“We need tighter rent controls”: Downtown residents explain which candidates they voted for in the mayoral election and why

“We need tighter rent controls”: Downtown residents explain which candidates they voted for in the mayoral election and why

Torontonians share their big hopes for the city’s new leader

After a record 102 mayoral hopefuls duked it out in a shotgun election, Olivia Chow is Toronto’s new leader. On Monday, we visited polling stations across the city—downtown, in Scarborough and in Etobicoke—to ask Torontonians from all walks of life whom they voted for and why. Here, downtown residents dish on the hot-button issues that drove them to the polls (spoiler alert: transit, public safety, housing and more housing), how candidates won them over and what they hope to see from the city’s first new mayor since 2014.

Ashwin Arun, 36, software engineer

Which candidate got your vote today?
Josh Matlow. I just became a Canadian citizen, so this is my first time voting here.

Why Matlow?
I really believe that Matlow has the best plan to create more affordable housing.

Every candidate is talking about affordable housing. What convinced you that Matlow’s plan is best?
Toronto is an expensive city, and a lot of that has to do with municipal bylaws that are leading to an abundance of condos and not enough affordable housing. Compared with other candidates, Matlow has a proven track record, as a city councillor, of tackling those issues over the years. 

Besides affordable housing, what other issue do you want addressed by Toronto’s new mayor?
Safety is incredibly important. I live near Queen and Yonge, and there have been a lot of violent incidents on the TTC here or in parks close by. My wife and I want to have children, and I think it’s vitally important that we feel safe enough to take them to a park for a walk.

Calvin Lindroth, 29, customer service representative

Which candidate won your vote?
Olivia Chow. Toronto has a major affordable housing issue, and to be honest, I don’t think any of the candidates are promising to do enough to address it. But Chow is the best option out of what’s available.

What nudged Chow ahead of the competition?
She’s willing to increase the tax on vacant properties, and she’s also committed to being tougher on investment property buyers. Chow clearly understands that housing should be treated like essential infrastructure, not an investment opportunity. 

What do we need to be doing to address Toronto’s housing crisis?
I was born and raised in Sweden, and over there, they have laws regulating how much rent you can charge. They also have stringent controls that prevent the property hoarding and renovictions that are common in Toronto. We would be wise to adopt some of those laws.

Christopher Peters, 42, actor

Who won your vote today?
Olivia Chow, but my first choice was Mark Saunders. During the debate, they were the only two candidates who behaved like adults. I felt that Saunders was respectful, but the other candidates kept attacking Chow like predators going after their prey. I was impressed by how she always listened calmly and then patiently responded with her own message.

Why not go for Saunders?
It was a tough decision, but when I saw that Saunders was way in third place in the polls, I had to vote for Chow to help her beat Ana Bailão, who was in second place. Both Bailão and Josh Matlow have been city councillors, have tried to address the housing crisis and have failed miserably. We need new people in the mayor’s office if we’re going to change things. 

Jeanette Campbell, 72, retired

Which of the candidates earned your vote?
I decided to vote for Ana Bailão. I was impressed by her promise to bring door-to-door health and wellness checks, as well as on-site mobile health clinics, to seniors like myself. 

Did you vote in last year’s mayoral election?
Yes, for John Tory. He was a good mayor, and I feel that the reasons he resigned are personal and have nothing to do with the job he was doing in public office. It was important for me that Tory endorsed Bailão.

What do you hope a new mayor will focus on during their first term?
It all comes down to housing. We need to build lots of new homes to help make living here more affordable.

Jeff Flewelling, 68, retired civil engineer

Who won your vote for mayor?
Crime is completely out of control in the city, so it was an easy decision to vote for Mark Saunders. He’s made it his priority to tackle our crime problem. I think that, as the former chief of police, he’s the best person for the job.

Besides crime, what issues do you hope to see a newly elected mayor address?
Our homelessness problem. We have to expand our shelter system, particularly in the winter. Once we get crime and homelessness under control, a lot of the other problems we’re facing in Toronto will fall into line. The quality of life in New York improved after Rudy Giuliani cracked down on those issues when he was mayor.

If Saunders doesn’t win, whom would you like to see in the mayor’s office?
I’d have to pick Brad Bradford. He’s an urban planner and a city councillor who understands how the system works. He would have a reasonable shot at getting things done.

Judy Pocock, 78, retired teacher

Which candidate got your vote today?
I voted for Olivia Chow. I’ve followed her career for decades, and I know exactly where she stands when it comes to things like homelessness and affordability. 

If Chow is elected, how do you think she’ll address those issues?
More co-ops. Toronto’s co-ops are self-sustaining, and they provide a sense of community as well as affordable rental prices. I hope that Chow will make an effort to preserve and expand them.

Katie Doidge, 47, homemaker

Which candidate did you vote for?
Olivia Chow. I voted for her when she ran for mayor back in 2014, and I’ve seen her be an effective politician who knew how to get things done as an MP and a city councillor.

Compared with John Tory, what do you think Chow will do differently?
Ever since the pandemic hit Toronto, our city’s infrastructure has been crumbling. Our streets and alleyways are filled with garbage, and the maintenance of our parks and public services is falling apart. That all happened under Tory’s watch, and I’m confident that Chow will address it. 

What else would you like to see her tackle?
I’m a single mom who lives with her two young kids in a small rental, and I want to see Chow help create more affordable housing. She’ll prioritize subsidized housing rather than condo development. As things stand, I can’t even come close to purchasing a home, and my kids will likely never be able to afford rentals of their own when they grow up.

Pedro Marques, 43, creative director

Who did you vote for today?
I voted for Olivia Chow, but to be honest, my preferred candidate was Josh Matlow.

So why did you vote for Olivia Chow instead?
While they’re both progressive, I feel that Matlow is a better option to bring city council together. He’d also be less rattling to Doug Ford in Queen’s Park. By comparison, Olivia Chow is far more polarizing. But, when I saw that Chow was the clear front runner and that John Tory had endorsed Ana Bailão—who, to me, just represents a continuation of the status quo—I felt that it was my duty to help us elect a progressive mayor. If she wins, I do hope that Chow will adopt some of Matlow’s ideas.

Like what?
Undoing Tory’s maddening rebuild of the Gardiner Expressway is a good example. The Gardiner is a 1950s relic that needs to go. It has very few points of entry and exit, and it creates more traffic than it eliminates. Instead of endlessly repairing the Gardiner, both Chow and Matlow are following the advice of city experts who recommend transforming its eastern section into a ground-level boulevard.

Syona Abdeen, 26, marketing specialist

Which candidate did you cast your ballot for today?
Olivia Chow. I’m a progressive, and of all the more left-leaning candidates, Chow has the best chance of winning. 

Which part of Chow’s platform appealed to you the most?
Unlike some of the more conservative candidates, who aren’t interested in investing in public transit, Chow is pro-transit. There has been a lot of violence on the TTC recently, and it’s easy for conservatives to use that as an excuse to say that we should all be driving instead of using public transit. But we should be improving our transit network rather than neglecting it. Toronto is a very expensive city, but one thing that’s great about it is not needing to own a vehicle to get around. Many people can’t afford a car—I depend on public transit every day. If we get a mayor who doesn’t understand that, I’m worried that more services will be cut and we’ll end up with a car-dependent city that’s even more unlivable than it already is. 

What do you hope to see from our new mayor during their first term?
I would love to see a mayor who is more on the side of tenants rather than on the side of landlords, which is what we had with John Tory for the past nine years, Rob Ford before him and Doug Ford at the provincial level. For example, we need tighter and more comprehensive rent controls. I’m lucky enough to live in a rent-controlled apartment, but if I didn’t, I would not be able to afford to live in the city.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.