“Where’s John Tory?” might sound like a dumb question given that the man hosts a radio show five times each week but the prospective mayoral candidate hasn’t popped up in any significant way since the day David Miller announced his retirement. Don’t think that’s an accident, and if you’ve heard those rumours that the former Rogers CEO isn’t running, don’t fall for that misdirection play either. This game of hide-and-seek is meant to keep politicos and the media talking about whether or not Tory is running instead of the more substantive questions about his candidacy.
The Tory campaign strategy, being led from all accounts by Liberal war room vets Warren Kinsella and Bob Richardson (who were also strategists on Tory’s 2003 campaign team), has been to lay low for as long as possible, knowing that their candidate would start as the front runner with about 30% support. Having watched Barbara Hall go from shoo-in to also-ran in the 2003 race, the Tory campaign wants to avoid for as long as possible being the primary target of all other contenders in 2010.
That strategy, which kept Tory’s name in every discussion without him having to say a word, was working out as expected until George Smitherman decided that he was serious about vying for the job.
Smitherman saw what was happening and forced Tory out of his hiding spot in early September by offering to the media that the two men had made a deal that only one of them would enter the race. Tory then had to declare that he was seriously considering a bid for mayor and would not be striking deals with Smitherman to prevent Smitherman from getting too far out in front of him in the process of lining up key Bay Street backers.
Then came David Miller’s surprise announcement that he would retire at the end of this term. Tory uncharacteristically jumped at the chance to put himself in the election spotlight by inviting the media for a scrum outside the Newstalk 1010 studios at St. Clair and Yonge. He had no news to share with the media. Tory simply repeated that he was considering a run, that he thought things at City Hall should be done differently and then thanked Miller for his service. A written statement would have sufficed and received equal coverage in the media the next day while being considerably more dignified.
From that point on, Tory seems to have had his leash yanked back by his advisors, who surely warned him that over exposure this September would mean that by next September he and his ideas will be stale. The state of affairs around Smitherman also warranted a major pull back on the media front as news of a hard-hitting Auditor General’s report on the e-Heath scandal began to swirl at the start of October. Though it was Tory who initiated the investigation into spending at e-Health, letting the media, the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP all focus on Smitherman allowed Tory to stay above the fray.
The general consensus now is that thanks to e-Health Smitherman’s candidacy is stillborn. So with other potential mayoral candidates on the centre-right side of the mayoral equation basically saying that they will defer to Tory if he wants to run, Tory has put his campaign back into hiding, preferring to keep his candidacy fresh by refocusing attention on the question of â€œWill he or won’t he run?â€
Photograph by Jason Bain