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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.