Even though it was entirely predictable, Monday night’s election results were still dreary. From Etobicoke Creek to Rouge River, from Steeles Avenue to Lake Ontario, the vast majority of the city’s 25 council seats were won by old familiar faces.
That’s true, even though a lot of well-known politicians also lost their races. Incumbent councillors were pitted against each other in almost every ward, thanks to the rejigged ward boundaries that Premier Doug Ford’s government imposed on the city midway through the campaign, cutting the available seats almost in half.
After decades in city hall, seemingly permanent fixtures such as Maria Augimeri, Norm Kelly, Giorgio Mammoliti and Joe Mihevc are all gone. What a waste. Sure, a lot of chaff is finally being thrown out, but so is a fair bit of institutional memory, and the city isn’t getting fresh blood in exchange.
Nope, just the same gang who got us to where we are today, to a place where housing affordability is causing both misery and brain drain while income inequality grows more urgent every day.
In this council’s Toronto, no form of transportation will get anyone anywhere on time – and pedestrians might not get to their destinations at all, since the Vision Zero plan to eliminate deaths has so far been nothing but lip service.
On Monday afternoon, I went to York South-Weston, where Lekan Olawoye was making his second attempt at winning a council seat. His first try was in 2014, when he lost to Frank Di Giorgio – an incumbent of three decades – by just 1,300 votes.
Now an executive at MaRS Discovery District, Mr. Olawoye previously spent three years running a youth centre in the ward before moving there with his wife and children. Soon after, he decided he wanted to represent its residents in municipal government in order to address issues such as lack of employment opportunities, scarce daycare and poor transit.
“Our community desperately needs leadership, definitely needs a fresh start," Mr. Olawoye said as he walked up and down hilly, snaking side streets, trying to ensure that those who had promised him their vote actually made it to the polls. "People at the doors remember, four years ago, how close we came, and they feel excited about the prospects.”
His campaign was tight, run by former provincial Liberal staffers, drawing more than 100 volunteers on weekends and attracting enough donations for him to put his face on a giant billboard at Keele Street and Eglinton Avenue West.
Mr. Olawoye is energetic, smart and serious – and he lost. The lion’s share of the votes went to Frances Nunziata, another three-decade veteran, and Mr. Di Giorgio, who still got knocked out.
The same fate was shared by a slew of other promising candidates across the city, such as Amber Morley of Etobicoke-Lakeshore. She also ran hard, ultimately finishing second to 15-year veteran Mark Grimes.
Last week, when it seemed Mr. Grimes was in trouble, newly re-elected mayor John Tory decided to give him a late-in-the-game endorsement, complete with robocalls.
The result is another veteran staying in his seat while a young biracial woman loses. As expected, the shortened, chaotic campaign season and reduced size of council also reduced the chances that different types of Torontonians might access political power. Perhaps council’s first agenda item should be changing the city’s motto, because “diversity our strength” is a joke, one so funny it hurts.
Council remains extremely male, extremely white and extremely middle-aged-to-old, seemingly the exact opposite of the public it’s tasked with representing – and has been doing an unimpressive job representing for decades. They’re still driving the ship toward a “fiscal iceberg” – about $30-billion in costs over the next decade are without a funding plan – even as corporations and developers reap the riches that are clearly here, just reserved for a chosen few.
There are ways we could fix this: different balloting systems, term limits, making better provisions for cities in Canada’s constitution. Maybe a sustained, real effort to increase voter turnout; this year, as always, a sizeable number of candidates won with much less than 50 per cent of the vote.
Clearly, though, the political will isn’t there. Why would it be, when all of the same people keep winning?
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column used the wrong first name for Councillor Mark Grimes.