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John Tory is off to a promising start as Toronto's mayor

It was still dark when John Tory strode alone across Nathan Phillips Square just after 6:30 a.m. to begin his first day as the 65th mayor of Toronto. A television camera caught him on the way in, a blue tie knotted under his overcoat, hurrying up to start work in his second-floor office overlooking the square. With a lidded cup of coffee for fuel, he got straight to work.

Mr. Tory brings a refreshing vigour, discipline and civility to the role. His first few hours were a blur of purposeful activity. He popped up the road to meet Premier Kathleen Wynne at Queen's Park. He headed over to Scarborough to meet local councillors. By lunch time, he had spoken to reporters individually or in groups at least four times, taking their questions patiently and even answering most of them.

What a contrast to the last guy, who started his term four years ago declaring an end to the "war on the car," pronouncing a multibillion-dollar light-rail transit plan dead and inviting Don Cherry to his inauguration, at which the sportscaster delivered a typical rant while dressed in a pink jacket.

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Unlike his predecessor, who was not, let's say, a details guy, Mr. Tory has been submerging himself in policy and plowing through binders of data. He spent the weeks since his election victory on Oct. 27 absorbing briefings from top civil servants. He delivered a State of the City report last week laying out Toronto's challenges one by one.

His energy is impressive. So is his determination to set a new tone. In Scarborough, he made a point of praising civil servants, who often felt besieged and unappreciated in the Ford years. At Queen's Park, he and Ms. Wynne were all smiles as they emerged from their sit-down, promising to have regular meetings in the future. Although they did not have anything much to announce, just the fact that they were meeting was news after the estrangement and conflict between the two levels of government under Mr. Ford.

If one or two councillors were upset at the new mayor's choices for his governing team, it was hardly earth-shaking. Mr. Tory, a Conservative, chose Denzil Minann-Wong, a Conservative, as his official deputy mayor, but he leavened that by choosing two left wingers, Pam McConnell and Glenn De Baeremaeker, as two of his three regional deputies. A couple of his choices were curious — the barely visible Vincent Crisanti of Etobicoke as the third regional deputy, the combative Frances Nunziata as Speaker, again — but it is always a tough job finding a perfect balance in any cabinet or executive group. All in all, Mr. Tory is off to a promising start.

Naturally, things will get tougher after the bounce that comes with a new mandate starts to wear off. Mr. Tory has set himself an ambitious, in some ways unrealistic, agenda.

He wants to "fix" Toronto's traffic problem. That will be hard to do in a city with more and more cars and a limited amount of road space. He wants to reverse some cuts to TTC service, but does not want a fare increase or a property-tax increase above the rate of inflation. Where will the money come from?

He wants to get the federal and provincial governments to come through with big money to fix what he calls the city's housing crisis. Previous mayors have tried and failed. With the province still facing a big deficit and Ottawa using much of its expected surpluses to hand out tax cuts, it is not clear that even a man as persuasive and well-connected as Mr. Tory can prise more money from those sources.

He even wants to tackle child poverty and youth unemployment. Who does not? Despite the best intentions, a mayor has limited power to solve deep problems such as these.

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But you cannot fault the new mayor for his ambition, and you have to admire his drive. "I really believe in public service," he said on Monday. "It's just a privilege to have this opportunity."

That might have sounded corny coming from someone else. From his lips, it rang true.

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