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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

Mayor John Tory trades credibility for concrete with Gardiner decision

Mayor John Tory is a winner.

By a narrow 24-21 margin, Toronto City Council on Thursday voted in favour of Tory’s preferred “hybrid” option for the eastern part of the Gardiner Expressway. Unless something changes before construction begins in 2019, the Gardiner’s elevated connection to the Don Valley Parkway will be maintained, with some modifications to the ramps.

So Tory won.

But let’s talk about what he lost in the process.

Because this fractured and divisive debate cost the mayor a lot.

To start with, Tory lost some of the control he had over Toronto City Council. In a departure from the consensus council votes most mayors enjoy in the honeymoon period after they get elected, Tory let this turn into a dogfight.

He had to resort to desperate tactics, playing games with council procedure and supporting a study on an incredibly expensive expressway tunnel just to win a few extra votes.

He also diminished his relationship with the experts and professionals at city hall, most notably by finding himself in a tiff with chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat after she had the gall to support removing the east Gardiner.

Tory’s most significant loss, though, may be his credibility.

This mayor was supposed to be different than the last guy. Tory was supposed to be a policy wonk – someone who pored over reports and evidence.

But throughout this debate, Tory shunned evidence in favour of misleading talking points.

He claimed the removal of a couple of kilometres of elevated expressway would mean transport trucks sputtering down residential streets. There was no evidence of that.

He repeatedly implied that the city’s peer-reviewed traffic studies were wrong because they assumed new transit. But the reports said those transit assumptions were irrelevant to the travel time comparison between options.

He brought up unsubstantiated boogeymen, like saying the removal of the elevated highway would cause job losses, despite the city’s own economic analysis showing removing the east Gardiner would create more opportunity for local jobs.

He cited delays of up to ten minutes, despite that number being highly misleading. It came from a scenario in a University of Toronto study that involved extended pedestrian crossing signal timings.

And he discredited any notion of induced demand and traffic evaporation, despite these being widely-recognized phenomena cited in peer-reviewed studies by planners and transportation engineers.

He gave us a great big pile of misinformation. Which is nothing new at city hall -- but weren’t things supposed to get better with the new mayor?

But hey, narrowly or not, Tory won the vote. His strategy worked. The Gardiner East will remain as an elevated connection to the Don Valley Parkway. The mayor successfully traded some credibility for a concrete roadway.

I hope it was worth it.

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