As Premier Doug Ford’s decision to cut council almost in half reignites talk of the urban-suburban divide, the Star finds the old differences aren’t what they used to be. In a new occasional series, One Toronto, we take a look at what divides us and what we share, no matter where the ward lines fall.
Walking on stage at a downtown hotel to cheers and the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up,” Mayor John Tory, just re-elected with almost 64 per cent of the vote across the city, struck a uniting tone.
He told the crowd about a group of moms of Somali descent that he’d met during the campaign, who, sitting in Rexdale with the CN Tower just visible in the distance, felt shut out from the opportunities of Toronto.
“All the great things happening in our city seemed quite far away,” Tory told supporters gathered at Sheraton Centre.
“It might have well, in some respects, have been happening on the moon.”
The mayor pledged in his victory speech that night that “job one” over the next four years will be to “continue the work of connecting Toronto up.” So that no one feels like “opportunity is a distant point on the horizon,” no matter where they live in the city.
Tensions between the downtown and suburbs of the megacity Tory will govern for another four years rose to the surface during the chaotic election campaign, which saw Premier Doug Ford chop the wards and councillors almost in half. It was a move which many downtowners perceived as designed to hobble progressive forces on council, as the downtown wards would have had more representation under a planned 47-ward system.
But Tory seemed to transcend that divide on election night, winning every ward across the city with a majority of the vote except one (Davenport), and resoundingly defeating his former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat.
Ward by ward mapping shows a particularly stark contrast in comparison to the support for former mayor Rob Ford, who’s support in his 2010 victory formed a virtual doughnut, with a hole in the downtown.
Without discounting Tory’s campaign or platform, which included nods to “downtown” issues like affordable rental housing, experts say he was able to take the entire city because he appealed to stability in an especially chaotic election dominated by another Ford, Doug.
Myer Siemiatycki, a professor of politics at Ryerson University, noted incumbents always have the name recognition advantage and this isn’t the first time that a second term mayor has “swept the deck.”
Incumbent David Miller had similar broad support in the 2006 election, as did Mel Lastman, who won with about 80 per cent of the vote in 2000.
Siemiatycki said he thinks Tory’s victory wasn’t so much about both downtown and the suburbs “preferring his platform and path forward” over Keesmaat’s but more the “peculiarities about this campaign.”
Keesmaat not only “declares and jumps into the fray literally the last day possible,” but after the dust settled on the number of wards, there was just over a month left for campaigning.
“It was going to take virtually a political miracle to defeat John Tory under those circumstances,” Siemiatycki said.
To his credit, the mayor also hadn’t really alienated any segments or sectors of Toronto.
“I think a lot of this is almost a kind of sweep by default scenario,” Siemiatycki said.
“But I think it’s fair to say that John Tory had established a kind of trust confidence threshold that overwhelmingly Torontonians were going to be comfortable with.”
Tory was taking some time off to spend with his wife Barb and not available for an interview for this article.
“The Mayor has brought this city together and worked hard to represent every corner of the city and that has shown in how diverse and widespread his support is all across the city,” campaign spokesperson Keerthana Kamalavasan said in a statement, referring to proposed “big projects” such as the relief line subway and Port Lands flood protection.
“People voted with the firm belief that John Tory can unite the city and work with the other levels of government to get all this done.”
Zack Taylor, assistant professor of political science at Western University in London, Ont., said Tory’s more “consultative and conciliatory” style, especially in relation to Premier Ford, also seemed to resonate with voters over Keesmaat’s attempts to pitch herself as a more “combative” force.
“I think that some people are going to be attracted to one message more than the other message and those messages are going to crosscut things like the core-suburb divide,” said Taylor, who is also the director of Western’s Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance.
Tory’s support may have transcended urban-suburban lines. But he’s only one vote on council, and the 25 councillors elected tend to fall across the old stereotypical lines of more conservative voices in the suburbs and left-leaning downtown.
More left-leaning councillors who’ve championed issues like bike lanes and affordable housing, such as Kristyn Wong-Tam, Mike Layton and Joe Cressy, were re-elected in their downtown wards, while more conservative ones like Jim Karygiannis in Scarborough-Agincourt and Michael Ford in Etobicoke North took theirs.
In his first term, Siemiatycki said, Tory “governed more from the suburbs,” so it will be interesting to see what he does this time. The first big test will be when he picks the members of his executive committee, expected to be before the end of the year.
“If he decides, like last time, to govern exclusively from the suburbs and exclusively from the right of council, then in a way I think that tells us that Mayor Tory has decided not to be the mayor of all Torontonians,” Siemiatycki said.
“He’s gotten the vote of all Torontonians, will he govern with all Torontonians?”
May Warren’s One Toronto series
May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11