The race for the mayor of Canada’s biggest city is hitting full stride.
Toronto Councillor Karen Stintz, a fiscal conservative who has been at odds with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford over transit issues, announced on the weekend that she plans to run for mayor in next year’s campaign, crowding the field on the political right.
Former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader and radio host John Tory is mulling a second bid. At this point, however, no one represents the city’s left. That spot could be filled by Olivia Chow, the Toronto New Democrat MP and widow of Jack Layton who is considering a run for mayor.
Ms. Stintz said she supports the policies of Mr. Ford, a populist right-winger, but is concerned the city won’t move forward under his leadership.
“The mayor has appeal,” Ms. Stintz said in an interview on Sunday. “He’s got his core support, but I’m of the belief we can have the fiscal agenda as well as build the city and that’s what we’re working towards.”
For his part, Mr. Ford touted his accomplishments as mayor during his weekly radio show on Sunday.
“The campaign’s on, folks,” he said. “A year from now, people are going to choose. Do you want lower taxes, do you want to contract out garbage on the other side of Yonge St. Do you want to keep jobs in the city? Or do you want to go the other way?”
Ms. Stintz is the first high-profile councillor to declare that she plans to challenge Mr. Ford in the election next Oct. 27. But with the vote a year away, only one other candidate – businessman and conservative former councillor David Soknacki – has jumped into the race.
Myer Siemiatycki, an expert in municipal politics at Toronto’s Ryerson University, said the number of prominent individuals who are considering giving up interesting positions so early in the mayoral race indicates that Mr. Ford could face a tough fight.
“There’s a perception at city hall that Mayor Ford can be beaten,” Prof. Siemiatycki said.
Ms. Stintz said she plans to focus on policy matters during the campaign. “I don’t get personal,” she said.
But with little difference between her ideas for running the city and those of Mr. Ford, Prof. Siemiatycki said, personalities could dominate the election campaign. He thinks Ms. Stintz will portray herself as a “kinder, gentler” version of Mr. Ford, telling voters, “If you like the policies but don’t like the drama, I’m your person.”
Ms. Stintz was first elected as councillor in 2003. After the 2010 municipal election, Mr. Ford appointed her chair of the Toronto Transit Commission and she supported his bid to control spending. But she took on Mr. Ford over subways, leading a council revolt against his unfunded, underground-only transit vision. The fact that Ms. Stintz has since changed her mind on transit could hurt her, observers say.
Earlier this month, she voted for a Scarborough subway rather than a light-rail transit system, putting her on the same side as the mayor, a big proponent of the subway extension.
Mr. Ford did not mention Ms. Stintz by name on his radio show. But one of his guests, Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy, accused Ms. Stintz of flip-flopping on the subway matter.
Mr. Ford talked about the coming election, saying that anyone running for mayor better be prepared to stick it out.
“They should make a rule that once you’re in, you’re in,” he said, noting several candidates took their names off the ballot during the 2010 campaign.
Ms. Stintz’s plan to run for mayor has been an open secret for months around Toronto City Hall. Her campaign team consists of Liberal veterans from former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty’s government as well as Conservatives, including pollster Greg Lyle.
Greg Sorbara, a former cabinet minister in the McGuinty government, told The Globe and Mail he was one of the people who encouraged Ms. Stintz to run. He described her as a “centrist” in her approach to politics, and said she has done a good job of managing the TTC, one of the toughest portfolios.
Mr. Sorbara does not have an official role in Ms. Stintz’s campaign. Dave Gene, a former deputy chief of staff for Mr. McGuinty, is her campaign manager. Don Guy, a former chief of staff to Mr. McGuinty, said in an e-mail on Sunday that he is helping put Ms. Stintz’s campaign together.
Mr. Guy and Mr. Sorbara are the architects of the McGuinty Liberals’ three consecutive election victories. Mr. Guy was also an adviser to B.C. Premier Christy Clark in her recent electoral victory.