Tory tries to unify Toronto’s divided political factions

Tory won the mayoral race in 2014, beating Ford – who had the support of the majority of his fellow city councilors — by a comfortable margin, and was quickly lauded for his great success.

But this year’s election — involving only 70 candidates – resulted in a shift in the balance of power at city hall. And now he’s trying to figure out a way to work with those disenchanted voters who left his party on the losing end.

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“Our city council contains a pretty significant number of people that don’t like my politics,” the mayor told POLITICO, “and if you’re leader of a political party that’s comprised of mostly the same people, it’s tough to convince people to vote for you.”

Despite the mayor’s predicament, some of his left-leaning critics are praising him for grappling with a tough political situation.

“He’s showed more leadership than anybody else in this city, including [opposition party leader John] Tory,” said Simona Lavallée, a Toronto city councillor. “I don’t think anybody should begrudge him for doing what he’s doing.”

The mayor’s attempted coalition with municipal opposition, however, hinges on him coming up with a permanent fix to a relatively new problem.

City council is stuck in the middle of an unusually complicated issue: while the city is committed to integrating more affordable housing into the mix, creating rooming houses is complicated because some cities have done it, others have not.

And several of those cities have different laws regarding the maximum size of the rooms in a house or what occupancy limits are applied to rooms. Those regulations vary wildly from city to city.

John Tory wants rooming houses legalized in Toronto. He told POLITICO exclusively why that isn’t going to happen — and why he thinks his mayoral opponents Kenney and Garneau would be better partners on immigration than Ford. Don’t miss his debate with Kenney! Posted by POLITICO on Thursday, December 27, 2018

According to figures released by the city, there are a handful of legally operated rooms in Toronto, but none that occupy more than one apartment.

The council passed a temporary proposal in March that banned the operation of rooms in smaller apartments under 16 by four by six feet, and issued exemptions for illegal rooms like those allowed under the same city rules, but the May approval was frozen over the summer.

“All of the council were really quite divided, which is not unusual for a council that has no leadership from the opposition party,” Tory said. “I think a compromise was lost, and as the opposition decided that they were going to focus on the fight against IEDs [improvised explosive devices], we needed them to be distracted.”

He argued that the government is working closely with the opposition parties to discuss amendments to the city’s proposed licensing laws, and suggested that those discussions could yield a quick fix.

Jared Polis & David Lujan were elected to office at the state of Colorado. AP

“There’s no reason to think that [Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister] Joe Ceci doesn’t have the ability and ability to make a deal that’s attractive to all of us,” Tory said. “So I hope that the dynamic we’ve been talking about comes to pass. I’m confident it can be.”

Ceci, however, disagreed with that optimistic take.

“We’re open to finding a solution,” Ceci said. “As you said, we’re actually exploring it right now with two council parties. … I don’t think it’s just a question of ‘Can Joe get enough support to get a deal through?’ It’s a question of ‘Is the deal that Joe is offering acceptable to all parties?’”

Ceci has said repeatedly that not legalizing rooms means “the major majority of these rooming houses continue to exist in the city illegally, undermining the city’s investment and leaving residents vulnerable to unsafe and substandard housing conditions.”

So if we’re going to legalize rooms in Toronto, what’s really in it for Republicans and Democrats?

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