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Toronto: The City That No Longer Works Needs Better Leaders

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I remember when Toronto fancied itself The City That Works. Living in Riverdale, just south of the Danforth in Toronto, there was a palpable sense of can-do about the place in the 1980s and ‘90s. Immune from the scourges facing America’s bigger cities, Toronto was a great place to buy a home, raise a family, start a business or earn a living.

Toronto developed a smug sense of well being in those days. There was a flood of music, cinema, arts and a burgeoning culture fed by new communities and an influx of anglophones fleeing Quebec. Gentrification turned run-down neighbourhoods into chic places to live and dine. The gay community emerged from the shadows as a vibrant force. Progressive politics dominated.

I remembered those times well as I saw the latest in a series of killings perpetrated upon random Torontonians this year. In this case, it was a gunman shooting innocent shoppers on the stretch of Danforth Avenue where I’d once dined at Allens and seen concerts at The Music Hall. But it might just as well have been the April truck killer from Yonge Street or the scum who shot kids in a Scarborough park in June. (There have been plenty more.)

Sometimes, it’s about a drug turf war. Sometimes it’s a mentally ill lunatic. Sometimes it’s a politically motivated activist. Rarely does any of it make sense. Toronto is now, officially, an unpredictable  place. Add the stifling congestion from endless construction and road work. The throngs of immigrants trying to make their way in a new culture. The soaring cost of housing and rising taxes.

Top off the picture with elected officials still mouthing the platitudes of the 1980s and ‘90s. It's not the city I lived in and knew for a quarter century. Toronto, The City That Works, has become Toronto, The City That Can’t Cope.

On the morning after a gunman went wild shooting unarmed citizens on Danforth, mayor John Tory walked the scene of the shooting trying to reassure people with age-old bromides about guns. He asked why would anyone in beautiful, safe Toronto need a gun?

Perhaps it’s because they can’t trust the police to protect them anymore, Mr. Mayor? Tory then suggested tightening up gun laws, because—of course— it must be law-abiding gun owners who are perpetrating this violence. You know that old NRA line that says, when you criminalize guns then only the criminals will have guns? That’s your Toronto, John. 

What the mayor is really saying is, We have no idea how to marry our sacred liberal beliefs about guns/ diversity/ permissiveness with the the realities of Toronto streets where punks and lunatics run the show.

What he’s also admitting is that some innocent people are just going to get it one day. We can’t prevent that in the big city. Them’s the breaks, get used to it. If it weren’t so pathetic it’d be laughable.

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The pearl clutchers will try to point out that violence and civility aren’t any worse than they once were. They’ll trot out statistics. They’ll hold rallies. (Liberals are good at rallies.) But to the people who see the shootings and drive-bys, who fight the traffic and squeeze into the TTC subway cars, the quality-of-life stats are a cruel mirage.

When your priority is advertising the Toronto Film Festival to the world while people fear walking the Danforth, you have a perception problem.

When your mayoral candidates advertise bike paths and transgender bathroom rights before the flight of capital from the city, you have a perception problem. 

Or when your entire civic leadership and media feverishly embrace a fake narrative about a Muslim girl having her burka torn from her head, you have a perception problem

The other part of the unreality show for average Torontonians in the wake of Faisal Hussain is how their media support and defend narratives about inclusion and diversity and victimization. The aftermath of the Danforth shooting was typical. While American networks seem to have portraits of shooters and victims within hours of a killing, the Toronto-based national media crept forward cautiously.

Caution is fine, of course. Better safe than sorry. In this case, they were hoping the reality wouldn’t transgress on one of their sacred causes. Then came news a day after the shooting that the shooter was a Muslim. Immediately there were stories in the mainstream press from his family (and written by a Muslim community leader) about Faisal’s mental illness, his struggles with depression that pushed him to his act. He “wasn’t political”. Translation: The murderer was the real victim.

In the other corner were a small number of media voices talking about “the attack was planned, and (Faisal) Hussain was ‘well known to Toronto Police’ although it amounted to little. Whom to believe? What to believe?

To citizens who live in the former City That Works, that’s all moot today. What they do know is that there are troubled people, political zealots and gang members among the many millions who now who haunt the streets. The mayor has no idea how to combat them. The police aren’t numerous enough to be everywhere at the same time. 

The media only want one progressive narrative.

It’s not a comforting prognosis. But it’s Toronto's reality. And it doesn’t work anymore.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on his website is Not The Public Broadcaster ( He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand will be available this fall.