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Will John Tory fumble the ball in Toronto mayoral bid?

09/30/2014 10:57 EDT | Updated 11/30/2014 05:59 EST
A new poll suggests John Tory has a strong lead in the Toronto mayor's race, but do his past troubles on voting day mean the former CFL commissioner could still find a way to fumble the ball before crossing the goal line?

A Forum Research poll released last night pegs Tory support at 43 per cent, ahead of Coun. Doug Ford (33 per cent) and former NDP MP Olivia Chow (20 per cent).

The poll is a random sampling of 1,167 decided and "leaning" Toronto voters and based on the results of an interactive voice response telephone survey. The results are considered accurate plus or minus 2.8 per cent 19 times out of 20. You can read more about the poll and its methodology here.

Underlying this positive news for John Tory is his history as an underachiever when it comes to the only poll that really matters — the one that happens on voting day.

Tory’s troubles when it comes to elections are well-documented:

1993 federal election Tory was campaign manager for prime minister Kim Campbell in the 1993 election, when a Tory television attack ad appeared to make fun of Jean Chrétien’s facial paralysis caused by Bell’s palsy. The ad asked “is this a prime minister?” It triggered an immediate backlash and Campbell's Tories were obliterated. It’s unclear what role Tory played in approving the ad.

2003 Toronto mayoral race Tory lost a close race to David Miller (43 per cent of the vote to 38 per cent). To be fair, Tory was not considered a front-runner when the race began.

2005 Byelection Tory, by now leader of the Ontario PC party, wins a byelection in the riding of Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey. Former PC leader Ernie Eaves had stepped aside to allow Tory to run. This remains Tory's only electoral victory.

2007 Provincial election Tory not only failed to defeat Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty, he was also unable to win a seat in Don Valley West, a Toronto riding where his family has deep roots. Tory’s defeat here came courtesy of incumbent and current premier Liberal Kathleen Wynne. A huge factor in this election was the backlash against the PC plan to expand funding for faith-based schools to all religions, not just Roman Catholics. The move caused rancour in the ranks of the Tory caucus, and caused the party to drop in the polls. Tory tried to stop the bleeding days before the election, offering to hold a free vote on the issue but the damage was done. The Tories lost the election, one many felt they should have won with Tory as their star candidate. 

2009 byelection After the PC defeat in 2007, Tory tried to convince one of his MPPs to step aside so he could return to the legislature. Eventually MPP Laurie Scott, who won the seat by 10,000 votes in the 2007 election, stepped aside so Tory could run in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock in a March 2009 byelection. The move backfired as Tory lost to Liberal Rick Johnson by 906 votes. The loss was seen as a revolt against parachuting a candidate into a riding held by a popular incumbent. Tory resigned as PC leader the next day, telling reporters “it's time for me to sit down and take stock of my life.” A Globe and Mail headline published after this loss described Tory's political future "in shambles."

Tory stepped down as PC leader but he didn't step away from the political scene entirely. He took a job as a talk show host on CFRB NewsTalk 1010, a position that allowed him to stay in touch with the issues.

Tory pondered a run for mayor in 2010 but opted to sit out the election that sent Rob Ford to the mayor’s office.

So does Tory’s penchant for political missteps mean there's a chance he will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the Oct. 27 mayoral race?

University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman doesn’t think so.

“I don’t think it’s relevant,” said Wiseman about Tory’s past troubles at the polling booth. Wiseman said every election has its own dynamic and this one is polarized around the Fords.

Wiseman also points out that Tory isn’t the only politician with losses on their electoral record. For example, Chow had two failed bids in the federal riding of Trinity-Spadina before winning in 2006, 2008 and 2011.

Still the notion persists of Tory as someone who struggles to connect with voters come voting day. Ford, who is competing with Tory for the conservative vote in the mayoralty reace, has been beating this drum the loudest.

Ford claimed that Tory was handed his first job out of law school as an aide to former premier Bill Davis because his family was wealthy.

"It's who John Tory and the Torys are that got him his position," Ford last week. "He's one of them who gets parachuted into top jobs because of his last name and thinks he can just go and become mayor. He has to do the work there and do his time."

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