POLITICS

John Tory Promises 'Fresh New Era' At Toronto City Hall

10/24/2014 04:50 EDT | Updated 12/24/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - A former CFL chairman and telecommunications executive who left the world of business for politics only to fall flat in both municipal and provincial elections could finally achieve his goal of leading the country's largest city, more than a decade after his first bid for the job.

John Tory, the former leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives, has been out of the political arena since he gave up the leadership in 2009 after failing to regain a seat in the legislature.

Both he and the Conservatives were defeated in the 2007 election — a loss widely attributed to his proposal to fund faith-based schools.

Tory spent the ensuing years as a radio broadcaster and community activist, but the 60-year-old said he felt the need to make more of an impact in shaping the public agenda and bringing about lasting change.

That drive is what lured him back to the mailstrom of political life, he said, adding that its benefits outweigh the harsh lessons he's been forced to learn.

"I was a broadcaster doing a very popular talk show where I know you have some degree of ability to influence things, I have been a public servant, I have been a business figure," Tory said in a telephone interview. "There is no place you make a bigger difference to build up your own city or your own province or your own community than to be in public life. So to me it's public service."

Tory's fiscally conservative approach has made him a right-wing favourite in the race to replace scandal-plagued Mayor Rob Ford, whose tenure Tory described as being marred by division and chaos.

His campaign has been framed as an effort to reinstate stability at city hall while addressing Toronto's growing infrastructure challenges, and so far his message has found a receptive audience.

Numerous polls suggest he has a comfortable lead over his main rivals, Rob Ford's elder brother Doug and former NDP MP Olivia Chow.

Tory has played peacemaker throughout the campaign despite a political environment he found to be more combative than those he's experienced in the past.

Doug Ford, in particular, has accused Tory of being an out-of-touch elitist divorced from the needs of regular Torontonians, citing his birth into a prominent local family and rise through the ranks of both a private law firm and public telecom behemoth Rogers Communications.

Tory said his time as a business leader, fundraiser and community volunteer have given him experience in consensus-building that he feels voters will find more relevant than his privileged background.

"Whether it's your religion or your social status or what you did in your professional life, those who try to make those kinds of things an issue I think are seen as divisive," he said.

"At this stage of the game I think they're looking for people who can get things done, who can unite different parts of the community, including parts of the government machinery, and actually produce some results."

This marks Tory's second attempt to secure Toronto's top job. The mayoral bid he launched in 2003 saw him come within five per cent of victory but ultimately fall short of left-leaning former city councillor David Miller.

Tory said the decline in city services that formed the central plank of his 2003 platform has only become more apparent in the 11 years since his last run for city hall. He also lamented the change in tone of city politics, which he said were exacerbated by the tumultuous Ford era.

"The campaign in 2003 I don't think involved a single personal attack between the three leading candidates, whereas this time it's been very different," he said. "I regret that. I don't think it's unique to Toronto, but it certainly has changed, and not for the better."

Tory has considerable back-room experience, having served as an adviser to former Ontario premier Bill Davis and former Conservative prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell.

He also spent eight years as chairman and commissioner of the Canadian Football League, both roles he held on a volunteer basis.

He has been married for 36 years to entrepreneur Barbara Hackett. They have four grown children.

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