International investors hope to see business-savvy mayor in Toronto, observers say

TORONTO — As Toronto looks to elect a new mayor in the coming months, observers say international investors are looking for another business-savvy leader like John Tory to take the helm.

Tory's tenure came to an end on Friday, capping off a turbulent week at Toronto City Hall that started Feb. 10 when he announced his resignation after admitting he had an "inappropriate relationship" with a former staffer.

Although the bombshell news made international headlines, Patrick James, an associate professor of international politics at the University of Southern California, said investors don't care about "an embarrassing, messy extramarital affair" – instead, they're thinking about what lies ahead.

"Your average investor is scratching their head saying, 'I wonder if we will see a strong mayor that continues playing out in a pro-business way,'" said James, who is a Canadian expat.

Tory, 68, is a member of Toronto's business and political elite, and honed that reputation over the course of his business and broadcasting careers before entering politics as a straitlaced moderate conservative. He sits on the advisory committee of the Rogers family trust, which controls Rogers Communications Inc.

Robert Speel, an associate professor of political science in Erie, Pa., who also teaches part time at Toronto Metropolitan University, saidthe international community wants the city's next mayor to be someone "similar to Tory," who built up a reputation of being friendly with businesses.

"If the next mayor's someone who might be considered unfriendly to businesses, that could potentially have an economic impact on American investment in Toronto," Speel said.

Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie, a relative newcomer to city hall with a background in science, has assumed leadership of the city until a byelection is held to elect a new mayor in the coming months. She has said she will not run for mayor.

But despite her lack of business ties, observers say investors eyeing Toronto for future opportunities won't be affected by McKelvie taking over temporarily.

"There's probably trade trips or meetings that are already scheduled, that are on the book that will take place," said Zac Spicer, an associate professor with York University's public policy and administration department.

"I don't think the deputy mayor is going to ... aggressively lobby for new spending, funding or policy items. With that said, a lot of people who were hoping to get the mayor's ear, whether they're thinking about investing in Toronto or from the business community, they're probably going to want to speak with whomever is elected mayor."

City hall also isn't the only institution that attracts businesses to Toronto, Spicer said.

"Toronto Board of Trade, Invest Toronto ... There are a lot of people working away regardless of the mayor's outlook," he said.

The upcoming byelection will likely be competitive and feature many different visions for the city, including high-profile progressive candidates. Some political experts have said it could be the best chance for Toronto's progressive left to elect a mayor in over a decade.

James said investors would typically want to keep the status quo.

"Investors from abroad, generally speaking, don't want Green or NDP. On average, they may like responsible investing, but generally speaking, they don't like a lot of government intervention, government control, etc.," he said.

Investors and Toronto residents alike may also want a mayor "similar to Tory" because the city is still overcoming some of the economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, James said.

However, Canada's most populous city has built up a reputation on the world stage as an attractive place to invest and that likely won't be dismantled by whoever is elected, he said.

"Toronto is already a magnet for world commerce like a giant 3,000-pound rock rolling down the hill. It's already rolling. I don't see that changing no matter who the mayor is as long as they don't rock the boat."

Another factor on the city's side for keeping a good reputation on the international stage could be how quickly Tory announced plans to resign after news of his affair broke.

"I don't know that ever happens anymore, that an elected leader just reveals having had an affair. In the United States, the scandals usually get far worse and usually last for years," Speel said.

Observers say the scandal is also a "blip" in comparison to the day-to-day U.S. coverage of the late former mayor Rob Ford, who stayed in the job even as his controversies dragged on and mounted.

"Rob Ford's troubles when he was mayor did get a lot of attention in the United States because they were so bizarre," said Speel, adding his American students regularly engaged in discussions about Ford in their politics classes.

"If I went and asked them in class next week, my guess is that none of them know John Tory resigned," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2023.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press