The Mayor Who Won’t Shut Up
And Shouldn’t

Tory headline shotHe no longer has a broadcasting gig, but there were times this week when it seemed that all Toronto stations were simulcasting the John Tory Show.

Act One was on CBC’s Metro Morning, where Matt Galloway expertly grilled him on the reasons behind his decision to change his mind about police carding of young black men. The mayor cheerfully stuck around while they broke for a traffic report before Galloway picked up his interrogation, asking the mayor to justify why he did not want to tear down the eastern leg of the Gardiner expressway.

Despite aggressive, informed questioning, Tory remained calm and eloquently put forward his case. I make no comment on the rightness of his stands, only the effectiveness of his communication.

It was more than a quarter-hour of live radio, an eternity, plenty for any busy politician for one day. But not long afterwards I could see that 640 Radio was live tweeting his comments on the John Oakley show. It seemed the mayor had picked up the conversation with Oakley only minutes after finishing with Galloway.

oakley tweet

Later in the week as I sat down on the rowing machine at the gym to begin a morning workout, I looked up to see Tory riding in a CP24 vehicle along the eastern Gardiner. He was being interviewed live mere hours before council’s debate on the future of the expressway.

tory intv

Mayor John Tory being interviewed live on CP24

In the early days of his mayoralty, Tory has been everywhere, commenting on everything.

What a difference a year makes.

When Rob Ford infamously occupied the mayor’s office, Toronto City Hall was an international laughingstock. Ford spoke far less than Tory, but made far more news.

His scrums were legendary, chaotic, unpredictable and occasionally dangerous. Reporters never knew when he was arriving, whether he would stop to talk or when he would come out with another outrageous comment.

Ford scrum

Former Mayor Rob Ford’s scrums were physical affairs

The result was that cameras were constantly camped outside his office, forced into a stakeout because news organizations were fearful of missing the next Ford eruption. The City Hall elevator from which he would emerge got its own satiric twitter account.

While it was compelling television, in a train wreck fashion, it all looked horrible.

And it was entirely Ford’s fault.

If he would simply notify reporters when and where he was prepared to speak and stick to the schedule there would have been no chasing him, no questions fired in the midst of seething mobs of cameras, microphones and elbows. Municipal politics would not have looked like a rugby match.

Ambush interviews only happen when the subjects refuse to talk to journalists or to schedule organized availabilities.

Now, Tory holds regular question and answer sessions with reporters. His press people advise when he will be available and he shows up. Simple. Professional. Civilized. He accepts interview requests, even when he is likely to get a rough ride.

Tory avail

One of Tory’s regular media availabilities.

City Hall no longer provides great comedy material for late night talk shows.

This kind of availability is increasingly rare in politics. Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks with journalists less than her predecessor Dalton McGuinty, who already was less available than Ontario premiers used to be. Stephen Harper’s cold dislike of the media has made his news conferences rare and brief, with questions tightly rationed.

It is not only a Canadian phenomenon. The White House press corps complains regularly about tight limits on their access to President Barack Obama. North American media advisors have decided that the more political leaders speak with reporters, the greater the possibility of disaster.

This, at a time when politicians have never been so intensively media trained. Having done face to face interviews with Harper, Wynne and McGuinty I can testify that all are quick on their feet, knowledgeable about their files and unlikely to say anything stupid.

mcguinty

2010 Focus Ontario interview with Dalton McGuinty.

Ford is none of these, but does not seem to care.

In my new role as a communications consultant my advice to clients is to accept interview requests, to jump at the opportunity to tell their own stories in their own way.

My job is to properly prepare them for what they are about to face, no matter how rough.

Tory is departing from the accepted practice, perhaps at his peril. His political instincts have been questioned before, given past campaign disasters.

But surely it is better for democracy.