John Tory resigned: What it means for the health of Canada’s largest city

At the Canadian Academy of Sciences annual science meeting in Ottawa on Monday, Bloomberg View columnist Noah Feldman declared, “Toronto Mayor John Tory, who announced on Friday that he will not seek re-election, made the right choice.”

Mayor Tory, who beat former mayor Rob Ford in 2014, came under fire from some in his own party after the city responded to an outbreak of sexually transmitted infections by removing 24 vending machines from subway stations. The machines were a source of headaches for subway riders, who were limited to a few sizes of water bottles from vending machines, and had to pay extra to rent a bottle without keeping the receipt. Conservative city councilor Karen Stintz, who narrowly lost to Tory in last fall’s mayoral election, called it “morally indefensible,” and referenced the pre-existing vending machines as a free gift. In a blog post titled, “Better to Ignore the Vending Machines That Went Seriously Wrong Than to Fix Them,” Stintz criticized Tory for not responding in a timely manner to a crisis.

Meanwhile, the mayor’s decision to cut off the machines also sparked backlash from public health officials, and has since been reversed. (In a report published in July, the Toronto Public Health department said: “Although temporary vending machines do not solve the immediate risk associated with the STI [sexually transmitted infection] cases, we did find them a useful innovation.”) Mayor Tory justified the decision as a sign of council’s willingness to tackle public health concerns. He announced his decision to resign on Friday after Bloomberg and other media outlets published stories that reported a survey by the John Abbott College’s Center for Political & Social Studies found that nearly half of people supported the removal of the vending machines.

At the time, I spoke with Tory about the decision:

On the other hand, Times columnist Jenna Johnson welcomed the mayor’s decision. “Rather than the vending machines remaining, some of these new initiatives the city is trying out may help,” she wrote on Sunday. “The City of Toronto is scheduled to launch a smartphone app in the coming weeks that helps residents report trash and service issues in their area and identify if there are ongoing city services that have not been properly funded.”

Mayor Tory spent this week defending his decision, after numerous Londoners expressed outrage over Mayor Sadiq Khan’s decision to shut down the city’s iconic Westway road after excavation work. London’s mayor shut down the road after a plan to upgrade the tunnel that it runs under left the 10-mile road unsalvageable. And while Mayor Khan announced on Friday that he will continue to shut down the road, he insisted that this move is the only appropriate course of action. It is reported that London is on the brink of a major public health crisis. Mayor Khan wrote in a Sunday Daily Telegraph column that the Westway was crumbling under the pressure of London’s rapidly increasing population, which has risen from 2.4 million in 2010 to 3.4 million today. With the closing of the road, Londoners are left with limited access to vital public transit routes to run from neighborhoods to their workplaces. Thousands of Londoners have taken to Twitter to protest Mayor Khan’s decision, and to argue that the road should be re-opened in the interest of public health.

Conversely, Mayor Tory tweeted on Sunday: “I’m confident that the proper precautions are being taken to ensure London is safe and a tremendous amount of time and effort have been put into finding a solution.”

These debates are happening in cities worldwide, and it’s a sign of a new, younger generation of elected officials who take questions from their constituents as seriously as their opponents.

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