Toronto’s municipal political arena has been quite the spectacle recently and it could turn into a political nightmare by the summer. John Tory, who was roughly four months into his third mayoral term, admitted to an illicit affair with a 31-year-old former staffer. He immediately announced his resignation on Feb. 10 and stepped down seven days later.
Tory was replaced by Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie. She won’t serve as an acting or interim mayor, however, due to an update to the City of Toronto Act by the provincial government. McKelvie “automatically assumes certain rights, powers and authority given to the Mayor by Council” and operates as a political placeholder.
The Toronto City Clerk set provisional dates for the mayoral byelection. Nominations will open on April 3 and close on May 12, with election day being June 26. This is contingent on City Hall “declaring the vacancy and passing a bylaw requiring a by-election” between March 29 and March 31. Ontario Premier Doug Ford could theoretically step in and assume control of the process.
Let’s hypothetically assume the mayoral byelection moves ahead as scheduled. If the city elects a centre-left or far-left mayor, it would be a political and economic disaster. Historically, Toronto has had a mixed bag of mayors, with some being traditional Tories, Liberals, Reformists, or politically unaffiliated. Establishing Metropolitan Toronto in 1953, and amalgamating the City of Toronto in 1997, shifted the city’s political dynamic to the left. Right-leaning mayors have generally been Red Tories or left-leaning Conservatives, such as Nathan Phillips, Mel Lastman, and John Tory.
The one historical outlier was Rob Ford. He was pro-business and had some conservative ideas, but was more of a populist and fiscally-minded retail politician. His tenure could have potentially turned into something fascinating for Toronto politics, but personal demons and City Hall’s circus-like atmosphere prevented it from happening.
Municipal politics contains issues that Conservatives focus on, but there’s also an appeal to Liberals and progressives concerned about affordable housing, poverty, the environment, and municipal services. Left-of-centre people tend to be more motivated to fixate on local issues, vote for local candidates, and run for local politics.
Calgary, which has historically been right-leaning, has largely elected Liberal and left-leaning mayors like Dave Bronconnier, Naheed Nenshi, and Jyoti Gondek. Even Ralph Klein was still viewed as a nominal Liberal when he served in the mayor’s chair.
Hence, the political formula for right-leaning electoral success in Toronto isn’t small “c” conservatism. The ideological movement and votes simply aren’t there to make this happen. You either have to be a Red Tory, or a moderate Conservative who can broadly appeal to Liberals and a smattering of New Democrats and Greens.
John Tory’s brand of conservatism—Red Toryism on its good days, left-of-centre on its worst—was often frustrating. Nevertheless, his policies were primarily pro-business and fiscally moderate. He kept property taxes down in Toronto (until his final budget) and encouraged businesses to invest in the city.
Former Liberal MP and city councillor Adam Vaughan and former NDP city councillor Mike Layton, son of the late NDP leader Jack Layton, have been touted as possible mayoral by-election candidates. Their left-leaning track records would be far worse for Toronto’s already-weakened political health and economic well-being.
What will be Toronto’s political fate? Only time will tell.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.