Toronto had to avoid a health crisis due to the surge in COVID-19. Fighting Doug Ford was not an option. Here’s what John Tory did instead

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Some wondered what exactly Toronto Mayor John Tory was doing at Premier Doug Ford’s press conference Tuesday afternoon.

There wasn’t a lot of news to share – some details on tax breaks, including property tax breaks, for small businesses.

“This was already something we were aware of – it was just a new funding announcement,” said James Rilett, a spokesperson for Restaurants Canada.

Importantly, the press conference gave Ford and Tory – both of whom have worked in business and often refer to this fact – an opportunity to appear to endorse and support the city’s independent businesses, and this with several million dollars.

It was a particularly good move for Tory, who knew that in three more hours he would appear at his own press conference, with Dr Eileen de Villa, the town’s medical officer of health, to punch the gut to the owners of the restaurants and bars in town – they weren’t going to be able to reopen this weekend as planned.

“It was very smart, the way he handled it all,” Coun said. John Filion (Ward 18 Willowdale), adding that this is the kind of political intelligence you would expect from someone who has been twice elected mayor of Toronto.

“On the same day, he managed to appear extremely concerned about business and to work cooperatively with the Prime Minister, while also supporting the medical officer of health.

Halfway through his second term as mayor, it’s clear that Tory has come a long way from his most embarrassing political failures – which included the inability, as leader of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party, to capture what had been considered a safe constituency in a by-election. .

This defeat led to Tory’s resignation as party leader.

It was only after giving up partisan politics that the seemingly gentle and even shy Tory became arguably one of the most powerful mayors in Toronto history, allowed to function as a city council made up of ‘a single man under emergency orders invoked in March to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, then extended, with council consent, until the crisis is over.

“I think like anyone with a career, he learned where he maybe struggled or failed and that created a more resilient politician who understands what it means to lead,” said Isaac Ransom, who was a member of former Mayor Rob. Ford staff and is now an Account Manager at Hill + Knowlton Strategies.

Tory’s political know-how came in handy after Premier Doug Ford proposed a new color-coded provincial framework that set much higher infection thresholds to prevent restrictions being imposed on businesses.

If Toronto, faced with rapidly rising infection rates, wanted to avert a health crisis, the city had to fight Ford and his executive or find a way to work there.

Fighting Doug Ford does not lead to optimal results, as former opponents have learned.

Not surprisingly, Tory chose to work as part of Ford. He and de Villa began by asking Ford for an extra week for Toronto, where infection rates had improved somewhat during 28 days of restrictions, but had not yet settled into an optimistic or reassuring pattern.

When Ford publicly announced the new color-coded framework on November 3, it said areas of the province that had been restricted over Thanksgiving weekend would be allowed to reopen next weekend – at with the exception of Toronto, which would remain under restrictions until November 14, at the request of Tory and Villa.

Critics said the color-coded provincial framework actually seemed designed to keep businesses open, not to contain a deadly virus. A growing number of healthcare professionals are now calling for the trigger thresholds for restrictions to be lowered.

Tory initially echoed Ford’s position that it was time to reopen the province – with Tory adding, as always, many caveats, including “if it can be done safely.” Tory expressed optimism, as late as November 6, that it would be possible to reopen bars and restaurants in Toronto on November 14.

But the number of COVID-19 rose sharply over the weekend, with Toronto and the province reaching record levels of new infections.

The city has scheduled a press conference for Tuesday afternoon. Businesses expected, at worst, another one week delay for reopening.

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Instead, de Villa invoked his powers as a medical officer of health to keep restaurants and bars closed and open gyms on a limited basis.

It was not a simple decision. City officials, including the Conservatives, had previously said they were unsure whether they actually had the legal authority to implement the measures, a position supported by city attorney Wendy Walberg.

“Legal advice is always more nuanced than yes or no and legal issues are – especially in this complex situation we find ourselves in right now – unprecedented,” Walberg said Thursday.

Walberg declined to discuss the specific advice given to de Villa, citing solicitor-client privilege.

It’s unclear whether De Villa’s decision, backed by Tory, will be legally challenged, but Walberg has said his litigation team is ready.

“We will defend it vigorously if necessary.”

“Operators and employees were placed on an emotional roller coaster as they prepared to reopen,” said Rilett of the restaurant industry.

“We no longer know what information to trust with political partners, whether it is the city or the province.”

He said the two press conferences on the same day – yes, we support you, but you have to stay closed – seemed too coincidental.

Hill + Knowlton’s Ransom said Tories and mayors around the world were tackling a problem so difficult and fast it was like flying a plane while trying to build it. Changes of course are to be expected.

Coun. Stephen Holyday, one of the more conservative voices on council, who typically votes with conservatives on council, believes the mayor has shown great leadership throughout the pandemic and works tirelessly and believes that residents think so too.

“The pandemic is a council mandate like no other and the mayor has taken on the task of guiding people through a months-long emergency. It is obvious that he is working there tirelessly and I think people can tell, ”he said.

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter who covers city hall and municipal politics for The Star. Follow her on Twitter: @Noir
Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter who covers city hall and municipal politics for The Star. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags



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