When tragedy strikes, it’s part of a politician’s job not only to lead problem-solving efforts, but also to be seen to be doing so.
That’s why this week’s mass shooting on the Danforth was quickly followed by a photo op featuring Ontario premier Doug Ford, Toronto mayor John Tory, newly minted federal minister for border security and organized crime reduction Bill Blair, and Toronto police chief Mark Saunders.
They sat in a semicircle at city hall and said all the right things about co-operating with one another to combat the uptick in gun violence in Canada’s biggest city.
What wasn’t said was that some members of that semicircle find it difficult even to be in the same room as one another, never mind work together.
Here’s the history that might not have been so apparent at the news conference:
Nearly four years ago, Tory defeated Ford in the Toronto mayoral race. While Tory once admitted to me that he actually enjoyed campaigning against his predecessor, Rob Ford, he saw Doug as a much more vicious competitor who lacked his late brother’s sense of humour.
And before he threw himself into the race for Ontario PC Party leader earlier this year, Ford gave every indication that he would challenge Tory again for the mayoralty in October.
But it’s not just Ford and Tory who have an acrimonious history. Five years ago, when he was Toronto’s chief of police, Blair held a news conference in which he said he was “disappointed” by the infamous video of then-mayor Rob Ford smoking crack. Doug Ford, who was then a city councillor, later accused Blair of having “gone rogue” and demanded the chief’s head on a platter. Following further verbal attacks from Ford, Blair served notice that he would sue for defamation. Only Ford’s eventual apology made the threatened lawsuit disappear.
“It’s hard to overstate how angry the mere mention of Bill Blair’s name makes Doug Ford,” Paul Wells recently wrote in Maclean’s.
A week ago, Blair, who has served for three years as the MP for Scarborough Southwest, was sworn in as a member of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.
This week, these three men found themselves somewhat awkwardly before the cameras, insisting that they would work together to find ways of curbing gun crime in Toronto, where this year there have already been 29 shooting deaths — that’s compared to 39 in all of 2017.
I’m not saying they can’t do it. After all, after a gunman’s attack on Parliament Hill in October 2014, then-prime minister Stephen Harper crossed the floor of the House and, to everyone’s astonishment, hugged both opposition leaders, Tom Mulcair and Trudeau.
“They rose to the occasion,” former Ontario premier Bob Rae observed on our broadcast of The Agenda that night.
Ford, Tory, and Blair will similarly have to rise to the occasion and overcome their personal antipathies if they want to accomplish more than a one-off photo op designed to calm nervous citizens during an awful week in Ontario’s capital.
May we have a moment of your time?
Our public funding only covers some of the cost of producing high-quality, balanced content. We depend on the generosity of people who believe we all should have access to accurate, fair journalism. Caring people just like you!
Get Current Affairs & Documentaries email updates in your inbox every morning.