The election starts Monday. No, the other election. The civic election, where Torontonians will elect, or re-elect, a mayor and 25 city councillors to oversee and guide Canada’s biggest city for a four-year term.
Given its overlap with the much shorter provincial election campaign — which starts Wednesday and ends June 2 — Torontonians can be forgiven if the municipal vote on Oct. 24 is not top of mind.
And yet. Candidates will line up at city hall Monday morning, eager to start telling strangers how they can make their lives better in a booming city still reeling from a pandemic that highlighted glaring inequities.
Here are five things you need to know about Toronto’s civic election:
1. Who’s running for mayor?
John Tory has announced he will seek a third term. Dozens of people will run against him. In the last election, 35 people ran for mayor. At the moment he has no well-known rival. The progressive faction of city council has told the Star they do not know of any left-leaning standard bearer set to challenge the former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader. However, that could change: in 2018, former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat entered the mayoral race at almost the last minute.
2. Who is — and is not — running for city council?
After a chaotic 2018 election that saw the number of wards change midcampaign, this time we know there are 25 seats up for grabs. There will be at least two races with no incumbents, since Joe Cressy in Ward 10 Spadina—Fort York and Kristyn Wong-Tam in Ward 13 Toronto Centre are leaving city hall. If Michael Ford wins his provincial race, his Ward 1 Etobicoke North council seat will be open. Some council candidates, including several who ran last time, did not wait for registration day to publicly announce their intentions. Last election, 242 people fought for the 25 seats.
3. What happens Monday?
Starting at 8:30 a.m., people aged 18 or older who live in, or own land in, Toronto can register their candidacy for city council or mayor. Candidates must have official endorsements from 25 people and pay a fee — $100 for council candidates and $200 for mayoral candidates. Once registered, they can start to solicit money for their campaign and also spend money on it. While there will be an initial rush of registrations, people have until Aug. 19 to become a candidate.
4. What are some key issues in this election?
That’s a subjective question, but mayoral candidates are likely to take positions on the high cost of housing and homelessness; gun violence and other public safety concerns; ways to halt climate change; public transit; property taxes; anti-poverty and equity measures; pandemic recovery and economic development; pedestrian and cyclist safety; and the efficiency of government services such as garbage collection. Issues will vary at the ward level, depending on the part of the city, but concerns over development loom large in many parts of Toronto.
5. Why should I care?
Many Canadians who mark ballots in federal and provincial elections don’t bother with municipal votes. In Toronto’s last election voter turnout was 41 per cent, compared to 76 per cent federally and 58 per cent provincially. Yet, decisions made by the mayor and councillors touch Torontonians’ lives the most, from garbage pickup to public health to bike lanes to policing to building codes and flood protection. Also, Toronto council does not look like the city it represents. Poet Pier Giorgio Di Cicco wrote “Toronto is a city that has yet to fall in love with itself.” This city can, and will, break your heart but elections are a chance to make it better, whatever that means to you.
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider