Chris Selley: Can we all agree John Tory is more than Rob Ford in a better suit?

In June, when city council narrowly approved a rebuild plan for the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway, various councillors immediately informed reporters they still intended to see it torn down. There could be legal challenges, they said. The approved so-called “hybrid option” might violate the terms of the environmental assessment. And besides, they said, it was a close vote. Close votes don’t count for that much.

It was a disquieting scene. This wasn’t madman Rob Ford trying to push through some crazy unfunded plan for an unneeded subway. This was genial old trying to push through his preferred option for a couple of hundred metres of expressway. It was evidently not the end of the world. And yet very reasonable people were declaring Tory a massive disappointment — a lightly polished Ford.

It will be interesting to gauge the reaction, the week after next, when a new “hybrid” plan for the Gardiner East lands at the public works committee. It would reportedly move the elevated portion off the Keating Channel and north towards the rail lines, thus unlocking more prime land development. Fiercely pro-teardown Councillor Pam McConnell, who was at times close to tears during the June debate, recently said it might be “something everyone can live with” — some change of heart. In a recent interview with the Star, Tory said he had been sought input from concerned councillors, and predicted they would recognize a “very significant improvement.”

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It is nothing more than what a mayor should do, and council voted to have staff study precisely this option. But only nine months removed from Rob and Doug’s Family Circus, there is something very comforting about having a mayor willing to engage with some very overheated concerns in pursuit of “something everyone can live with.” There has been precious little in recent years that everyone on city council has even been willing to consider, let alone live with.

There is no shortage of divisive issues on the fall agenda. On Wednesday the licensing committee debates whether and how to make an honest corporate citizen of Uber — something an alarming number of councillors consider a non-starter. At the police board, Tory will have to deal with anti-carding advocates in no mood for compromise and a force that wields far more political clout than it should. He must decide by Tuesday whether to declare Toronto’s interest in the 2024 Olympics. On all fronts he will need his powers of negotiation and persuasion at their peak.

One thing that will likely not be divisive: Council will consider measures to help Syrian refugees arriving in Toronto, should they ever get past the red tape. Ratna Omidvar, chair of Lifeline Syria, which hopes to match 1,000 Syrian refugees with private sponsors in Toronto, hopes these will include an insurance fund for sponsorship agreements that run in to financial trouble, a temporary emergency housing registry to help with sudden arrivals and an appeal to family doctors who able to take on new patients at short notice.

Tory threw his support behind Lifeline Syria months before the tragic photo of Alan Kurdi hit the front pages

Tory threw his support behind Lifeline Syria months before the tragic photo of Alan Kurdi hit the front pages — against the advice of his staff, a Globe and Mail report suggested. He’s sponsoring a refugee family himself. And his support has been a boon to the cause, Omidvar enthuses. “Our mayor has been fantastic. Because he took hold of this … to not only step up and say ‘I support this’ but to challenge other mayors.” Other cities had made some noises about this here and there, she says. But they “only got on the bandwagon after the picture appeared.”

On Thursday night, Tory dropped in on a packed Lifeline Syria information session at City Hall to rally the troops. “This is just the way we do things here in ,” he said, recalling Indochinese refugees being welcomed in the 1970s. “We will make sure we provide a peaceful and welcoming home to people who have had such unspeakable trauma in their lives.”

At a guess, there were an awful lot of non-Tory voters in that room. Also at a guess, they were nearly all impressed. It always struck me that Tory’s dead-centre politics, United Way-style record of community service, unflappable mien and decades of experience around negotiating tables would serve him very well as Mayor of Toronto, if he got the chance. I’d say he’s making the most of it. You don’t have to love him. But you can safely put the protest signs and megaphones in storage.

About Chris Selley