Former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders is running to be the next mayor of Canada’s largest city, with a focus on public safety and a plan to view “developers as partners” to build affordable housing.
Mr. Saunders, who served as chief of police from 2015 to 2020, says Toronto is at a “tipping point” and he has the experience to understand the “root causes” of crime.
“We have many problems in Toronto to tackle, and it starts with public safety,” Mr. Saunders, a 37-year-veteran of policing, said in a statement to The Globe and Mail Monday.
“If people don’t feel safe walking down the street or on the TTC, nothing else matters. I don’t want to see any more lockdowns of elementary schools. Not another story of a woman getting attacked on a streetcar. No more gangs shooting up townhouses where children are sleeping. Enough,” he said.
“I’ve experienced the good and bad of every corner of the city and understand the root causes of crime and how to fix it. That’s why I’m running for mayor.”
Mr. Saunders said as a former police chief, he knows the city needs to do more than just “add police or more money – as that won’t solve the problem long-term.”
“We must improve how programs are delivered on the ground to support the most vulnerable, including those struggling with mental-health issues, addiction and homelessness,” he said.
He also said the city needs to create a system “that views developers as partners,” so they will be encouraged to build hundreds of thousands of affordable rental units.
“Because if people don’t feel safe, businesses will leave, jobs will leave, and people will lose hope. Toronto could continue down a negative path,” he said. “Toronto is at a tipping point and we need to get this right, right now. Because if we don’t, we’re going to feel the repercussions for years to come.”
Toronto residents will elect a new mayor in June after John Tory resigned just months into his third term after admitting to an affair with a staffer. The mayoral by-election is scheduled for June 26, with advance voting running from June 8 to 13.
On Tuesday morning, Toronto-St. Paul councillor Josh Matlow announced he will run for mayor with a plan to create a dedicated property tax fund to improve city services. Former Toronto Sun columnist Anthony Furey also said he would be running.
Other entrants in the race include former three-term councillor Ana Bailao and Gil Penalosa, an urbanist who placed second in last fall’s race, as well as former longtime councillor Giorgio Mammoliti. Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford has announced an advisory committee, and Ward 2 Etobicoke Centre Councillor Stephen Holyday is eyeing a bid, as is Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter.
Mr. Saunders’ entry into the race positions him as one of the better known candidates, with ties to the Ford government. His campaign team includes Mr. Ford’s former executive director of communications, Laryssa Waler; Mr. Ford’s former principal writer Clare Michaels; Mr. Ford’s former policy adviser Michelle Wasylyshen, and former Treasury Board chief of staff Christopher Rastrick; former government staffer Brayden Akers and government relations strategist Lisa Murray; and fundraising help from former executive assistant Nico Fidani-Diker, who started a lobbying firm, and Tony Miele, chair of the PC Ontario Fund. His campaign team also includes Sharan Kaur, who was deputy chief of staff to former federal finance minister Bill Morneau, and will be managed by veteran political consultant Mitch Wexler.
During his tenure as police chief, Mr. Saunders came under fire for the service’s relationship with the city’s LGBTQ population after the discovery of serial killer Bruce McArthur. Community members accused police of not taking them seriously when they pushed for more rigorous investigation.
He announced he was leaving his post as police chief in July, 2020, eight months before his contract was set to expire.
Mr. Saunders also ran unsuccessfully for Mr. Ford’s Progressive Conservatives in the Toronto riding of Don Valley West in the 2022 election. The riding, previously held by former premier Kathleen Wynne, was won by Liberal Stephanie Bowman.
In March, 2021, Mr. Ford’s government announced it had hired Mr. Saunders for up to $171,500 a year as a special adviser on redeveloping Ontario Place in Toronto.
With a report from Oliver Moore in Toronto