Toronto, wouldn't it be nice to have a mayor?

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John Tory probably peaked in his Canadian Football League years: the 1990s. He wasn't a player, coach or owner but he saved Canadian football, a unique cultural entity.

He stood there like the boy on the burning deck. He was so desperate he tried Americanization -- of team franchises, not the game -- which thankfully failed. But because of him, the CFL still exists.

That was his glory run. The rest has been … limp.

He chaired the most disastrous PC election campaign in Canadian history in 1992. He also headed Rogers, which I deem our most hated company. He stood to win the 2007 Ontario election till he chose to support funding of religious schools -- and lost. He lost for mayor in 2003 but finally won in 2014.

As mayor, he's been a shrinker. He shrank the Scarborough LRT to a three-stop subway, then one. He shrank the Yonge relief line to his SmartTrack with 22 stops, since reduced severely. He acquiesced to slashing city council. He supports a Rail Deck Park as long as it's never built.

Maybe he was down so long it started looking like up. Then, when he won, he panicked over losing it all and went into a permanent defensive crouch.

He began in politics as a protégé to Ontario premier Bill Davis, the last PC leader in an amazing run from 1943 through 1985. Davis liked to say Bland Works, which Tory identifies with. But for Davis, bland was a comms strategy.

When it came to governing, he was bold, even ruthless. He stopped the Spadina expressway cold. As education minister before that, he bulled through a mammoth higher ed system. How do you think York University wound up on that brutal Keele campus?

Tory isn't really bland, he just blunders. At a debate on Black issues, he was asked about his statement four years ago that white privilege doesn't exist. Since becoming mayor, he said, he's been talking to Black people. They told him they get followed in stores and he never was. So he realized he was wrong.

That may be the whitest thing any Toronto mayor ever said. I refuse to believe you could've been sentient in the later 20th century and be this clueless. Even in the CFL of Tory's childhood, there were players called Indian Jack Jacobs and Normie Kwong, the China Clipper. White always matters.

He's ever eager to avoid challenges. A typical response is, "I've been very clear, going forward …" That's ass-covering and it's not even set in the present, it's future-oriented. When Doug Ford gutted city council, Tory said, channelling Pontius Pilate: "I did everything a responsible person could do." I.e., nothing. What I miss is at least some expression of regret, or -- be still my heart -- anguish?

At some point one moves from feeling empathic to revolted. Things have been going badly in the city. Last week, Eric Andrew-Gee wrote in the Globe about his friend, Nick Cameron, who died in a stupid, needless Uber collision on the Gardiner. It happened, basically, because Toronto doesn't regulate Uber to the level other cities do. There's been some jawing about it but everything got watered down, instead of up, as tends to happen with Tory. Perhaps he feels he did what a responsible person could, and washed his hands again, ferociously.

Not long ago, we were a city that others looked to. Now we're a punchline. It's a city that its people love. Immigrants arrive and say they instantly feel at home. They know it's imperfect yet it's already home.

But its strength is in its neighbourhoods and demographics, not its leadership. The young have given up on living downtown, where it's most fun. Even if their parents plan to bequeath them a house, none of their friends could afford to live nearby. And we face a premier who hates everything truly urban -- with Tory as our woeful protector.

It used to seem he was behaving cautiously and defensively to ward off another Ford run as mayor, but that's gone now. Either Tory hasn't noticed or he's simply gutless. He won't even meet Jennifer Keesmaat, a perfectly worthy opponent, one-on-one, in a debate. It really would be nice to have a mayor.

This article was originally published in the Toronto Star

Image: Collsion Conf/Flickr

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