‘Breaks my heart to leave’: Embattled John Tory marks end of tenure as Toronto mayor

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John Tory wants to be remembered for keeping the city of Toronto stable and moving forward, though the outgoing mayor acknowledged Friday that the scandal that led him to resign will mar his legacy.

In his final remarks as mayor, Tory said he wants to be known for building new lines of transit, getting housing built, keeping taxes affordable while investing in front-line services and demonstrating respect for all of Toronto’s communities.

“It breaks my heart to leave. But leaving was the right thing to do, hard as it may be,” he said.

Tory shocked the city of Toronto a week ago by announcing his resignation after admitting he had an “inappropriate relationship” with a former staffer.

Speaking at city hall on Friday, minutes before the clock ran out on his tenure, Tory thanked his council colleagues, staff and those in public service for their dedication, as well as the people of Toronto.

He said he will be focused on rebuilding trust with his family, but will also be looking for other ways to contribute to the city “in the days ahead.”

“I leave knowing that our city’s best days lie ahead,” Tory said. “I leave with great hopes, high spirits, deep humility and ever deeper gratitude.”

Tory handed over his mayoral powers to Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie, who he said has the intelligence, dedication and experience to step into the role.

Speaking after Tory, McKelvie said she is committed to fulfilling the duties and obligations of her new role and will continue the work Tory was doing.

“I will be making sure that we continue to deliver on the priorities on which Mayor Tory received a mandate from voters last October: keeping our city safe, getting housing built, getting transit built and making sure the nuts-and-bolts city services continue to be delivered in the best possible way,” she said.

“Residents can rest assured that my entire focus at this time is ensuring a smooth transition and continued good governance,” said McKelvie, who reiterated she will not run for mayor.

In a memo to city councillors Friday morning, Tory said to “ensure good governance” he was delegating to the city manager authority to hire most senior officials and amend the city’s organizational structure.

Council will get the authority to hire deputy city managers and the city solicitor, as part of what Tory’s office called a standard transition process.

His final day in office marked the end of a turbulent week at city hall. 

Despite announcing his resignation last Friday, Tory’s departure was dragged out for a week as he stayed on to see his budget approved by council.

Some of his allies at city hall, as well as Ontario Premier Doug Ford, wanted him to reverse course and see through his term and polling showed roughly half of residents wanted him to remain mayor.

Tory’s undoing comes just months after he handily won a third-term election bid, promising steady leadership in uncertain times. 

When Tory launched his first mayoral bid in 2014, he was seen as a stable leader after four years of scandal-plagued mayor Rob Ford. Tory then cruised to re-election in 2018.

He initially ran on a platform of change, a transit vision for the city and low taxes. Political analysts have said he kept the line on the city’s budget and taxes, but at the expense of affordability, high housing costs and aging infrastructure.

He presided over the COVID-19 pandemic and tough financial straits at the city, but faced heavy criticism for his pro-police stance and often angered community workers and those experiencing homelessness.

Criticisms mounted in recent weeks over Tory’s announcement of a proposed $48.3-million increase to the city’s police budget. The boost would bring funding to just over $1.1 billion for 2023, a figure Tory’s critics said was grossly inflated compared to other line items and underfunded social services.

While the affair and abrupt resignation will likely dominate his legacy and how people view him for a long time, his belated departure likely won’t, said Zac Spicer, an associate professor at York University’s public policy and administration department. 

Unlike the late Rob Ford’s “slow burn” departure, marked by denial of his crack cocaine usage and international attention, Tory ultimately made a clean break, Spicer said.

“Everything was very quick, the chapter is closed and the city is ready to move on,” he said.

However, his resignation brings about a period of political uncertainty in Toronto.

Spicer said he doesn’t expect McKelvie to take a very active role in some of the large issues facing the city Tory was tasked with managing, such as violence on transit, public encampments and lack of shelter spaces, and policing criticism.

“In an interim role, you really are tasked with just staying the course. The budget’s approved, now the city kind of has its marching orders and the campaign is going to be the opportunity for Torontonians to think about the city they want moving forward,” he said.

“I suspect the deputy mayor will be very much in caretaker mode.”

It’s unclear when the city will have a new mayor in place.

McKelvie said Friday the city clerk is prepared to bring a report to the next scheduled council meeting on March 29 that will allow councillors to formally declare the mayor’s office vacant and pass a bylaw to initiate the byelection to elect a new mayor.

A nomination period would open the next day and last anywhere between 30 and 60 days, with the mayoral byelection held 45 days after that.

The byelection will have a totally different dynamic without Tory, considering his domination and lack of opposition for the seat, as well as the shorter campaign period, Spicer said.

“One of Tory’s major successes was consolidating political power … there was this sense of inevitability the last two elections,” he said.

“Torontonians, I think for the first time in a couple elections, they’ve got a real choice and it’s going to be interesting to see what sort of vision they actually go for.”

The byelection will likely be competitive and feature many different visions for the city, including high-profile progressive candidates focused on issues like encampments, transit and policing, as well as a Tory flag-bearer discussing affordability, taxes and city management, said Spicer. 

Josh Matlow, a progressive councillor and Tory critic, said Friday he is “very strongly considering” a run for mayor after Tory’s departure, but has not yet made a decision.

“I have been frustrated by the direction that our city has been going (through) for many years, I know we can do so much better,” Matlow said.

Gil Penalosa, mayoral runner-up in October’s election, has said he will run again.

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