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Toronto mayoral candidate John Tory speaks during a debate at city hall in Toronto, Monday, May 26, 2014.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

John Tory has taken the lead in the race for Toronto mayor, with Rob Ford trailing in third place one week after returning from rehab, according to a new poll that identifies public transit as the issue of interest to the most voters.

The Nanos Research poll commissioned by the Ontario Convenience Stores Association found that if Toronto voters went to the ballot box today the reults would be:

  • 39.1 per cent for John Tory
  • 32.7 per cent for Olivia Chow
  • 21.7 per cent for Rob Ford
  • Less than 5 per cent for both Karen Stintz and David Soknacki.

The poll was conducted in the days after the mayor returned from a two-month leave to get treatment for his drug and alcohol abuse. The survey contacted 600 Toronto residents by telephone between July 2 and July 5.

The findings were released late Monday, at the beginning of a week of council meetings for Mr. Ford and as he attempts to position himself as the best candidate to control spending at city hall, based on his record over the past four years.

What do Torontonians care about?

Mr. Ford entered the council chamber for the first time on Monday for a special meeting to select two new councillors to fill seats left vacant by incumbents who won elections at the provincial and federal level. Mr. Ford sat quietly through the day-long session.

"He's been on good behaviour so far," Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong told reporters halfway through the day.

Mr. Ford did not take questions from reporters as he travelled between his office and the council meeting, but his brother and campaign manager Councillor Doug Ford characterized the choice for voters as one between Mr. Tory, who represents "the elite," and the mayor who represents "the common folk."

The poll results indicate the real battle is shaping up between Ms. Chow and Mr. Tory, and that the mayor could face problems growing his support. When survey respondents were asked who is their second choice, John Tory and Olivia Chow supporters were most likely to name the other front runner rather than Mr. Ford.

"Rob Ford has little growth potential at this time given that he is not the second preference for many supporters of either top two contenders," the poll concludes.

Mr. Ford's support is strongest among men under 30 years of age and is lower among women, it found.

The poll also asked respondents what issues mattered to them the most. Public transit was the top issue for 34.8 per cent; high property taxes was next most important (17.1 per cent); followed by the local economy (16.4 per cent) and traffic (14.1 per cent).

The random telephone survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.