murdering his reputation by continuing to mismanage the file in the name of far-off, indeterminate “reform” scrupulously designed so as not to change anything.

How out of touch can a politician be? What species of Martian is giving him advice?

We got a good whiff of an answer to the latter question when an unnamed Tory staffer asked former MPP Mary Anne Chambers, who had come to City Hall to protest carding along with a formidable band of fellow worthies, why only black people were opposed to the policy.

Chambers is black, you see. So she would know.

And, of course, the Gardiner debate is brimming with such gems, from Tory’s assertion that transit exists to serve people “who can’t afford a car” [PDF, p. 2] to the chorus of third-rate council allies heaping absurdities in defence of the expressway. Over the past few days, we have heard that building expressways is good for the environment, that citizens who think otherwise are not “real people,” that “traffic chaos” will engulf all of Toronto if an underused stretch of elevated highway returns to grade for a couple of kilometres, and that not wanting to spend an extra $500 million to keep it standing is an irresponsible utopian dream.

But perhaps Tory’s greatest crime in this ongoing debate is to continue using words like “facts” and “evidence” in defence of a position that actually rests on nothing but prejudice. Toronto citizens spent almost $5 million on an environmental assessment designed to examine all the facts and evidence pertinent to the future of the Gardiner East—and absolutely all of it, in bulk and detail, flies in the face of what Tory calls his “rational, practical, sensible, balanced decision” to keep the hulk standing.

Although staff did not provide a recommendation, anyone who reads the environmental assessment can see it is unequivocal in its conclusion that lowering the highway for two kilometres is the right thing to do. It is the option that offers the most benefit at the least cost, now and forever. The so-called “hybrid” option, which intimidated civil servants produced only in response to political pressure from the Ford gang, is a loser in almost every objective measure.

So it’s no wonder that Tory and his allies, doing their utmost to fulfil the proud know-nothing legacy of Rob Ford, are resorting to red-herring arguments about zealots who want to “deny the reality of the car.” The alternative for them is to argue against the most thorough, conscientious, technical analysis ever brought to bear on this problem. That cause, especially for people of their talent, is hopeless. So they revert to brute prejudice and dress it in the clothes of reason.

Say what you will about Rob Ford, but he was never so slippery.

The problem with Tory seems to be that he lacks the good political sense to shed the irresponsible promises his handlers fed him during the campaign. So, in addition to mulishly doing the wrong thing with the Gardiner, he is spending almost $2 million to study his promise to build a “surface subway” on Eglinton West—along a phantom right-of-way the Ford administration had already sold off and built up.

Tory’s people used an out-of-date map to position a key piece of his SmartTrack plan—the only new track in the proposed system—and, as a result, Torontonians are now spending millions of dollars to pay experts to point out (without offending the dunces) that there are a bunch of new buildings blocking the route.

But that’s nothing compared to the looming Scarborough boondoggle, brought about by Tory’s promise to build a new subway line and a SmartTrack line side by side to the same place. The latest jaw-dropper is that his advisers are thinking about spending an extra $600 million to relocate the subway so it doesn’t compete with SmartTrack, thus avoiding as many people as possible as it runs along leafy, bungalow-lined Bellamy Avenue instead of busy McCowan Road.

It goes without saying that no rational planning process would ever lead the city into such messes. But as Tory has shown with the Gardiner, or carding, “rational” doesn’t mean much in the mayor’s office. Enlightenment dims as the curtain rises on yet another made-in-Toronto horror show.