What just happened?

Once again, Toronto municipal politics shocked us all! After years of surprising election results all across Canada—a Liberal majority in Ontario, Allison Redford’s rise and fall, Christy Clark’s improbable election victory in BC and the ascendance of the NDP in the federal Parliament—Toronto’s election results were really…rather…dull. And when was the last time we said that about Toronto?

We are likely heading into a period when the business of the City and business with the City will move forward, without many of the distractions of the last couple of years. Businesses and other organizations can expect a more stable and effective situation at City Hall.

Here are some of the highlights from last night’s results:

+     We have a new mayor.

John Tory won the mayoralty race by a comfortable, if not a substantial, margin. He received 40.3% of the vote, 6.5 percentage points ahead of second-place finisher Doug Ford.

After losing to David Miller in 2003 and provincially to Dalton McGuinty in 2007, Tory ran a strong, confident campaign and won.

+     Ford Nation is resilient.

Rob Ford handily won his old ward (with 59% of the vote) and Doug Ford finished a respectable second (33.7%), well ahead of third-place finisher, Olivia Chow (23.1%).

Moreover, the electoral map shows a still (figuratively) divided city. The eastern and western wards voted for Ford; the middle wards voted for Tory. Though these images mask the strength of Tory’s vote, it is interesting that if this were a first-past-the-post system (like the provincial and federal elections), Tory received the most votes in 21 wards, Ford in 20 and Chow in 3.

+     Voters voted.

Voter turnout was higher than in 2010 and higher than in this spring’s provincial election. Turnout was 60% yesterday, up from 53% four years ago and more than the 52% who turned out to vote in the spring provincial election.

+     Council will look…very similar.

While there will be eight new councillors (one of whom is Rob Ford), only one incumbent who ran—John Parker in Ward 26 (Don Valley West)—lost his seat. The other seven new councillors filled seats where the incumbent was not running.

Here are the new councillors:

  • 2 – Rob Ford
  • 3 – Stephen Holyday
  • 4 – John Campbell
  • 5 – Justin Di Ciano
  • 16 – Christin Carmichael Greb
  • 20 – Joe Cressy
  • 26 – Jon Burnside
  • 39 – Jim Karygiannis

Keen observers may note many familiar names. Many of the newcomers (or at least their names) are not really that new:

  • Rob Ford held Ward 2 for years before running for Mayor in 2010
  • Stephen Holyday’s dad—Doug—held Ward 3 for years before Doug ran provincially
  • Christen Carmichael Greb is the daughter of Don Valley West MP, John Carmichael
  • Joe Cressy lost a federal by-election to Adam Vaughan in Trinity Spadina in June before winning municipally last night
  • And Jim Karygiannis—a longtime Liberal MP—won in Ward 3

What it means?

The circus should be over. Toronto has a new, experienced mayor with significant executive experience.

Council will be a force to be reckoned with. There is substantial continuity and though Mayor Tory will have significant support on Council, his successful campaign did not have ‘coat tails’ – there was no influx of John Tory councillors.

Tory will doubtless provide more stability than his predecessor. Though he has a mandate, it was not an overwhelming one. He will, as he has committed to do, have to work closely with council to move his agenda forward.

  • City staff and many on council will appreciate the relative calm and can be expected to work well with the new mayor.

While Tory focused on a handful of priorities in his election night remarks – transit, traffic, youth unemployment, modernizing government services – his main focus was on working to create ‘One Toronto’. He and his spokespeople referenced ‘inclusion’ several times. Tory was clearly focused more on changing the tone of politics in Toronto than enumerating a specific agenda.

Details of that agenda will doubtless follow in the coming days. Priorities will include:

  • Smart Track – His signature policy is an ambitious surface-based subway that will connect the western and eastern ends of the city with downtown in seven years.
  • Traffic and congestion – In addition to Smart Track, he has promised a variety of smaller measures to get traffic moving, like better coordinating construction that closes traffic lanes and cracking down on drivers who block intersections.
  • Social Housing – Toronto’s social housing stock requires substantial capital investment to keep it safe and secure for its residents. Tory has promised to press the federal and provincial governments for each to match the City’s $800 million commitment.
  • Modernizing government services – Tory has talked repeatedly about finding ways to save money and improve services for residents. He promises to run the city more efficiently and accountably.

We can also expect the Mayor-elect to have meetings sooner rather than later with Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to set a more professional and collaborative relationship with those two leaders. He will also clearly outline the policy and fiscal commitments he would like those leaders to pursue, particularly on transit and social housing.

What now?

The new Mayor and Council will be sworn in on December 1. The first Council meeting is December 2-3.

During the transition, the new Mayor will fill key staff positions, appoint a Deputy Mayor and appoint the Chairs of the seven committees of Council. Together these committee Chairs and the mayor and Deputy Mayor will form the powerful Executive Committee of Council which sets the strategic and financial direction for the city.

So now what?

In many respects, this is the ideal role for Tory. He clearly loves the city and has, for some time, wanted to serve the people who live in it. It is probably the perfect role in public service for him. He has experience in the private, public and non-profit sectors and a centrist approach that will provide stability for which many people in the city have been yearning.