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Tory defends move to appoint familiar faces from Ford era to key council posts

Toronto's Mayor John Tory walks with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne through Queen's Park in Toronto, as they make their way to a news conference on Dec. 1, 2014.

CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANADIAN PRESS

John Tory began his first day as leader of Canada's largest city doing something his predecessor Rob Ford could not – visiting Queen's Park for an official meeting with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Mr. Tory takes up the job of Toronto mayor promising a new period of co-operation with other levels of government and the 44 members of city council. But Mr. Tory has assembled a team made up of many familiar faces from the Ford era, prompting progressive councillors to accuse him of already shutting them out of his administration. They dismiss the three new regional deputy mayor positions as "window dressing."

After four years of Mr. Ford's divisive leadership, Mr. Tory, who campaigned on a promise of "one Toronto," said it was "no accident" that he'd chosen Ms. Wynne to meet with first. While the Premier made no financial commitments for Mr. Tory's campaign centrepiece – the proposed $8-billion "SmartTrack" surface subway – she said the benefits of a renewed relationship between the province and city extends beyond just funding. "If the communication is better, I think there's much more potential that more can get done," she said.

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Back at City Hall, Mr. Tory got a rougher ride. His pick of Ford loyalist Frances Nunziata to remain in the speaker's chair had many questioning his pledge to restore decorumin the council chamber. The fact that seven members of Mr. Tory's new executive were on the powerful 13-member committee at the end of Mr. Ford's term had others wondering about his pledge to work with everyone.

"There was a lot of talk about having a broad spectrum. It's a little less than broad," said Councillor Shelley Carroll of the new executive. The left, she said, has "definitely" been shut out.

As for the appointment of left-leaning councillors Glenn De Baeremaeker and Pam McConnell as regional deputy chairs along with Ford loyalist Vince Crisanti, she said experience has shown such positions have little sway. "It's window dressing. It doesn't really translate into any additional authority anywhere," she said.

Mr. Tory disputed that assessment, calling the appointments "sincere," and pointing to the added duties given to Ms. McConnell who will oversee the city's poverty-reduction strategy, and Mr. De Baeremaeker, who has responsibility for ensuring the Scarborough subway project stays on track.

"I view those as very substantial assignments," he said. "I had choices I had to make, and I am confident that this group will do the job it's intended to do, but I intend to work with every single member of city council to try to make a stronger, fairer city."

Mr. Tory also responded to criticism about his selection of Ms. Nunziata as speaker for a second term, saying he spoke with her about the tone he wants to keep in the chamber. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, a progressive who did not endorse a candidate for mayor, noted many on Mr. Tory's new team are councillors who "propped up Mayor Ford." She singled out the appointment of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong as deputy mayor as the "most troubling," predicting he will play the role of "henchman" for the new mayor and push an agenda of privatization.

Mr. Minnan-Wong accused Ms. Wong-Tam of "throwing gasoline on the fire," saying such comments are "not in the tone that we are trying to set."

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Councillor Josh Colle, Mr. Tory's pick as TTC chair, said even if some of the individuals are the same, the new mayor also has selected several councillors in the middle, such as himself for key posts. "The tone is completely different and I think that is more important than who gets what positions," he said.

The new mayor has managed to avert a showdown with at least one councillor. Michael Thompson, who sources said last week was making calls to gauge support for his reappointment to the police board against the wishes of Mr. Tory, said Monday he was ending that effort after "a good chat" with the mayor. "I don't think it's in anybody's interest to start off the term of a new mayor fussing and fighting," he said, explaining his change of heart. Mr. Thompson will remain chair of the economic development committee and will be on executive.

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