Voters weighed in on the future of major public transit projects in cities across Ontario Monday, where mayoral candidates offered competing visions for how citizens will get around.
Several races focused on whether to proceed with existing transit plans or to scrap them in favour of alternatives.
Meanwhile other municipal campaigns – including in Whitchurch-Stouffville – offered voters a chance to weigh in on ethics controversies that have dominated local politics.
Voting night also exposed problems with the growing use of remote electronic or phone voting. Some municipalities that adopted the technology – including Bracebridge, Collingwood, Sudbury and others – were forced to extend their voting hours into Tuesday.
In the nation’s capital, Mayor Jim Watson easily won a third consecutive term as voters endorsed his pitch as the “steady hand” that can guide the city through major new development projects over the coming four years.
The veteran politician had more than 70 per cent of the vote more than an hour after polls closed.
Mr. Watson’s main challenger, former city councillor Clive Doucet, ran on a campaign focused on bringing a GO-style regional heavy rail system to the national capital region that would include a link to Western Quebec communities.
Mr. Doucet had also accused Mr. Watson of putting developers ahead of citizens when it came to issues such as maximum building heights, but that message ultimately earned him about 22 per cent of the vote.
Mr. Watson’s transit pledge is to stick to the plans approved by the city to extend the light rail system to the suburbs. The new light rail system – which will be called the O-Train Confederation Line – was scheduled to be ready in November, but it has been delayed until the first quarter of 2019.
Another big decision facing the city is the proposed development of LeBreton Flats, an open field near the centre of the city that the National Capital Commission is proposing to sell to developers as part of of a plan that would include a new arena for the Ottawa Senators.
Hamilton voters re-elected Fred Eisenberger and his pro-light-rail stand after a campaign that placed the future of the $1-billion transit project in question.
Mr. Eisenberger faced a strong challenge from Vito Sgro, who ran on a pledge to “Stop the train: Fix infrastructure.”
At deadline, Mr. Eisenberger had more than 54-per-cent support, followed by 38-per-cent support for Mr. Sgro.
Mr. Sgro’s campaign message received a boost from Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who said the province’s $1-billion contribution to LRT could be diverted to other priorities if the city wishes.
Construction of the 17-stop LRT is scheduled to take place from 2019 to 2024. It would run from McMaster University in the west to Eastgate Square in the east, with a connection to the Hamilton Go Centre Station.
In London, where Mayor Matt Brown opted not to seek a second term, the future of the city’s $500-million Bus Rapid Transit plan was a hot election issue.
Bus Rapid Transit involves dedicated lanes where buses do not mix with regular traffic. Polls suggested public support for the project is fading and several candidates campaigned hard against the plan.
London is also the first Canadian city to use ranked ballots to select municipal leaders. Voters were asked to select their top three choices. The race attracted 14 candidates for mayor. A winner may not be declared until Tuesday or even Wednesday, depending on how much time it takes to roll out the results of each round of counting as the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped and the alternate choice of those voters is redistributed.
The three most prominent mayoral candidate critics of the BRT plan include former Conservative MP Ed Holder and business people Paul Paolatto and Paul Cheng. City councillor Tanya Park emerged as the most prominent mayoral candidate in favour of BRT.
Incumbent mayor Justin Altmann lost his position Monday evening after months of controversy – including over an unusual photo montage he posted on the wall of his office’s private washroom.
The photos of other council members, city staff and others were viewed as intimidation by some and led to an integrity commissioner’s report that concluded it was “vexatious and disturbing to staff.”
Mr. Altmann had defended the photo wall as a personal attempt to understand who might be behind what he alleged was a bullying campaign against him.
Mr. Altmann faced four challengers, including Iain Lovatt, who was a councillor during the last term; former councillor Phil Bannon, business person Anand Date and former NHL player Keith Acton.
At deadline, Mr. Lovatt was in the lead with 38-per-cent support, followed by Mr. Acton with 31 per cent of the vote.
Eleven candidates ran for mayor of Thunder Bay. Two-term incumbent mayor Keith Hobbs was not running for re-election. He faces charges of extortion and obstruction of justice, which he is challenging in court.
Thunder Bay was among the municipalities that allowed online voting and results were initially delayed.
When they did appear, a two-person race emerged. At deadline, former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister Bill Mauro was narrowly in front of city council veteran Frank Pullia, but no winner had been declared.