After what felt like an endless stream of electoral implosions, John Tory has finally found his place. These days, the host of Newstalk1010’s Live Drive and the guy in charge of revamping Ontario Place is proving it’s possible to be one of Toronto’s biggest civic influencers without setting foot inside City Hall. We sat down with Tory to talk casino fever, his favourite Rolling Stone, and why Rob Ford should get credit for what he’s done well.
The Toronto casino debate rages on. Can you explain why you decided that the Ontario Place redevelopment would not make a good home for a gambling hub?
I just felt that we only have one piece of land [available] in Toronto that is right on the water. And given that the people interested in a casino have always said that they weren’t just talking about a casino but a giant entertainment complex, I could see what would happen.
Are you against the idea of a casino in the city altogether?
I’m lukewarm at best, particularly since there is no shortage of places to gamble within a short trip of downtown Toronto. If you want a real casino, you can go to Niagara or Casino Rama; if you want slots you can go to Woodbine. I don’t have some kind of hang-up in terms of them being evil, though—we crossed that bridge a long time ago.
Are you a gambler?
If I were in Las Vegas or Nassau, I might go and play blackjack for 20 minutes, sure. But I’d be going in with the grand sum of $50 and then I’d leave. It’s not something I pine for.
What sort of entertainment do you see at Ontario Place 2.0?
Well, the Molson Amphitheatre is a fantastic venue, but most anything you’re going to see there is going to cost you 75 or 90 bucks. One of the things I proposed is an outdoor venue that’s smaller, and free. Of course, you’re not going to get the big acts in but you could showcase entertainment from across the province. Maybe you have the star performers from the Shelburne Fiddle Fest play there a few days before to promote [their] event. I’m sure there are a lot of Canadian acts that would like the exposure.
Are you a Fiddle Fest kind of guy?
Not really, but I can enjoy that sort of thing. I like all kinds of music—if you invited me to the symphony I would enjoy that, too. My own tastes are mostly rock because that’s what I grew up on. I don’t think I’ve missed a Stones concert in the last 15 times that they’ve been here.
Team Mick or Team Keith?
Oh, Mick, but I’m mostly just following my wife’s lead on that one. She’s actually crazy about him and still sees him as one of the most attractive men on earth. I look at him as being pretty grizzled.
Mayor Ford seems to be in serious damage control mode right now—he’s increased spending in the budget and proclaimed his support for the arts. Are these the actions of a desperate man?
Let me put it to you a different way: Maybe these are the actions of someone who’s learned a lesson over the past several months. This is what he should have done last year—sit down with councillors and say, “I’ve achieved what I want, so let’s talk about some of the things that are important to you.” I think that’s what he’s done now, and various councillors have said EMS [Emergency Medical Services], nutrition funding, arts funding.
I guess the timing is just a bit suspicious.
Would he be likely to be making these gestures with respect to the arts and what not if he weren’t [facing the possibility of a by-election this spring]? I still think he might, because he has learned some lessons, but, of course, now he’s got some other issues that have caused him to concentrate on how he might improve his relationships with council. He obviously wants to show that he’s turned over a new leaf.
If Ford does go, what will his legacy be?
I don’t think people have ever appreciated how important it is that Mr. Ford had achieved a budget that was a little bit smaller than the year before. I’m not sure that that’s ever been done in Canadian politics.
And you think that’ll loom larger than some of his more notorious Sideshow Rob moments?
I think what happened was every time he would achieve something, the next day there would be one of those controversies where he was reading while driving or something like that. It did become a sideshow. Just as he gets blamed for the things he doesn’t do right, I think he should get credit for the things he did do right. He came in when the city was broke and we needed a change of direction.
Are you surprised that your name is often listed as a possible Ford replacement?
Well, no. I think sometimes it’s a lack of imagination on the part of people who make these lists. Look, if there is a vacancy, people are looking for a name that hasn’t been mixed up in the political fray. People are dismayed, myself included. There are hours spent discussing shark-fin soup and what days councillors should have off for holidays, and we can’t even get a serious conversation going about the Gardiner Expressway.
Are you dismayed enough that there’s a teeny-tiny chance you might run?
There are two things I’ve learned over the years: One is that you never say never, and the second is don’t answer hypothetical questions. If you said to me 10 years ago, “What do you think is the likelihood you’d be doing a talk show?,” I would have said zero, and now here I am. I think you just take life as it comes.
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