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Confidence Man: how Glen Murray is positioning himself to grab the reins of political power

The famously gay former mayor of Winnipeg was lured to Toronto by a group of backroom nabobs and remade as an influential member of Dalton McGuinty’s inner circle

Glen Murray | Confidence Man

(Image: Markian Lozowchuk)

Glen Murray had never failed before. Here was a politician with an unblemished record of triumphs—elected three times as a city councillor in Winnipeg, twice as mayor. Then, in 2004, he lost his campaign for a seat as a Manitoba MP, a race he fully expected he’d win. The loss especially hurt because it was so close: by fewer than 1,000 votes.

That summer, happy to have the distraction, he agreed to travel across the U.S. and study regional economic development for the American State Department. The trip gave him time to work out his frustrations and reflect on the vagaries of political life.

Less than 24 hours after returning to Winnipeg, he took a call from the blue-chip Toronto architect Jack Diamond, who was busy building the city’s new opera house. What was Murray doing now, Diamond wanted to know, and would he like to come to Toronto? Diamond, along with the Ace Bakery founder and philanthropist Martin Connell, had pulled together an A-list of urban-issue-obsessed Torontonians who wanted Murray here. John Fraser, the master of Massey College, was on the list, as were Michael Goldbloom, then publisher of the Toronto Star, and George Baird, then dean of U of T’s faculty of architecture, landscape and design. Murray soon had a stack of job offers—a senior residency at Massey College, a fellowship in the faculty of architecture, a position at the Toronto Star writing an urban affairs column—all of which he’d accept. The city had rolled out the red carpet.

Murray moved to Toronto with Rick Neves, his partner of 17 years (a neurosurgery nurse, Neves had taken a job at Toronto Western). It was an easy transition. Murray had lived in Toronto briefly in the ’80s before moving to Winnipeg, and he had many friends here. He also found that his positions at Massey College and U of T put him in constant contact with smart, vivacious young people as well as the establishment types who had the resources and connections to back any political move he might make. After five years in the city, he launched a campaign to run as the MPP of Toronto Centre, and he won handily.

If you didn’t follow municipal politics outside Toronto (and what Torontonian does?), it would have seemed that Murray had come out of nowhere, but he was clearly going somewhere fast. The word most commonly used to describe him is “ambitious,” usually, but not always, spoken admiringly. He’s also described as “long-winded” or “full of himself.” (It’s often said that he speaks in paragraphs. That is not true. He speaks in chapters.) He either unsettles people or fires their enthusiasm. Whatever your interpretation, his career trajectory in Toronto has had the feel of a highly strategized campaign: work for the right people in the right jobs, step smartly up to the plate when an opportunity presents itself, and take it. This past fall, he won his MPP seat again by an even bigger margin. Though Murray’s still a rookie, Dalton McGuinty considers him a rising star. He promoted Murray in cabinet to minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. It’s a sprawling portfolio, the fourth largest after Health, Education and Community and Social Services, with a $7.1-billion budget.

What must have seemed like a devastating setback seven years ago—losing a safe Liberal seat to, of all things, a Tory—could now be seen as the defeat that launched a new career, one in which he could have the impact he’d always dreamed of. The man who served as the first openly gay mayor of a Canadian city appears to be readying himself for something much bigger.

  • deb

    who cares

  • rob

    deb, if you don’t care why do you take the time to comment?

  • cat

    i second that Deb…not newsworthy-Thats from personal experience with this guy

  • Ted Gigio

    We in Winnipeg are happy to have passed Glen Murray on to Toronto. Glen is wonderful at inspiring you with his vision and stated values and then completely doing the opposite once elected. He used many of us to get elected and then abandoned all of his principles. Don’t place your hope or trust with this fellow.

  • Raj

    To those in the know this is a funny article because Glen Murray is known to most within the provincial Liberals and at Queen’s Park as a massive political flake. Nice man, big ideas, lots of bluster and that’s about it. There is a reason he’s been shunted off to fluffy portfolios like Research & Innovation and Training, Colleges and Universities.

  • AstuteCitizen

    Seasoned pro Gerald Hannon certainly astutely captures what I’ve come to dub “THE GLEN MURRAY CHARM OFFENSIVE” … In his very intriguing “pros & cons” in-depth expose of “my” FBF Toronto Centre MPP Glen R Murray … While my own “up close & personal” encounters with this “Confident Man” thus far this past year included Glen’s spontaneous hugs (which Gerald likewise received) & Glen’s sudden declarations of my being one of his very favourite people in the world whom he adored, as well as considering me a very good friend who also gave him credibility as an ally in our respective championing of re$olution to crucial social justice crises imposed by all 3 levels of past & present governments on disabled constituent-citizen-TAXPAYERS such as myself — in addition to his calls, visits, & e-missives when it suited his agenda (so to speak) — seems like others quoted in “Confidence Man”, I suddenly found Glen’s “courtship support-ship” abruptly ended & “persona non grata” status now his order of the day … On Glen’s side, anyway — suffice it to say, at this stage in “our” inexplicably ended “relationship”, I haven’t forgotten that I remain steadfast: As one of the Toronto Centre constituent-citizen-TAXPAYERs still paying (dearly) for this “Pied Piper” MPP politician PUBLIC SERVANT. So at the very least, he & his staff should be fulfilling commitments he & they made to me as a constituent but have so far left undone altogether, half-done &/or unexplained & unanswered … Not for wont of my trying persistently for the past 5 months to elicit any — never mind what should have been wholly appropriate & long overdue — responses … Glen & his staff would do well to remember likewise, since he also told me that in friendship & MPP-constituent “advocacy alliances”, he prizes loyalty above all … Il va sans dire: To get & keep it, you’ve got to give it in good faith & with good will, thru’ fair weather & foul, politically-speaking & otherwise. You might also say I’m in it for the long game — not just the same one Glen seems from my own experience, among others cited herein or otherwise, to be playing in our lives … But perhaps most interesting of all, as far as I can tell, neither Glen (nor any of his staff) has yet posted this major Toronto Life “public awareness” profile to his FBF page — or included it in his Toronto Centre MPP e-bulletins … Perhaps his modesty prevents him, so somewhat belatedly, I’m doing him the favour, beginning by posting it to my own FBF page … Hope he appreciates it! ;0)

    – Mary C. Kelly
    Toronto Centre Ward 27 constituent-citizen-TAXPAYER

    “The subject who is truly loyal to the chief magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures”
    — Junius