Last week, Toronto mayor John Tory announced his resignation after an affair with a young staffer came to light. But his unstinting attacks on working people and the poor should have rendered him unfit for office years ago.
John Tory has been a lifelong campaigner for the privileged and powerful. (R.J. Johnston / Toronto Star via Getty Images)
The resignation of Toronto’s latest right-wing mayor, John Tory, has prompted Canada’s media to reflect on how the outgoing mayor’s sex scandal has supposedly “stained” his reputation, his “honor,” and “personal integrity.”
Last Friday, Tory made an emergency press conference and announced his resignation. The sudden departure was due to an affair he had with a much younger staff member. In the lead-up to the announcement, according to the Toronto Star, Tory set up a “war room,” sought advice from the crisis communication firm Navigator, and leaned on his former campaign staff ahead of the bombshell news story.
“I have decided to step down as mayor so that I can take the time to reflect on my mistakes,” Tory said. “I am deeply sorry, and I apologize unreservedly to the people of Toronto and to all of those hurt by my actions, including my staff, my colleagues on city council and the public service.”
The face-palming and hyperventilating about the “stain” on the outgoing mayor’s reputation badly misidentifies the problem. Rather, his very rule — and his status as one of Canada’s oligarchs — is itself a blemish on the idea of public service.
The Mayor, His “Smear,” and His “Stains”
While the mayor has yet to issue a formal letter of resignation, the announcement clearly perturbed Canada’s pundits. The Globe and Mail called it a “sad departure,” and even a “tragedy.” It was none other than the Globe that lamented that Tory’s “sterling reputation” is “stained.”
Don Martin at CTV News, meanwhile, called the scandal an “ugly smear on his record.”
For TVO’s blog, Steve Paikin vowed to “call out some of the over-the-top, pearl-clutching, hypocritical behavior,” supposedly displayed by Tory’s critics.
Acknowledging that he has known the outgoing mayor personally for decades, Paikin could only offer his condolences, stating, “I’m sad for you that you won’t become the longest-serving mayor in Toronto history, which you would have been had you finished this term.”
For its part, the Toronto Star, dismissed the controversy as one of mere “puerility.” The paper praised the outgoing mayor as a “model of rectitude.” Columnist Rosie DiManno insisted Tory should not have resigned. “As sex scandals go,” DiManno demurred, “this is fundamentally about a decent man who betrayed his wife of some 44 years.”
Unfortunate phrasing aside, this gushing praise for the mayor and his “rectitude” reflects Canadian corporate media’s fawning love for the powerful more than it reflects anything about Tory’s tenure. As academic Peter Graefe put it to CBC, “in certain parts of the city the idea of being tough on the homeless and tough on crime was reassuring.” Indeed, those “parts of the city” are well represented by Canada’s media.
Setting aside the details of Tory’s scandal, the reality is that he is the scion of one of Canada’s most powerful families and a lifelong campaigner for the privileged and powerful. The true “indecency” of his tenure was his unstinting commitment to displacing and attacking the poor.
John Tory is the heir of one of Toronto’s most elite families. After his great-grandfather founded Sun Life Financial, his grandfather founded Torys LLP — one of Canada’s “seven sisters” corporate law firms. His father served on the board of Rogers Communications, and John himself was given keys to the backrooms of Ontario’s long-ruling Progressive Conservative (PC) Party in his tartan-suited adolescent days.
After an initial rejection from Osgoode Hall Law School, which his grandfather helped found, Tory moved into the ruling PC government’s inner circle. This put him in the cockpit of Bill Davis’s Tory Ontario government in the 1970s and ’80s, as it carried out a draconian program of cuts, strikebreaking, and union busting. After the PC’s defeat, Tory mostly returned to the private sector.
After serving as CEO of Rogers Media from 1995 to ’99, Tory sat on the board of Metro Inc. just as CEO Pierre Lessard initiated a program of “massive” job cuts to increase its multibillion-dollar profits. Tory returned to campaigning in 2003, running for mayor of Toronto with the promise to increase Toronto’s police force by four hundred officers, criminalize panhandlers, and expand municipal deportations as part of his “criminals out” campaign. Speaking to an audience of business owners, Tory vowed to use the police to “clean up the streets.”
After his first mayoral campaign failed, Tory sought the leadership of the Ontario PC Party in 2004. He was quick to exhibit his right-wing bona fides. He promised expanded use of ankle monitoring bracelets by police, explaining that “if a gang member is ordered to stay away from gang hangouts, this will help to stop violations before they start.” From the beginning, his campaign evinced a disdain for the working poor that did not abate when he attained office.
In an article for the Toronto Star, Tory claimed that many minimum-wage earners are “unskilled” and flaunted his tireless opposition to minimum-wage raises. Vowing to end Ontario’s supposed problem of “big-spending, big-taxing, big-regulating, anti-business policies,” Tory campaigned to consult business owners to help set “a realistic minimum wage.” Tory also vowed to reintroduce the province’s “lifetime ban” for those who falsify documents to secure more support from Ontario’s sub-survival social assistance system.
Tory’s tenure as PC leader took an especially controversial turn in 2007, when he demanded the police crack the heads of Indigenous land defenders. During the dispute, Tory repeatedly called for police action against Six Nations land defenders who occupied the site of a proposed housing development in Caledonia. “The Caledonia occupation is about what happens when a group of people conclude that the process doesn’t work for them, and go on to conclude that the laws don’t apply to them,” he claimed.
Tory vowed to fine each individual $2,000 and any organization involved in the occupation up to $25,000 per day. He was unabashed in his intent to empower developers and municipalities to sue land defenders and dismissed calls for talks, stating, “We’re not going to put up with lawless behavior and we’re not going to sit at negotiating tables with people who break the law.”
In November 2006, Canada’s aboriginal affairs minister Michael Bryant dismissed calls to forcibly remove the land defenders. To justify the decision, Bryant cited the scandal that surrounded the murder of an unarmed Ojibwa man named Dudley George by tactical forces. Tory, incensed, would have none of it. In the interests of “tranquility in that community” and “respect for the rule of law,” Tory said it was essential “to have the protesters off the land.”
After returning to the private sector in 2009, Tory hosted a call-in radio show. As host, he famously pondered the “moral rectitude” of blackface. Following his stint bringing such profound pontifications to the public, he launched his campaign for Toronto’s mayor.
After a high-profile shooting, Tory caught flak for assuring his constituents that “the police are working aggressively and they’re working with full resources deployed to track these people, these profoundly antisocial kind of sewer rats, down.” He also promised Toronto police would “‘root out the thugs.”
Tory would soon have confrontations with Black Lives Matter Toronto. Falsely denouncing the organization for making “threats,” he offered his thoughts on why black people are disproportionately killed by police in a bizarre digression:
There are some very serious issues to be discussed. There are far too many black men and some women, but mostly black men, underachieving in school, dropping out of school and having trouble finding employment.
In 2021, Tory backed a wave of brutality against Toronto’s homeless, just as the city’s annual homeless deaths rose to over two hundred per year and shelters and warming centers burst at the seams. In what the mayor claimed was a “compassionate but also firm” response to protesters and residents, he tasked police to “clear” encampments. “We can’t just allow unsafe, unhealthy, illegal encampments to remain in public parks,” he said, after years of massively underfunding shelters, closing warming centers, and allowing social-housing units to collapse. The ensuing clearances were viciously violent. During my firsthand observation of the clearances, I witnessed police smash faces, pepper spray teenagers, and destroy property. In the aftermath of the onslaught, Tory shielded police from an official inquiry.
In light of Tory’s track record, it is puzzling that his scandal-fraught resignation has provoked such an outpouring of woe. The answer is simple: the people penning elegiac farewells to Tory are polite-society scribblers and haut monde functionaries. Tory is loved by Canada’s elites because he campaigned and governed for them as one of their own.
The real tragedy, of course, is that this system hands power to people like John Tory, who inevitably find better and more efficient ways to cut social programs, evict the poor, and criminalize the oppressed. His “moral rectitude” is that of a system that can’t exist without poverty and violence against the impoverished.
While Tory has made a token apology “to all those hurt by my actions,” those hurt by his policies are not polled and have no voice in government, mainstream politics, or the media.
He will not be missed.Original post