Deja vu? Toronto sprints to another mayoral election

By Daryl Gonsalves –

Following a scandal that few saw coming, John Tory resigned as mayor of Toronto on February 17. With a new election expected in June, candidates are quickly crouching into a sprint position for what promises to be a hotly contested race – it’s a rare opportunity when a sitting incumbent is not seeking re-election.

Who will step up to the plate, and what will they do with the increased powers and responsibilities that the Ontario government recently gave to Tory?

Through the province’s Strong Mayors Building Homes Act, the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa can pass certain bylaws with support from only a third of City Council. (Ottawa’s mayor says he won’t use the powers.) The mayor can establish or dissolve council committees, appoint and assign duties to the city’s chief administrative officer, and hire or fire heads of divisions and other levels. Not only can the mayor propose a city budget, they can also veto any amendments to it or by-laws that engage with “provincial priorities.”

Some potential candidates have signaled interest in the mayor’s job. Urbanist Gil Peñalosa, who placed second to Tory in last October’s vote, has said he will run in the coming byelection. Current City Councillors Brad Bradford and Josh Matlow have been rumoured as potential candidates, along with former councillors Mike Layton and Ana Bailão (Joe Cressy said no). Elected provincial representatives such as NDP MPP Bhutila Karpoche and Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter have both said they are contemplating runs.

Provincial Conservative operatives have publicly indicated support for Bradford and Bailão, who often voted with Tory on council. Many Conservatives hope vote-splitting among multiple candidates on the left will assist their preferred Conservative. “If a left-wing mayor gets in there, God help the people of Toronto,” Premier Ford commented. “It would be a disaster.”

Clear rules, advance notice and enough runway to build awareness were key themes from city councilors following John Tory’s official resignation on February 17.

City Council will meet on March 29 to consider a report from the clerk’s office, which will run the byelection. When council declares the mayor’s seat vacant, nominations will open from April 3 to May 12; six days of advance voting will start on June 8 before the general vote on June 26.

Last fall’s municipal election generated a voter turnout of only 29 per cent, but current public discussion has already indicated top campaign issues and themes.

Housing affordability was a key pillar of John Tory’s final campaign, as Toronto becomes increasingly unaffordable. Transit infrastructure has struggled to keep pace with the city’s rapid growth, and this year’s budget – Tory’s last – cuts service and raises fares. Third, public safety and crime continue to be controversial, as Tory’s supporters welcome an increased police presence while critics argue for community-led solutions that lead to crime prevention. Also, increasing homeless and poverty are exacerbated by continuing inflation and Covid-19 pandemic after-effects.

Which election issues are important to you and your neighbours? Will you encourage fellow citizens to participate in the election? Email The Bridge with your comments to be summarized and featured in The Bridge’s coverage this spring.