Five major takeaways from yesterday’s municipal elections

Five major takeaways from yesterday’s municipal elections

Photograph by Jeff Hitchcock/Flickr

John Tory’s win in last night’s mayoral election was no great surprise, but there were some unexpected developments a little further down the ballot. Here, our five takeaways.

There will be a lot of familiar faces on city council

At one point in time, it seemed as though Toronto’s 2018 municipal election would bring a lot of newcomers to city council. The city had just created three new wards, each of which would need its own city councillor, and a number of long-serving incumbents (John Filion, Janet Davis, Mary Margaret-McMahon, Glenn De Baeremaeker) had announced that they would not be running for re-election, leaving more than the usual number of seats up for grabs. And then came Doug Ford. The new premier announced, unexpectedly, that he would be reducing city council from 47 councillors down to just 25.

Last night’s election results show the inevitable upshot of the council cutback: there will be just four newcomers in this new city council. Two of them ran in open wards, with no incumbents to oppose them. One of them, Jennifer McKelvie, ran against Neethan Shan, a caretaker councillor who was elected in mid-term to replace Scarborough councillor Raymond Cho. The fourth council newcomer, Mike Colle, defeated incumbent councillor Christin Carmichael-Greb in the new Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence. But Colle had a leg up in the race: he was formerly the area’s MPP, and his son, Josh Colle, is the current councillor for one of Eglinton-Lawrence’s two existing wards. Voters may have perceived Mike and Josh Colle as being essentially the same person, making the elder Colle an incumbent in spirit, if not in fact.

Jennifer Keesmaat failed to make a dent in John Tory’s support

Pundits and analysts will spend the next few days puzzling over Jennifer Keesmaat’s performance in this election, but it’s clear that she didn’t do particularly well. Despite having only one serious opponent, she pulled fewer votes than Olivia Chow did in 2014, when both John Tory and Doug Ford were on the ballot. This outcome was not unexpected. Advance polling showed Tory with a commanding lead over Keesmaat in the run-up to election day.

Tory’s support from voters throughout the city was dramatically stronger in this election than it was in 2018. A Toronto Star analysis shows that he increased his vote share in every ward.

Tory probably holds the balance of power

Whatever Doug Ford’s reasons for slashing the size of Toronto’s city council, it’s safe to assume he didn’t think having fewer councillors would make it more difficult to push Ford-friendly legislation through city hall. It’s hard to know, at this early stage, whether or not that will be the case.

For all John Tory’s differences with Ford, the two men still appear to agree on the big things, like keeping taxes low and limiting the role of government in the lives of citizens. Generally speaking, but not all of the time, a city council willing to do Mayor Tory’s bidding would be a good thing for Premier Ford.

The current city council—the one elected in 2014—has a clear (if not always completely reliable) Tory-friendly majority. According to the ever-useful City Council Scorecard, maintained by the University of Toronto’s Urban Policy Lab, 27 of 44 existing city councillors tended to vote with John Tory on key issues at least 70 per cent of the time.

This incoming council may not be quite as easy for the mayor to corral. The city council class of 2018 includes many proven John Tory loyalists (that is, councillors who have historically sided with him on a clear majority of important issues). But the mayor also lost some friends:

• Christin Carmichael-Greb, a key Tory backer, lost to Mike Colle, a former Liberal MPP who is less likely to align ideologically with the mayor.

• Giorgio Mammoliti, sometimes an ally of Tory, lost his council race to fellow incumbent Anthony Perruzza, who is reliably left-leaning and frequently anti-Tory.

• Willowdale, a ward previously split between Tory loyalist David Shiner and centrist John Filion, will now be ruled by Filion alone.

• St. Paul’s now belongs solely to Josh Matlow, a frequent Tory opponent who will be even less likely to bend to the administration’s will after Tory actively worked to defeat Matlow in this year’s election.

• The seats for Scarborough North and Scarborough-Rouge Park are now occupied by newcomers whose loyalty to the mayor is untested.

Do the math, and it’s hard to know if things have improved for the mayor or not. By our count, the new council breaks down like so:

• 11 field-tested Tory loyalists
• 7 die-hard lefties
• 3 centrists
• 4 untested newcomers

In the next term, there will be 26 votes on city council, including the mayor’s. Under most circumstances, a majority vote is required for an item to pass, meaning Tory will need at least 13 backers every time. The extent to which he’s able to pursue his agenda will depend on his ability to persuade those centrists and newcomers.

Faith Goldy got votes in the suburbs

In a way, the most interesting—or, if you like, disturbing—story of mayoral election night was the race for third place. Saron Gebresellassi, a human rights lawyer and first-time candidate, seemed like the most viable third-place contender in the weeks leading up to election day. She was frequently invited to participate in mayoral debates, in part because John Tory’s campaign was resistant to the idea of putting him on stage alone with Jennifer Keesmaat.

But there was another minor candidate who was quietly mounting a tenacious mayoral campaign: Faith Goldy, a right-wing media personality who was fired from her role as a presenter for Rebel Media, an online far-right media organization, after she appeared on a neo-Nazi podcast and made comments that could be construed as anti-semitic. At other times, Goldy has espoused opinions associated with white supremacy. She was not invited to any mayoral debates, but still managed to make headlines by showing up uninvited and interrupting them. She also earned press for her abortive attempt to sue Bell Media for refusing to run an advertisement for her campaign. Her platform included a number of alt-right-inspired policy points that went far beyond a mayor’s legal purview, like evacuating “all illegal migrants from Toronto’s shelter system by bus to the Prime Minister’s official residence, or the nearest jurisdiction that will take them.”

Despite all of this political baggage (or, possibly, because of it) Faith Goldy finished third in the mayoral election, with over 25,000 votes—about 10,000 more than Gebresellassi, who finished fourth. (For context, Jennifer Keesmaat finished second with 178,193, so neither Goldy nor Gebresellassi came anywhere near actually challenging John Tory.) In all, Goldy took 3.4 per cent of the vote, meaning a measurable percentage of Toronto residents cast votes for a candidate who, while she denies being a neo-Nazi, has advanced ideas associated with neo-Nazism.

But Goldy’s support wasn’t uniform throughout the city. According to CTV’s ward-by-ward map of the mayoral election’s results, Gebresellassi was the third-place finisher in Wards 4, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13, which comprise the entire city core west of the Don River. Goldy finished third in all but one other ward, but her support was strongest in Ward 2, Etobicoke Centre; Ward 17, Don Valley North; and Ward 22, Scarborough-Agincourt.

Patrick Brown is back on top… of something or other

Patrick Brown was on track to become the next premier of Ontario before a scandalous story about his personal life led to his abrupt resignation as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, clearing the way for Doug Ford to take his place. (Brown is currently suing CTV over that story, which alleged that he had engaged in inappropriate sexual behaviour with two young women on separate occasions. He denies any wrongdoing.)

Brown’s next move was to run for Peel Regional Chair, but Doug Ford foiled him a second time by cancelling those elections. And so, Brown registered to run for mayor of Brampton, a city with which he had few previous connections, except that he once practiced law there. A conveniently timed marriage to his girlfriend, Genevieve Gualtieri, may have helped dispel some of the lingering sexual innuendo around Brown leading up to election day. Whatever the case, he managed to best one-term incumbent mayor Linda Jeffrey by almost 4,000 votes.