In 1996, after Shimon Peres had lost the election to Bibi Netanyahu, an old Mapainik and fervent Rabin supporter once explained to me in Hebrew that Shimon Peres was a “loozer”: “Ata yodeah mazeh ‘loozer’?” he asked me (“Do you know what a “loser” is?”). Yes, I assured him, I was familiar with the concept in English. Peres had succeeded in reaching the premiership three times without actually winning an election; he also lost several battles for the Labour leadership to Yitzhak Rabin. And he lost his first election for the presidency in 2000. The first election that Peres actually won – in 2007 for the presidency — was also likely his last. Finally, Peres could shake the “loser” (or “loozer”) label.
Newly-elected Mayor of Toronto John Tory is Canada’s Shimon Peres. Tory had a reputation as an outstanding publicly-engaged citizen who simply could not win an election. He was sometimes referred to as “the best Mayor Toronto never had” or “the best Premier Ontario never had”. At age 60, Tory has finally overcome his own “loser” tag by winning the mayoralty of Toronto, Canada’s largest city with a population of 2.6 million – making it the fifth largest city in North America.
Like Peres, Tory was seen as both a member of the “elite” and a policy wonk. However, unlike Peres, Tory was born into power and wealth. His grandfather founded the Bay Street law firm that his father and his uncle built into Tory, Tory, Deslauriers and Binnington, now known simply as “Torys”. The Torys firm became synonymous with the Canadian establishment, boasting the country’s business elite as its clients. John Tory began his career in broadcasting before working in “the family business” for a time before serving as the principal political adviser to the Progressive Conservative Premier of Ontario between 1981 and 1985. Tory was and is a Tory. The term is the nickname for members and supporters of Canada’s (and Great Britain’s) Conservative Party. For two decades John Tory served as an adviser and fundraiser to various Conservative politicians while he worked in different capacities in the business world, including a stint as Commissioner of the Canadian Football League.
In 2003, Tory made his first of several unsuccessful attempts at elected office. He ran for Mayor of Toronto and lost by 3% to the left-leaning David Miller. Tory had momentum in the last few weeks leading up to the vote and if the campaign had been a week or two longer he may very well have become Mayor of Toronto in 2003 instead of having to wait until 2014. A few weeks before the mayoral election, Tory’s Tories lost the provincial election and the leader resigned, triggering a leadership race. Tory threw his hat in the race and won the leadership on the second ballot. He entered the Ontario legislature after a member of his party resigned to allow him to run in a by-election in a safe riding. Until this week, that was the only popular election that Tory had ever won.
Tory led his party to a shocking loss in the provincial election in 2007. He also lost his own seat against Kathleen Wynne, the current Premier of Ontario. The election turned a single issue: Tory’s commitment to extend public funding to all religious schools. Because of a bargain made at the founding of Canada in 1867, Ontario funds Catholic schools. Tory had promised to extend funding to other religious denominations: Jewish, Protestant and Muslim. Jewish groups had long sought “equal funding” with Catholic schools and had fought unsuccessful legal challenges all the way to Canada’s Supreme Court. They were elated by Tory’s promise but mostly sat quietly during the election campaign as Ontarians voiced their strong abhorrence at the notion of funding Muslim schools. After losing the provincial election, Tory tried to stay on as leader without a seat in the legislature. He found a way to lose a by-election in a riding that had not voted anything other than Conservative in decades. Tory retreated from provincial politics back to broadcasting, business and public affairs.
Now Tory has finally won. After several tumultuous years of a heavy-drinking, crack-smoking mayor who was the butt of late-night talk show hosts jokes and garnered international headlines, Torontonians and Canadians will take dull right now. And John Tory fits the bill. He is earnest, dedicated, honest, committed in a boy-scout sort of way. He displays the quintessential stereotypical Canadian politeness and earnestness.
Like Shimon Peres, John Tory has finally shaken the reputation as a “loser”. And like Peres, Tory now has to prove himself under the watchful eyes not only of the people of Toronto but of the whole world.