So: OneToronto? That was a cute idea. Sounds nice in speeches. Makes a comforting tagline to get the rubes feeling all soft ’n’ fuzzy.
But when it comes to important stuff like appointing city council’s executive and the chairs of the committees and agencies that will handle the city’s business, new mayor John Tory wasted no time in deciding on a different governing theme. More of a LetsGetReadyToRumbleToronto kind of thing.
It’s a weird choice for a guy who made “moving on from the divisiveness of the Ford years” the key plank in his election campaign, but here we are. It’s hard to read Tory’s slate of proposed appointments, unveiled yesterday on the eve of council’s first meeting, as anything other than a declaration of war against the downtown progressives who formed the opposition against Rob Ford.
Exhibit A: Tory suggests reappointing Frances Nunziata as council speaker, after a term in which she served as the constant symbol of the incompetent, truculent incivility of the Ford administration. As the moderator of council meetings, she never missed a chance to openly insult or shout down those she disagreed with, displaying little ready understanding of the procedural rules she was charged with enforcing, and little inclination to enforce them evenly when she did.
Further exhibits: Nine of the 13 members of Tory’s executive committee, which sets council’s agenda, will be people who served in that capacity under Ford. Tory’s budget chief is Gary Crawford, a man whose dronelike fealty to Ford was so complete that his single newsworthy accomplishment last term was painting a portrait to hang on Mama Diane Ford’s wall.
Not a single councillor from the old city of Toronto will head up a standing committee (though two —“mushy middle” councillors Ana Bailao and Mary Margaret McMahon — will serve at-large on the executive). Not a single member of the NDP has been given any position of influence at all.
The one token gesture to progressives is the naming of Pam McConnell from Toronto-Centre Rosedale as one of three ceremonial deputy mayors. (The others are the mostly silent Ford stooge Vincent Crisanti and Slinky-like ward-heeler Glenn De Baeremaeker.) These extraneous deputy mayors have no statutory or procedural significance. They are human props to be trotted out for events that require ribbon cutting and civic-unity platitude uttering.
Now, the statutory deputy mayor — that is, the actual deputy mayor — is a different matter. Denzil Minnan-Wong will occupy that role, and seems set to be the second most powerful member of the government, after Tory himself. Minnan-Wong is going to sit on the boards, in Tory’s place, of both Invest Toronto and Build Toronto, as some kind of apparent development czar. He’s going to sit in Tory’s place on the board of Waterfront Toronto, an agency against which he’s pursued a bizarre and spiteful vendetta for years. He’ll head up the civic appointments committee, which will choose the people who run everything from libraries to community centres to the parking authority. He’ll head up the striking committee that selects members of council committees, and head up the labour relations committee that negotiates with the city’s unions.
Newly powerful Minnan-Wong is a smart conservative who has delighted in playing the moustache-twirling villain to downtown councillors for years, tying bike lanes to the railroad tracks and tossing lit-fused cherry bombs at pedestrian initiatives. He was the bad cop to Karen Stintz’s good cop in opposition to David Miller, and has been the bad cop to the Ford brothers’ Keystone Cops since then. It was under his chairmanship of the public works committee that it produced vindictive surprise motions to kill the Jarvis bike lanes and the Fort York bridge.
When it came to firing up divisions in the city, the Ford brothers and Giorgio Mammoliti provided more explosive public flare-ups, but Minnan-Wong often more skillfully poured policy gas on the blaze. Effective? Often. But he’s the opposite of a unifying figure.
The bizarre thing, from a purely political perspective, is that the parts of the city that are frozen out of the power structure at city hall under Tory are those that delivered Tory to office. The downtown core, midtown, Riverdale, the High Park area: these are places where Tory’s own mandate was strong, yet the councillors those same voters chose alongside him are shunted to the margins. From what I hear, it’s not a case of these progressive councillors choosing to oppose the new mayor. Some actively asked to join his team. Others were still waiting for his call when they learned of his appointments.
After campaigning as the great uniter, Tory has named a divisive government worthy of his predecessor.
The post-election Kumbaya chorus is over. And just in time for Mayor Tory’s official swearing in today, a new battle cry rises in its place. It’s not the tone John Tory promised. It’s not the dynamic the city needs. But it appears from Tory’s first action as mayor, it may be what we’re going to get.
Edward Keenan writes on city issues email@example.com . Follow: @thekeenanwire