TORONTO — John Tory, who served two scandal-free terms as mayor of Toronto and had just been re-elected for a third, announced late Friday he was resigning from the job due to an "inappropriate relationship" he had with a former member of his staff.
The announcement came at a hastily called news conference, during which Tory offered few details about the affair.
He said the relationship with the employee in his office developed during the COVID-19 pandemic when he was spending long periods of time away from his wife Barbara, to whom he has been married for over 40 years.
"I recognize that permitting this relationship to develop was a serious error in judgement on my part," Tory said at city hall.
"As a result, I have decided I will step down as mayor so I can take the time to reflect on my mistakes and to do the work of rebuilding the trust of my family."
Tory said the relationship with the staffer ended by mutual consent earlier this year and the employee is now working at another job.
Tory did not immediately name his replacement, saying he will be working with senior city staff and Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie to ensure an orderly transition.
Tory also notified the Office of the Integrity Commissioner of the relationship and asked him to review it, he said.
"I think it is important for the Office of the Mayor not to in any way be tarnished and not to see the City government itself put through a prolonged period of controversy, arising out of this error in judgement on my part, especially in light of the challenges we face as a city," Tory said.
"I am deeply sorry and apologize unreservedly to the people of Toronto and to all those hurt by my actions including my staff, my colleagues and the public service."
Tory thanked the people of Toronto for trusting him as mayor, a position he called "the job of a lifetime."
"I believe I did some good for the city I truly love, particularly during the pandemic," he said.
He asked for privacy for all affected by his actions, including his wife, family and himself.
In accordance with the City of Toronto act, a byelection will likely be held in the coming weeks or months to fill Tory's position as mayor, head of council and chief executive officer.
Tory, 68, was first elected mayor in 2014, partially on a promise to restore respectability to the office following the scandal-plagued tenure of his predecessor Rob Ford.
Tory was re-elected to a third term in October, after a campaign that saw him tout his years of experience in the top office of Canada's most populous city.
He secured about 62 per cent of the vote compared to 18 per cent for progressive urbanist Gil Penalosa, who came second. Tory beat out 30 mostly unknown candidates after many criticized his record on transit and housing – two issues he had highlighted as priorities.
In a tweet late Friday night, Penalosa said "now Torontonians have a chance to elect better."
Tory's most recent election win came as he faced criticism about the state of Toronto under his leadership. His opponents noted the high cost of housing, aging infrastructure, overflowing garbage bins and shuttered parks.
His leadership saw increased scrutiny in recent weeks over his announcement of a proposed $48.3-million increase to the city's police budget, which would bring police funding to just over $1.1 billion for 2023 — a figure Tory's critics said was grossly inflated compared to other line items and underfunded social services.
Tory also saw criticism for his handling of the city's housing crisis, as thousands of people are experiencing homelessness and Toronto's shelter capacity is stretched to its limits.
Just this week, Toronto city council scrapped a recommendation to keep its warming centres open around the clock until mid-April after a bout of extreme cold, as well as to declare a public health crisis over lack of shelter space. With support from Tory, council voted instead to call for more federal support and have staff study the idea further.
Kristyn Wong-Tam, a former Toronto city councillor who often disagreed with Tory's positions and current member of the Ontario legislature, issued a tweet calling Tory's affair with a staffer "not a simple, one-time lapse of judgement," but "an abuse of power."
Toronto city council is set to debate Tory's proposed budget at a Wednesday meeting. It will be the first under new so-called strong mayor powers granted to Toronto by the province, which Tory had said he would use in a limited and responsible way.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2023.
Tyler Griffin and John Cotter, The Canadian Press