| One day after the New York Times wrote a piece saying that Toronto had gone from ‘a city that works’ to a ‘city in crisis’ Toronto elected former Councillor and NDP MP Olivia Chow its new mayor. Looking back on the election that shouldn’t have been, it was a race that can be divided into two parts: the first seven weeks, and the last week. |
It was a race where most voters only knew one name and one brand, Olivia Chow. Through the entire race Ms. Chow led in all the polls and voters either supported Olivia Chow or, afraid of her left of center NDP policies and tax increases, they were searching for someone else. Up until the final week of the campaign the someone else was divided among seven candidates none of whom were getting any real traction. That changed with former Mayor John Tory’s endorsement of former Councillor Ana Bailao.
Immediately after Tory’s endorsement the ground shifted dramatically as if voters opposed to Chow were waiting for a signal. People didn’t really know much about Bailao or her policies, but with Tory’s endorsement she became the someone else people were searching for. The endorsement had an impact. In Etobicoke, home of “Ford Nation”, former police chief Mark Saunders who had been endorsed by Premier Ford saw his campaign collapse and Bailao won every ward. Councillor Josh Matlow, who had been polling in the consistent double digits for weeks, fell to below 5% and came in third in his own ward. He wasn’t the only one to lose in his own ward, so too did Councillor Brad Bradford and Mitzi Hunter. Mayor Chow did not receive a sweeping mandate but 37% of those who showed up to vote is strong for an NDP candidate. Mayor Chow won in wards across Scarborough and did well in parts of North York, and the ever-effective NDP machine showed its usual overwhelming strength in downtown Toronto. Mayor Chow should also be credited with running a smooth campaign that showed little panic when competing candidates and others launched their attacks.
What’s most remarkable in all this is John Tory’s role and an odd dichotomy that may be his legacy. The sense that Toronto is in crisis seems to be pervasive but the guy who led the City over the past eight years seems to have escaped responsibility. People embraced him, while his actual record was weak. Tory’s endorsement saved Bailao’s campaign and political future, but his nine weeks of dithering likely cost her the election. Ana Bailao, a well-liked former councillor with a compelling personal story, benefited when the Tory team fled their erstwhile leader well before he officially resigned, bringing to her both infrastructure and fundraising strength. While the Bailao messaging and policies were scattered from the start, the Tory fundraising money allowed the Bailao campaign to put in place an effective media/advertising strategy and an impressive get out the vote effort on election day.
As former Councillor and MP Adam Vaughan pointed out last night, this is the only time in recent memory when losing mayoralty candidates will be on Council facing the winner. Both Councillors Brad Bradford and Josh Matlow said some positive words last night, as did Premier Ford, but in the weeks ahead these words of comity may change. Mayor Chow will be looking at a Council with the usual divisions but unlike mayors before her, Chow’s limited mandate, may give her less leverage with councillors. Also, the once disciplined left of Council is a different beast these days with numerous new faces whose objectives and priorities may prove challenging.
What to look for in the coming weeks? Mayor Chow will first assemble an office team to run the business that is City Hall. Fortunately, the NDP has a strong local political machine with loads of municipal experience. The Mayor’s choice of committee and board chairs will give a clear first indication of where she will be headed in the coming years with the Budget Committee, Planning and Housing Committee and the TTC Board the first places to look. While we can expect Councillors Perks and Fletcher to play senior roles, there are councillors from the middle (Carroll, Matlow, McKelvie, Burnside and Moise) whose support and experience the new Mayor will need if she is to succeed.
On policy matters, the NDP has long been supportive of new housing and development though often using the system to leverage support for their special projects. Mayor Chow’s support for housing development by publicly owned authorities should be interesting, as should her stated desire to weaken the ability of landlords in their dealings with recalcitrant tenants. On infrastructure, Mayor Chow’s desire to revisit the future of the Gardiner Expressway will likely be contentious as will the growing presence of tents on public parks and how best to deal with safety issues on the TTC. The City’s deficit needs to be addressed and just where Mayor Chow finds the money will be a challenge though she left little doubt that she will consider increasing property taxes, raising the land transfer tax on the sale of homes, and putting in place a parking levy. Finally, the Mayor of Toronto must always work with both the provincial and federal governments and how Mayor Chow manages those relationships will be critical to her success in the years ahead.
It will be a busy summer for Toronto’s new mayor, Olivia Chow. And sooner than the people of Toronto will want it, there will be another municipal election in 2026.
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