John Tory: Once and Future King reigns over the Gardiner

deja vu all over again?

On the morning of the vote to save or demolish the Gardiner Expressway, I have a prediction to share.  Regardless of how the vote goes today, this will be one of the issues that ends John Tory's honeymoon with Council, the press, and the public.

That states it too mildly.  It's not the end of his mayoralty's beginning.  It's the beginning of the end.

Evidence lies in the eery similarities between John Tory and Rob Ford.  Both take simplistic positions that frequently defy the evidence.  Both regard the exercise of power as a zero sum game in which you can only prevail by neutralizing your opponents.  Both think that Toronto's Mayor can control City Council the way a premier controls the provincial legislature.

Take as examples the Scarborough subway, the police carding issue, and the Gardiner Expressway.  In each case, he is paying a political price for his oblivion and recalcitrance. Once he becomes defensive about a motherhood issue, and they're all motherhood issues for Tory, even his allies become uncomfortable standing beside him.

Isn't this what happened exactly four years ago, six months into Rob Ford's term?  His nucleus of knuckleheads stood by him, along with a few orbiting ions, until about July of 2011.  Then the bonds of this fragile molecule slowly started to dissolve.  The sheer stupidity of his decisions was stronger than the attraction of cabinet influence, and incrementally he exhausted the good will of the people nearest to him.

Who can forget his assault on libraries, dunce-capped by his brother's ignorance of Margaret Atwood, a literary giant living in our midst?  Or the way he threw down the gauntlet over the Jarvis Street bike lanes, only to install new ones, at greater expense, a block east on Sherbourne Street?  Every goofy, ham-handed demand he made of his allies came with an incremental cost until - surprise - he didn't have the votes for other pet projects, like  a giant waterfront ferris wheel and a magnificent  gambling cathedral.

I think Tory is approaching the same credibility crisis at the same pace as Ford at the start of his disastrous term.

Like Ford, he's determined to kill a fully funded LRT service in Scarborough for a subway that will cost $1 billion extra, but will serve fewer people.  No one can agree on a route because the most recent studies show that no route makes any sense in those low density neighbourhoods.  According to staff's analysis, Tory's preferred route is the most wasteful and costly of all.

His self-imposed oblivion on the carding issue culminated last week in the lamest mea culpa ever.  After rejigging the civilian police oversight board, exerting all possible influence in the selection of a Chief who favours carding, and after plumping for a watered-down resolution to limit the practice, he feigned surprise last week when every relevant voice in the community rose against his deplorable position.  Pulling the rug out from under Chief Saunders, he pretended not to have heard the months of protest preceding the former Chief's termination and the thwarted reform attempts by the Police Services Board.  Like an unnamed member of his staff, reported to have asked why only black people are troubled by carding, he looks stupid, old, and white, which is worse than just plain stupid in this most multicultural of world-class cities.

Nowhere has he dodged the evidence, and ignored informed opposition, as deftly as in the Gardiner Expressway debate (see Torontoist's excellent analysis http://bit.ly/1Gywvxi ).  Actually, it flatters him to call it a debate.  In true Fordian style, he strikes a listening pose while every expert from near and far explains why he mustn't again take the most wasteful and costly course of action.  Then he puffs out his chest, tucks his chins, knits his eyebrows, and in his sternest voice, repeats his assumptions as if he hasn't heard, or comprehended, the evidence.

On just these three issues, none of which has been resolved yet, he's expended tremendous political currency and billions of public dollars.  It's almost as if he's trying to break Ford's record pace for pissing off possible allies and squandering good will.

The fourth and best way he's found to out-klutz Ford is the idea of taking Section 37 deals, between Councillors and developers, and using them to finance affordable housing.  As explained in other posts, this will reduce the ability of a Councillor to mitigate the impacts of excessively dense developments on their constituents.  In fact, it's worse than that - it will magnify the effects of excessive residential density by adding more residences, which in turn will require more services, while surrendering the space required to deliver those services.

If it weren't so foolish, it might be evil.  With the reverse Midas touch Tory displayed as provincial PC leader, when he stubbornly self-destructed over public funding of private schools, changes to Section 37 deals will alienate Councillors who are still fence-sitting on other issues like the Gardiner or the Scarborough subway plans.  Why would they consider surrendering one of the only tools they've got for extracting value for their communities from projects that exceed sustainable densities?

I don't pretend to know which of these four fights will undermine his mandate the most, but I think they're all  damaging, and the Gardiner vote might be the most significant because it's coming to a head first.  Its effect is already apparent in the array of prominent civic leaders aligned with the experts against Tory's gormless position.

Support is falling away.  David Crombie is a case in point.  Crombie has been a friend and an admirer since Tory ran his 1976 re-election campaign.  His 11th hour endorsement of Tory last October was critical to Tory's 4% margin of victory.  Now Crombie says that Tory is "tragically wrong," on the Gardiner.  He also weighed in very publicly last week against Tory's inexplicable tolerance of carding.

Add him to a list of the disenchanted that includes Sheldon Levy Anne Golden, and Councillors Thompson and McConnell, to name a few.  In fact there are days when the Mayor's own staff are hanging their heads in disbelief.

And we're only six months into his term, with three and a half years of this left to go.  Give him a nose full of coke, a bottle of vodka, a bucket of chicken, and Jimmy Kimmel on speed dial, and this all starts to look very familiar.

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