It’s not always easy, in extreme situations, to find the right words. Rabbi Dow Marmur, who also writes in these pages, said to me after my father died, “There’s little one can do in these cases except string together some clichés.” Yet he found a way to be both honest and kind in his eulogy. That’s the job, and the mayor should’ve tried harder.

It’s not enough to say we should be “reassured” because there’s “no daylight” between him and other government levels. “Keeping the city safe is a fundamental priority for all of us.” You’re not supposed to just state this, like the topic of an essay. The point is to show us why it’s reassuringly true.

I understand when normal citizens reach for images they’ve heard, like Danforth Strong, but this wasn’t the Battle of Britain. It wasn’t even the Boston Marathon. The city wasn’t under an ideologically motivated attack, as far as we know, by a coordinated force. What you’d like from your leader is something less generic, that emerges from our own reality and resonates right here and now. It doesn’t mean being Churchill, it means being attuned.

Tory has a way of making you momentarily hopeful. “Why does anyone in this city need a gun at all?” he asked. Many Americans would be flabbergasted by that. You need it, they’d say, to protect yourself from the “bad guys,” though the quotes are unnecessary. They mean it literally, showing how far down the road to Manichean despair they are. But the guns issue is outside Tory’s purview, versus what he can concretely address.

So his plan approved by council puts $7 million more into cops and surveillance and just a $1 million on community and youth projects that might actually forestall, rather than pursue, the guys with guns. He’s not much different from Doug Ford, who immediately said that $1.9 billion promised for mental health, would be shifted to cops.

What Tory could be useful for, after Ontario’s last election, would be offsetting the murk that Ford spreads whenever he opens his mouth. The problem with Ford isn’t that he’s a machinating rightwing ideologue, it’s that he doesn’t seem to have a thinking gear at all, just one that accesses clichés he’s heard and already regurgitated often.

“Toronto is home to the greatest police officers. We need to make sure they have the resources to round up …” blahblahblah.

Tory could be useful, not by critiquing Ford directly but by illustrating that you can think rather than burble, on these matters. Instead, he tends to mimic or even anticipate Ford (e.g., “anti-social sewer rats”).

If he sounds more sober and thoughtful, that’s because it’s not hard. On the overall mindset he distinguishes himself mainly by being a tech geek. And so we come to, ugh, ShotSpotter.

This U.S. company has “lobbied” Tory for years but he pushed their product through after the Danforth. It’s used nowhere outside the U.S. except Cape Town. It places mics in chosen areas that relay gunshot sounds to “acoustic experts” in a “business park” in California who “analyze” them, then call local cops’ smartphones. It doesn’t work (quelle surprise).

This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star. 

Image: Richard Minton/Flickr


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Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.