I know that many people on Friday night were shocked by the sudden and unexpected resignation of Toronto Mayor John Tory, due to an acknowledged improper relationship with a member of his staff. Certainly, I was.
I have known John Tory for more than 40 years and our paths crossed many times during that time. He was a key advisor and principal secretary to Premier Bill Davis, and he remained very close to Davis until the former premier’s death a year or so ago. For a period of time, he practised law with a major Toronto law firm founded by his grandfather. He later became a key executive of the Rogers Media conglomerate and again, was very close to its founder, Ted Rogers. Throughout his business career, Tory also held a number of Board positions and for a time, was Commissioner of the Canadian Football League.
Yet politics was never far from John Tory’s heart, in fact, I often wondered if it was in his DNA. He was and likely still is a “Red Tory”, never particularly interested in the far right of the Conservative spectrum. He was active in a number of provincial campaigns and leadership races and became leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party in 2004 and he was leader of the Official Opposition from 2005 to 2007.
It would not surprise me if I am the only person who has actually fired John Tory. Frank Miller won the leadership of the P.C.’s following the departure of Bill Davis. Customarily the principal secretary or chief of staff of a former premier would tender his resignation to the incoming premier. John Tory did not do that.
Miller was not anxious to stir up controversy by asking Tory to leave because the recent leadership race was bitter and divisive and John Tory was close to some of the unsuccessful candidates, particularly Larry Grossman. However, after the 1985 election when Miller won the most seats but failed to achieve a majority government, he asked me to come to Toronto as his chief of staff and principal secretary.
I remember the first day I arrived in that office. I was met by Ed Stewart, Deputy Minister to the Premier and one of the most effective public servants working for the province. He welcomed me very kindly but said there was a problem because the Premier had not advised John Tory he was being replaced.
So, that quickly became a task for me, and John Tory was very gracious and understanding about it. He remained a very effective advisor to me and to Premier Miller for several weeks before returning to his former law firm.
Toronto is the largest city and I believe the fourth largest government in Canada. John Tory has served with distinction as Mayor of Toronto for more than eight years, having won his third election last fall by a landslide. But he did the right thing on Friday after the Toronto Star exposed his affair with a now-former staffer. I will say here, however, that throughout our Canadian history, John Tory is not the first head of government, and certainly not the first politician, to have relationships that were improper and ill-advised, and I am aware that at times the media has not outed them out of respect for the office they held.
But that was then, and this is now. By taking action quickly, accepting responsibility, and resigning from office, John Tory has prevented months, if not years of endless speculation, dysfunction, and incriminations. That is the world we live in today.
While not excusing improper behaviour, I wonder if most people are aware of the tremendous pressure under which leaders of government, at all levels, must often operate, especially during times of crisis, which we seem to be seeing more of in recent years.
Almost every decision they make has an effect on others. They simply cannot be all things to all people and often pay the price for that. Political office especially when in leadership, is rife with difficult and sometimes life-changing decisions that can consume those involved and often have a negative effect on family life.
Our political leaders are not made of Teflon. We expect a great deal from them, but they are still humans with human fragilities. In that regard, they are no different than any of us mere mortals.
John Tory has made a serious mistake. He has acknowledged it, taken responsibility for it, apologized for it, and paid the price for it.
In these days of cancel culture, I imagine that this is all that he will be remembered for. But how sad that would be. John Tory also has a legacy of lifelong public service, effective leadership in so many areas, and being one of the best mayors that Toronto has seen. That too should be remembered.
John Tory and I were not close friends, but we were friendly never-the-less. Like many others, I was disappointed at the revelations of last Friday evening. I have often thought of him as “Mr. Clean”. It turns out that is not entirely accurate. But with or without his personal failures, I have always liked John Tory and admired his public life.
I still do.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District of Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has also served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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