John Tory cruised to a third term as mayor of Toronto in Monday’s municipal elections, after a campaign that was short on real competition or drama, even in the face of a deepening housing crisis and a perception that city services are deteriorating.
Mr. Tory, who first took office in 2014, was re-elected with more than 60 per cent of the vote. He will now be the first Toronto leader given strong-mayor powers by the provincial government, which will make it easier for him to impose his will on city council. He has said he intends to make housing one of his top priorities. The average price of a home in the city has more than doubled since the start of his first term.
“We’re going to work with the provincial and federal governments to keep getting the big things done,” Mr. Tory told his victory party. “We’re going to get housing built. Much more housing and much more affordable and supportive housing in many more places across this city.”
The 68-year-old will remain head of a local government that faces major financial troubles. Residents routinely complain about basic municipal failures, including unreliable public transportation, increasingly shabby streets, overflowing public garbage cans and broken-down public toilets.
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Mr. Tory’s opponents argue that he has contributed to this state of affairs by holding property taxes down throughout his tenure. He ran in this election on a promise to continue holding tax increases below the rate of inflation.
“We’re going to make sure that city hall is focused on the nuts and bolts services that you and all the people of Toronto rely on every single day,” Mr. Tory said during his victory speech. “I indicated during the campaign, I am not satisfied that some of those basics are as they should be and we must and we will get to work on that tomorrow morning.”
Prominent local progressive politicians, including Josh Matlow, Joe Cressy and Mike Layton, decided to sit out this mayoral contest. Mr. Layton, a city councillor, and Mr. Cressy, who resigned his council seat in April, have said they are leaving politics entirely. Mr. Matlow was re-elected on Monday as councillor for the ward of Toronto-St. Paul’s.
The crowded slate of candidates running against Mr. Tory lacked household name recognition. He had no significant opponent until July, when progressive urbanist and consultant Gil Penalosa decided to throw his hat into the ring.
Mr. Penalosa advanced a slew of policy ideas, focusing on the public realm and housing. But he never posed a significant threat to Mr. Tory, and by late evening on election day had captured just under 18 per cent of the vote, with over 90 per cent of polls reporting.
Mr. Penalosa urged Mr. Tory to draw upon his ideas, such as by increasing housing density along public transit lines. “John Tory has the opportunity in the next four years to make it good for everyone,” Mr. Penalosa told supporters Monday night.
While the city had yet to publish voter turnout figures, the election appeared to suffer from low participation. By midnight, with nearly all polls reporting, the city had counted about 550,000 ballots out of more than 1.89-million eligible voters.
Housing emerged early in the municipal election campaign as one of the top issues of the race.
Surging demand for houses and condos has pushed the cost of real estate out of reach for many. Even a recent slowdown in sales and price increases has not brought relief, as rising mortgage rates squeeze owners and discourage potential buyers.
The imbalance between wages and housing costs has caused some residents to leave the city, particularly young families. And it has raised questions about the city’s future attractiveness to immigrants.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Tory said he would build on the city’s progress toward allowing what’s known as “gentle density,” meaning laneway housing and small multi-unit housing structures such as duplexes and triplexes.
He also vowed to cut red tape that can delay residential construction projects for years. And he said he planned to explore with the province a “use it or lose it” concept that might force real estate developers who move slowly to reapply for building permissions. He has not yet elaborated on the details of that policy.
Drew Fagan, a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, said the re-elected mayor may receive some help in achieving his housing goals from a federal government attuned to city issues.
“Ottawa is interested in this file – in the urban file generally, but housing in particular – in a way it hasn’t been in two generations,” Mr. Fagan said. “And they’re the ones with the money.”
But Mark Richardson of Housing Now, a group that advocates for affordable rental apartments, said the city’s housing development goals are at risk, because rising interest rates and construction costs have made the financial math impossible for a lot of housing projects.
He added that the days when the city could simply provide land for housing have passed. Toronto will now have to come up with real funding as well, he said. He blamed the city for not moving fast enough during years of cheap credit.
“That window of opportunity is gone now,” he said. “We wasted it talking about affordable housing rather than aggressively executing on constructing affordable housing.”
Toronto needs a strong real estate market to balance its books. The city’s finances rely heavily on the municipal land transfer tax, which gives the local government a percentage of the value of every land transaction within Toronto’s borders. The city is now facing an estimated $850-million shortfall in its operating budget for the coming year, a gap that could widen if home sales and prices falter further.
The city is confronting huge financial hurdles in its capital budget as well. The backlog in repairs for roads, public transit and parks alone is projected to grow to about $13-billion over the next decade.
Mr. Tory, a former broadcaster, provincial politician and telecom executive, succeeded the scandal-plagued Rob Ford. He swept to power on a promise to return stability and dignity to the mayor’s office.
While campaigning in 2014, he made repeated public pledges to seek only two terms in office. Late in his first term he began hinting at the possibility of running more than twice. He now characterizes those initial pledges as promises not to the city, but to his wife, whom he has said now backs his third term.
If he completes a full third term, Mr. Tory would become the longest-serving mayor in Toronto history.