With former councillor Doug Ford now leading the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party and out of Toronto’s mayoral race this fall, forces to Mayor John Tory’s right and left have been left debating whether to take him on.
The departure of Mr. Ford from the race has already prompted long-time city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, a Ford loyalist and right-wing critic of Mr. Tory, to contemplate a bid for mayor. He says he is poised to announce a decision in the next two weeks on whether he will run.
But Mr. Ford’s leadership of the provincial PCs removes one problem many on city hall’s left wing had with mounting a challenge to the sitting mayor: the fear of splitting the anti-Ford vote on Oct. 22.
In recent weeks, potential candidates from council’s NDP- and Liberal-affiliated ranks have been meeting to discuss who, if anyone, could launch an uphill battle against Mr. Tory, a relatively popular incumbent who portrays himself as a centrist.
City councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam, Josh Matlow and Mike Layton, son of the late federal NDP leader Jack Layton, have all been floated as potential future challengers. None of them have so far said they are jumping into the race, which does not officially begin until May 1 but would require raising hundreds of thousands of dollars at a minimum to be competitive.
Meanwhile, in an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Mammoliti said he was still consulting his family and would make a final decision in the next week or two: “At this point, my intention is to run.”
His campaign, he says, would promise tax and spending cuts, bash bike lanes and pledge to kill off Mr. Tory’s massive downtown rail-deck park plan. But any race would also likely see him questioned about his role in a Toronto Parking Authority land deal quashed by the city’s auditor-general that is now being probed by police.
Mr. Mammoliti ran for mayor in 2010, but dropped out and ran for his council seat before the vote. In 2014, he agreed to pay back $17,500 after pleading guilty to violating the Municipal Elections Act’s finance rules for what he called “inadvertent” overspending during the 2010 campaign.
Whoever runs, knocking off a first-term incumbent mayor is a difficult task. Typically, first-term mayors – with the exception of scandal-plagued Rob Ford in 2014 – face weaker challengers. In 2000, Mel Lastman faced activist Tooker Gomberg, who raised environmental and social issues, wore a Robin Hood costume and won 8.5 per cent of the vote. In 2006, David Miller faced a bigger challenge from Leaside councillor Jane Pitfield, but still defeated her by a significant margin.
Plus, Mr. Tory has repeatedly said he will not seek a third term, leaving a wide open race for anyone interested in the mayor’s job in 2022.
On Wednesday, Mr. Layton did not completely rule out a run for mayor, but pointed out that he and his spouse have a two-year-old and a three-month old. He said someone should carry the flag in the mayoral race this fall: “I wouldn’t speculate that that was going to be me, but you never know what happens in politics, in the end.”
Ms. Wong-Tam says she and many other progressives are concerned about the escalating costs of the Scarborough subway and the rebuilding of the Gardiner Expressway. She says there are many “active conversations” about running a progressive candidate, and that they picked up after Mr. Ford won the PC leadership.
But she said she remains focused on her downtown ward: “My answer is I already have a job … This is not something that I would answer lightly, to be quite honest.”
Myer Siemiatycki, a professor of politics at Ryerson University, said that in addition to right-wing examples such as Donald Trump and Mr. Ford, the success of insurgent left-leaning candidate Valerie Plante in knocking off Montreal mayor Denis Coderre in December is another sign the current political mood favours unorthodox newcomers.
“I think the starting point is anything is possible,” Prof. Siemiatycki said. “ … This is the electoral age of the outsider, of the outlier, of the upset.”
Mr. Tory’s spokesman, Don Peat, said the mayor remained focused on running the city, not his potential opponents: “Right now, Mayor Tory is focused on doing the job he was elected to do: building transit, fighting traffic and keeping the city affordable.”