Politics is like a game of chess, strategy is essential.
For the past four years Toronto had a mayor who decidedly chose to play a different game; duck, duck, goose. The only problem with that choice, Rob Ford was stuck on duck. It is hard to win a game when you don’t know the rules. The narrative was simple, repeat words: duck, duck, duck or subway, subway, subway. Those residents that didn’t pay attention to politics gobbled up the game. It created a spectator sport without the benefit of accomplishing much.
Toronto now has a mayor that has returned to the game of chess. There is a nuance to chess that can be appreciated when you realize despite your best efforts, you are destined for MATE in three moves. Never judge your opponent on their appearance or presumed pedigree, it is often those who you least expect to be masters that you have to worry about.
Many would consider John Tory’s previously disastrous political failures as a pattern of his game play. He often plays the game attempting to make no bold moves, playing a conservative game and expecting to win by default. It has always been his inability to recover from his mistakes that have cost him plenty of games. Many still view his game play as dithering without realizing an important difference this time, how he setup the board.
In a game of chess there are pieces with specific roles. A quick tutorial of chess pieces:
Pawns – they play their part as sacrificial pieces that attempt to navigate a path on small moves. Their range is limited and only gain power by reaching the end of the board.
Rooks – they are straight arrows, you always know which way they are going.
Bishops – they move diagonally between the other pieces. That slanted attack is not always seen.
Knights – their movement is a bit more erratic. They can often be the wildcards.
Queen - the most powerful piece on the board. They move in all directions, an assassin & protector of the king.
King – the protection of the king is the sole purpose of the game. Leave your king unable to move and the game is lost.
A board should have equal pieces for each player but what happens when one player has an advantage? Imagine instead of a level playing field, one player attempted to start the game with extra pieces. John Tory has methodically attempted to surround himself with extra pieces, although most are just added pawns.
Before Tory began to play, he took the time to endorse several pieces during the election. The move was a calculated risk of his influence on the observers of the game. If he helped to get a piece added to the board, their loyalty would be assumed. Newly elected pawns Christin Carmichael Greb and Jon Burnside were placed on the board(s) to advance Tory’s game; although not in prominent roles they still play their part. Add the other endorsements Tory received Lee, Robinson (but not Filion who lost out despite being his first endorsement) and the pawns begin to line up.
Tory went further in attempting to curry favour by not appointing just one deputy mayor, but four from the different regions of the city. Elevating Crisanti in Etobicoke from a pawn of Rob Fords to a rook was an attempt to cement a foundation for this council and the 2018 election. Putting De Baeremaeker and McConnell in the role was strategic because their ideologies don’t necessarily align with Tory’s; they are brought onside to show that his game is one of concession and understanding (given McConnell backed Chow for mayor). Their positions are not pawns, rather wildcard knights that may view their elevated position as a reward for compliance.
All the goodwill was lost when the main deputy was also named, Minnan-Wong; Tory’s queen. His role is to attack the opposing player in any direction and protect the king. Denzil has been a great protector of Tory through his actions and statements. These are not words from the lips of the king and as such, do not tarnish this king's shine. As the queen goes and attacks the opponents (city planner Jennifer Keesmaat for one) he allows the king to keep his hands clean.
Now the board is set.
Tory in his quest to stop the ‘destruction of economic infrastructure’ mentality supports the hybrid option for the Gardiner East section. It is a bold move since despite the reports by city staff that although don’t vocally endorse the removal option, the decision is evident to those players that base their decision on facts. To stem the attack by his opponents, he coordinates his moves by sending out a steady stream of pawns. Press conference one after another, letters to media are all part of the battle strategy. As the media is starting to ask serious questions because his opponent has strong pieces (former mayors, developers, current and every living city planner, entire downtown council and dedicated residents) he needs to distract.
He switches between games he’s been playing and concedes a match he didn’t have a chance to win. He lays down his king in his ‘carding’ game of chess as a distraction. It was a game he should never have played; it was ill-advised but could have been calculated in its timing. Leading up to the next council meeting by staying in the news – with a message of ‘hearing the community’ and attempting to seem reasonable on changing his mind. It takes a bit of lustre from his game on spending $500M extra over the lifetime of the ‘hybrid’ but allows him to maneuver a few more pieces in place.
We are about to see how this game ends. His pieces are close to a victory with only a few more moves needed to have the numbers. It doesn’t mean he’s won completely as there are legal challenges if he does in fact win. One game at a time though, he’ll take a victory any way he can get it.