What do Rob Ford and Toronto housing activists have in common?

It’s rare for a Tory to lose a council vote. But during the July vote to legalize rooming houses, the difference was small: Three Tories voted with the city’s left, not three who belong…

What do Rob Ford and Toronto housing activists have in common?

It’s rare for a Tory to lose a council vote. But during the July vote to legalize rooming houses, the difference was small: Three Tories voted with the city’s left, not three who belong to a conservative political party. The left won. The right took notice.

“It’s a real eye-opener,” says Tory, the city’s longest-serving mayor. “The councils I have been on, of both political parties, have tended to be provincial. And, of course, the way we operate now is we elect a mayor, and there’s a deputy mayor and council members. It’s unusual.”

That could be seen by the mob of people who descended on City Hall after the left-wing council’s vote that day. “When the screaming started,” recalls Tory, “I went, ‘Oh, God, where’s my guard.’ ”

About two dozen right-wingers, including numerous Toronto district councillors and the mayor’s own brother, John Tory, raucously demanded that Tory, an independent councillor until a few months before the meeting, resign his role as his brother’s shadow cabinet member. “I had my head down so I couldn’t see what was going on,” says Tory. “I was thinking, ‘It’s going to be OK, because I’m voting with Rob Ford, and we’ll pull this thing out in the end.’ But he [John Tory] gave me that look in his eye and he said: ‘No, the mayor has lost. You have to resign.’ ” Tory obliged.

Tory concedes that it was a rare lose—just seven years, all but a handful of which have been spent in office. And so, in the weeks after the vote, Tory buckled to the demands of housing advocates—who blasted the Tory council for a lopsided approach to meeting housing needs—and spurned his brother’s ambitions to create a powerful provincial minister with sweeping powers.

The council’s vote also punctured the illusion that the council under the Ford government is much closer to achieving housing solutions than they’ve been for any Toronto council in years.

A more in-depth look at how Rob Ford’s government came to the rooming house vote should be in a series of written articles that go up later this week.

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