Friday, March 6, 2009

Reflections on John Tory

"Kathleen Wynne will continue to do us proud...She deserved to win. Tory should have known better than to pick a fight with her."
Oct. 10, 2007, following announcement of Tory's defeat on Election night

"he didn't resign? He wants to lead from outside the legislature? Who will give him their seat? How will he get past a leadership review later this year? I still say he's done. I guess he's asking for the same treatment Andre Boisclair got in Quebec, he will be hounded out, would have been better to go out gracefully like Martin did I think. I think Tory can be useful outside of politics though,"
Oct. 10, 2007, immediately following Tory's concession speech

"If I had to guess, I would say he doesn't make it past the month."
Feb. 23rd, 2008, immediately following Tory's 66.9% approval at the Ontario PC Convention

"If Tory thinks he's a shoe in he might want to think twice. Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock residents might actually be looking for a real representative over the next few years instead someone who will immediately go looking for a new seat for 2011 and focus all his attention there. They might looking for someone that actually knows the riding not someone who's only there to save his career. And given that it's a fairly right wing riding they might actually prefer ending Tory's career in the hopes that someone on the far right takes the leadership of the party from him."
Feb. 4th, 2009, the day the by-election in HKLB was announced
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Today John Tory officially stepped down as Ontario PC Party leader and left his career in Ontario politics behind. I don't believe in kicking someone when they are down, but I do believe that as someone leaves the political scene it is worth looking at the good (and John did have many good qualities) and bad of their tenures and the lessons that can be learned from it. John Tory is a good guy at heart who has contributed to some great causes in his private life, but as I think many would now agree, it was his political judgment that prevented him from succeeding in Ontario politics. Ultimately, his own choices did him in on Election night and then left him leading a party for the past year and a half that he now probably wishes he left on Oct. 10 or 11, 2007. In each of the quotes listed above John Tory could have made a different choice than he did - he may now always wonder what might have been instead. But even though I was never rooting for him to win (and I'm very happy for Rick Johnson), I can't help but feel some sympathy for him and his fate.

John Tory did have some commendable qualities that I think any partisan could recognize. I'm sure many Ontario Liberals would agree that he's probably the most progressive leader the Ontario PC Party could ever hope to have. If we HAD to endure another PC term in government I would have preferred Tory to anyone else they have in their line-up (but since anyone else in their line-up is FAR less likely to win than Tory would have been, that suits me just fine as a Liberal and leaves me more confident of another McGuinty victory in 2011 :) ).

After the horrors of the Harris years and the shameful ways they dealt with the most vulnerable in society it was amazing to see the PCs have a leader who actually talked about poverty and had credibility on the issue (having worked for the United Way) and that's something we certainly don't see from Tory's federal cousins. Tory was also moderate on social issues and environmental policy, and he was quite critical of the Common Sense Revolution and Harris/Eves' combative ways of doing government, all dramatic departures from his predecessor (and frankly anyone else in his party).

After the 2011 election perhaps the PC Party will finally learn that that's where they need to be if they ever hope to win again, but I doubt they'll come to their senses - again works fine for us Liberals - Liberal majorities are serving Ontario well - but I suppose a part of me thinks it's good for democracy to have a credible opposition and at least John Tory brought that - while I never wanted to see him Premier, you could at least picture him in the job and not absolutely shudder at the thought (except perhaps when you started to worry about the pressure his caucus might put on him on to go back in time...).

But John Tory wouldn't be finished now in Ontario politics if he didn't make many mistakes. I think five stand out.

For one I think he picked the wrong party. I don't think he could ever have been a leadership candidate for the Ontario Liberal Party but I don't think he would have seemed too out of place with some of the party's right-of-centre crowd, we do after all have a much bigger tent than the PCs. Tory certainly seemed to have more in common with some of the right-wing in the OLP than with pretty much any member of his own party. It's no surprise really that his party hasn't truly been behind him since Election night - they don't see him as "one of them" - why else would none of the caucus give up their seat for an entire year? You'll be hearing refrains from many of them now how their "magic solution" is to move further right now and be as far from Tory's mould as possible. We'll see how that works out for them. But any façade of a "moderate" PC Party is now out the window for sure.

Second was his negativity. John Tory vowed to raise the standard for ethics and integrity and that he would espouse a positive vision for Ontario. Instead, he spent most of the Ontario campaign being relentlessly negative. Worst of all, he chose the attack dog role for himself. It's a wise rule that the leader try to stay above the fray and leave the sharpest attacks to subordinates. You don't see Dalton McGuinty take on the role of prime attacker and I'm still puzzled why Tory thought it suited him. I think it turned a lot of people off of him and contributed quite a bit to his poor performance on election night.

Third was his platform. Of course everyone knows there was the religious schools issue, as I said near the end of the 2007 campaign: "He had not even considered some of the most fundamental flaws with his plan such as what to do about the inevitable court challenges by scientologists and so on, how could he claim that he was going to treat the religious schools just like the Catholics and still let those schools charge tuition, how would he monitor these schools, what would happen when they started violating the curriculum, and on and on. It just give the impression that he doesn't give great thought to his most important policies which is the worst possible quality to have if you want to be the Premier who is tasked with handling education and health care in our province." His backtracking on the issue near the end of the campaign made him look even worse. I resent when people compare the religious schools issue to the Green Shift, because no one has made a convincing case as to why the Green Shift isn't good policy (of course it didn't prove to be good politics), whereas Tory's religious school's proposal was both bad policy and bad politics which I think is a very important distinction. But religious schools wasn't the only problem with this platform either, his platform claimed it would have cut taxes (which would have been a disaster in hindsight) and yet increase spending. It sounded like a re-hash of what we heard from Mike Harris and created suspicions as to who was really running the show and making policy for the party. PCs will learn again in 2 years that we REALLY don't want another Mike Harris type leading the province especially at a time of increasing unemployment and poverty.

But all politicians make mistakes with policies and ideas they put forth and John Tory at least seemed to realize that he had (though he seemed to mistakenly believe the solution was to move further right), and he could have overcome the problems in his platform to lead his party in 2011, but I think ultimately his biggest mistake was choosing to challenge Kathleen Wynne. It was a dumb move and it certainly diminished the respect some Liberals had for Tory that he would choose to take on one of the best ministers in McGuinty's government and arguably one of the top women in Ontario politics. In the end he was trounced for it, only scoring 0.1% better than David Turnball who ran before him in Don Valley West in 2003. Had Tory chosen a more PC friendly riding and run against a non-incumbent or just stayed where he already was I think he would still be PC leader today. It was not the election loss that doomed him, it was the fact that he had no seat. It proved impossible for him to have much profile sitting outside the legislature and well now we know what ended up happening in the end. The biggest lesson for party leaders from this I think is make sure you are confident of winning your own seat, because I think Tory's case should prove pretty clearly that if you don't win a seat on election night and can't find a replacement extremely quickly then it's time to go.

Finally, John Tory should have realized his party wasn't behind him and called it quits on the earlier chances he had like Election night or after the performance review.

So on balance John Tory had the ability to be a great public servant, but too many of his decisions backfired and his party was just too right-wing to ever be able to truly rally behind him. John Tory is better off without the PC Party though. I think he could still make a very positive contribution to society and I hope he does.

I wish John Tory nothing but the best in his life post-Ontario politics.


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2 comments:

Skinny Dipper said...

I, too, wish John Tory well in post-Ontario politics.

I was just listening to CFRB radio in Toronto where the topic was John Tory: should he run for mayor? A few people who phoned said, "Yes." I would reply that I would not vote for him if he ran. I do think someone needs to be politically astute if he or she wishes to enter the political arena. John Tory demonstrated that while he was a nice guy, his political astuteness was not up to par. Running against Wynne wasn't a good move. The religious school issues was the kiss of death. Had he not campaigned on that issue, he might be premier now. Even if he had lost his seat. Some PC MPP would have offered his or her seat for a by-election. As premier, he would have had the power to appoint that MPP to a provincial agency or board.

I would be happy to vote for someone for mayor who has good sense of direction for Toronto. I could support my own councillor, Denzil Minnan-Wong. Unfortunately, his office never replied to my polite email that included my real name and address. He won't get my vote for mayor or councillor. Even a form return email would have sufficed.

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