The Hamilton Spectator
Mayoral byelection a reset for Toronto
All bets are now off in Toronto city politics. Following John Tory’s bombshell resignation as mayor, everything is in flux. Previously regarded givens have melted into uncertainty.
This may prove to be a beneficial reset. How the city is governed, how it is financed, and what policies it adopts all require urgent reassessment.
A spring byelection will likely be held. It’s already shaping up as one of the city’s most important votes ever. The recent municipal election last fall, won handily by Tory, managed to bury or downplay major issues that have preoccupied local attention since.
On governance, Tory made no reference during the campaign to the “strong mayor” power he had requested and received from Premier Doug Ford, empowering him to govern with only minority support from council. Toronto’s mayor is now deemed to win votes on council with as little as one-third support from all members.
Despite being enacted by the province, governing by mayoral minority rule will be on the ballot in a spring byelection to select Tory’s successor. For the first time, voters will decide which candidate will hold this oversized power, and to what ends. Or, reading the electorates’ mood, candidates could well pledge (as their counterparts in Ottawa’s mayoral race did) not to exercise any democracy-defying powers.
Regarding municipal finances, simply put they are in shambles. Revenues can’t keep up with necessary expenditures. This is evident from the gaping projected $1.4-billion shortfall of funds to meet this year’s $16billion city budget.
This is the budget that Tory crafted alone, under new strong mayor powers. Neither the words strong, nor sustainable, apply to such a financial blueprint.
It will come before council for deliberation this week. Expectations were that despite widespread criticism for misplaced priorities, it would pass because of Tory’s new powers and personal sway over council. With his departure, the proposed budget now needs full scrutiny and modification.
Especially problematic are: inadequate funding of supports for the homeless; a large $48million hike to the police budget alongside frozen support for over 200 community service agencies across the city; cuts to transit service coupled with fare increases; and continued commitment to spend $2 billion on Tory’s favoured rebuild of the Gardiner Expressway.
This week’s budget debate and the byelection are critical opportunities for Toronto to reconsider its spending priorities and identify new revenue sources.
More broadly on policy matters, the city has felt adrift for some time. Little action on issues large and small. Overflowing public garbage cans are more unsightly than ever, park washrooms locked shut more often than open, delay on delay in transit building, housing less affordable than ever, and the homeless with fewer options for winter warmth.
Tory’s departure creates a moment for reconsidering Toronto’s way forward. And there will be no shortage of options to choose from. A wide range of political perspectives are represented on city council. The right, centre, and left all have credible potential mayoral candidates.
What will Toronto choose? The right’s social spending cuts, lower taxes and enhanced policing? The left’s green, equity, community-support, and increased revenue agenda? Or the centre’s incremental, steadyas-we-go path? Best of all, the city’s voters will determine who and what comes after Tory. It’s a test moment.