Ave atque vale Mayor John Tory — last of a long line in Toronto history?

Feb 15th, 2023 | By | Category: In Brief
“Hot Day in the City” by Michael Seward, February 2023.

RANDALL WHITE, FERNWOOD PARK, TORONTO. FEBRUARY 15, 2023. [UPDATED FEBRUARY 16]. To start with belated Happy Valentine’s Day 2023, wherever you may be and whatever your circumstances in real life.

Here in Toronto it was something of a twisted Valentine’s Day, in the wake of the sudden and altogether unexpected resignation of Mayor John Tory — after a third decisive electoral victory just this past fall.

The precipitating issue was an extramarital affair with a (considerably) younger staff member during COVID-19. As the mayor explained, the affair is over and he himself now sees it as an inexcusable error in judgment.

What I took from what John Tory said in his surprise public announcement on TV at 8:30 on a Friday night was that he was resigning largely as a sign of deep amends and atonement to his wife of 45 years and his family of adult children and younger grandchildren.

But did he really have to resign?

“History on the March; thanks Max Beckmann. 2013. Tryptich left” by Michael Seward.

I can only say myself that I don’t altogether see why John Tory had to resign as mayor because of his affair — any more than, say, Bill Clinton had to resign over Monica Lewinsky.

I take some guidance, however, from Lorrie Goldstein’s Toronto Sun report one day later on “Why Tory knew he had to quit once extramarital affair exposed.” The crux of Goldsterin’s answer is “Tory himself knew he had to resign because he violated provisions in the city’s Code of Conduct for Members of Council.”

Lorrie Goldstein gives various examples from the Code. These don’t entirely convince me. But Goldstein also notes : “It’s to Tory’s credit he resigned immediately, although keep in mind the reason was that the Toronto Star had broken the story of his affair minutes earlier.”

And then there is a poll in the Toronto Sun on “Do you agree with John Tory resigning as mayor over his affair with a now former staffer?.” As of noon yesterday 57% of responding Sun readers had voted Yes. Only 43% voted No (as I did myself).

‘Alive with Possibility. Feb. 2023. 30” x 40”’ by Michael Seward.

The Sun poll is of course far from decisive. Yesterday’s Toronto Star reported further on Tory’s resignation : “A Forum Research poll of 1,042 Torontonians found 45 per cent do not think he should quit, 43 per cent think he should quit , and 11 per cent do not know.” (And, as a point of full disclosure, my wife participated in this poll by telephone!)

It is apparently true as well that John Tory has yet to submit the proper paper work for his resignation. On TV the night before last we heard that some Toronto city councillors are urging him to, as it were, cancel his resignation. A Canadian Press story is headlined “John Tory remains in office as discussion of Toronto budget looms.”

But now that he has resigned in public can he really take it back?

At the same time, I also agree with something someone said somewhere on TV the night before last.

“There’s No Going Back Now” by Michael Seward, February 2023.

Whatever else, even if he did not have to, now that John Tory has in fact resigned on TV in front of all of we the people who happened to be watching, it will not be easy for him to somehow just set this resignation aside — and still retain the credibility flowing from his 60%+ support in the last two elections.

In this spirit I was at first thinking about surveying the early discussion on new candidates for mayor in an eventual by-election, especially after I noticed this headline on the CBC News site : “With John Tory resigning, Ontario PC machine revs up for Toronto mayor race … ‘We’ll make sure there’s only one credible centre-right candidate,’ says a Conservative political organizer.”

“A City Life; for Stuart Davis” by Michael Seward, February 2023.

The more I thought about it all, however, the more it struck me that I wanted instead to say just a few words about John Tory himself, and his career in the “free and democratic” politics of Toronto, Ontario, and even in some much slighter degree Canada at large, on the unexpected occasion of his sudden resignation as Mayor of Toronto.

Assuming of course that the resignation will finally have to stick — probably!

(Though note as well a blogTO piece from yesterday by Lauren O’Neil : “Toronto confused about whether or not John Tory is actually resigning as mayor … What is going on?” And then from the same source today see Sabrina Gamrot on “People think Toronto Mayor John Tory will take a leave of absence instead of resigning.”)

The John Tory who can trace his family back to Canadian confederation (or even the American Revolution!)

I should first confess that I have never voted for John Tory. When all is said and done he is a centre-right politician (or worse). At my most conservative I am centre-left (or worse).

“Intolerance” by Michael Seward, February 2023.

As someone broadly or vaguely on the left perhaps, I also have something of a class aversion to Mr. Tory, as the scion of an old born-and-raised Toronto establishment, remote from my own more ordinary born-and-raised Toronto background.

My short-form understanding of the Tory dynasty in Toronto runs like this : (Former?) Mayor John Howard Tory, born in Toronto in 1954, is the son of John A. Tory Jr. who was much involved in the media empire started by Roy Thomson. Mayor Tory is also the grandson of John S.D. Tory who helped found the Torys LLP corporate law firm, and the great grandson of John A. Tory Sr. who “became the head of the Ontario division of Sun Life Assurance Company.”

John A. Tory Sr. could apparently trace his family back to a British soldier in the American War of Independence who later settled in Nova Scotia. John A. Tory Sr. himself was born in Nova Scotia in 1869 (two years after the launch of the Canadian confederation). Apparently involved in insurance early on as an adult, he moved to Toronto in pursuit of his business career.

“Carnival 2010” by Michael Seward.

John A. Tory Sr. prospered in the Toronto of the earlier 20th century. (And especially perhaps in the part of it that descended from the mid 19th century British North American city, about which a visiting Charles Dickens had written to a friend in England : “The wild and rabid Toryism of Toronto is, I speak seriously, appalling.”)

The first John A. Tory became not just a Toronto business leader but a luminary of an allied cultural elite (or aspiring political-cultural establishment), that identified strongly with the old global empire on which the sun never dared to set.

Years ago I unexpectedly stumbled across a particular testimony to all this in the midst of somewhat related urban history research.

In the middle of August 1929 — just at the precipice of the late October Great Crash in the New York stock market — the English politician and author Winston Churchill (then 55) gave a talk in Toronto, as part of a North American tour. And the old Toronto Globe quoted “John A. Tory” (Sr. and then 60) on the subject : “Perhaps no Empire statesman appealed so strongly to Toronto citizens as Mr. Churchill.” (See The Globe, Toronto, 17 August 1929.)

The John Howard Tory who at last won the political role he was destined to play as Mayor of Toronto

“Mediterranean Landscape” by Michael Seward, February 2023.

The at last politically successful John Tory who may or may not have just resigned as mayor in 2023 descends from the 60-year-old man who beat Doug Ford (and Olivia Chow) in the 2014 Toronto mayoral election — with just over 40% of the popular vote. He went on to win again with more than 60% of the vote in both Toronto mayoral elections of 2018 and 2022..

Yet in several ways this just reflects the ultimate hard-earned success of a scion of the local establishment who became avocationally involved in (conservative and Conservative) politics in his teens, but never quite managed to succeed in most of the democratic elections he contested.

In the Toronto mayoral race of 2003 John Tory lost to the progressive David Miller. Then in 2004 he was elected leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. And early in 2005 he managed to secure a seat in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, winning a by-election in the rurban riding of Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey.

“Worlds in Collision 2009” by Michael Seward.

This seat was then reapportioned into another riding for the 2007 provincial election. John Tory chose to run in the Toronto riding of Don Valley West, and lost to Liberal Kathleen Wynne. Early in 2009 Tory ran in a by-election in the more rural riding of Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, and lost to the Liberal candidate again. It is almost impossible to lead a political party without a seat in the legislature in Canada’s kind of parliamentary democracy. And losing in the 2009 by-election ended Tory’s career as provincial Conservative leader.

Personally, though I voted for Olivia Chow I was happy enough to see John Tory beat Doug Ford in the 2014 Toronto mayoral election. (Though ultimately and somewhat ironically this meant that Doug Ford would succeed where Tory had failed with the Ontario PCs. And the leader of the Ford Nation is now into his second term as Premier of Ontario — something that I, like 59% of the provincial electorate at large, do not like and did not vote for last June!)

Reaching for the stars : a conclusion for the time being

I have already gone on far too long. I will just conclude by saying that I do think Mayor Tory restored some sanity to government and politics in the City of Toronto, after the too wild, crazy, and chaotic “conservative” regime of Doug Ford’s late younger brother Rob Ford (who was praised by Donald Trump).

In my old age I think as well that some sides of the old and even in a now quite obsolete phrase “Tory Toronto” establishment from which the resigning Mayor John Tory of 2023 descends had a few veiled virtues (as well as many obvious faults).

They included a certain public-spiritedness, high-mindedness, humanity, and at least the breadth of thought that comes from seeing yourself as part of a genuinely global (as well as imperial) political and economic structure. These elites were certainly elitist, but they also saw themselves as part of the larger democratic community.

‘Oath to Secrecy 2023. 40″ x 40″’ by Michael Seward.

Whatever the more sordid truths of his current situation may be, I think the John Tory who has been Mayor of Toronto since the fall of 2014 has also intermittently shown a few of these virtues.

Though I could never vote for him myself, during his first two terms in office I might have agreed that he was in some ways doing a decent enough job as a hard-working mayor who sincerely wanted the city to get ahead, grow, and reach for the stars.

I agree as well, however, that Toronto is now in a time and space where it increasingly needs something different from anything that even strong political leaders like John Tory can provide. And who knows? Those who say Mayor Tory’s resignation could prove a strategic opportunity for needed new directions in Canada’s current most populous metropolis just may be right.

UPDATE FEBRUARY 16, 7:45 AM : It is now all clear and official. See the CBC News site report “Toronto Mayor John Tory to officially resign on Friday … Tory made announcement Wednesday night after council approved 2023 city budget.” And again who knows? It could be the end of an era in Toronto. We the people of the city will just have to wait and see …

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