Toronto will soon decide who will be its next mayor, after revelations of an extramarital affair pushed the city’s long-time leader out of office. There is no shortage of candidates to choose from – in fact, a historic total of 102 names will be on the ballot, including Molly, the dog.
The six-year-old wolf-husky canine, and her owner Toby Heaps, are running on the promise to “Stop the Salt Assault” on city roads during the winter.
The overuse of salt on roads during the winter, Mr Heaps argued, can hurt the paws of tender-footed canines like Molly. His campaign also proposes a fix to housing unaffordability, a tax-hike on billion-dollar businesses and a ban on fossil-fuel heating systems in new homes and commercial buildings.
If he wins, he said he will designate Molly as the city’s first honorary dog mayor.
“I think city hall would make better decisions if there was an animal in the room,” he told the BBC.
But along with a desire for change, Mr Heaps said this election is an opportunity he simply could not afford to miss.
It is the first by-election in Toronto’s history since seven municipalities joined to form what is colloquially known as the “mega-city” 25 years ago. The contest was called after the resignation of John Tory, the city’s mayor for the past eight years.
Mr Tory’s rise to power in 2014 was seen as a welcome reprieve from the reign of Rob Ford, who made international headlines for admitting to smoking crack cocaine while in office.
But Mr Tory has been criticised for lacking a meaningful vision for Toronto, and for deepening inequality in one of the world’s most unaffordable cities. A Toronto Star column described him as “rarely inspirational and too often overly cautious”.
He is also blamed for overseeing a Toronto that is seemingly at a crisis point, especially as the city continues to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Many have pointed to an increase in gun violence, homelessness, housing prices and violence on public transit during his tenure.
Despite these criticisms, Mr Tory was elected three times – the most recent being in October 2022. Only a few dozen people had challenged him then, as he was seen as a shoo-in for re-election.
That is, until a scandal of his own forced him out of office a few months later.
A February article in the Toronto Star revealed the 68-year-old married mayor had an affair with a 31-year-old staffer during the Covid-19 pandemic. He resigned a few days after it was published.
With him out of the picture, the upcoming by-election on 26 June is “a wide open race,” said Nelson Wiseman, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Toronto.
“The difference between last time and this time is we don’t know who is going to win,” Prof Wiseman said.
The barrier for entry into the race is remarkably low. A fee of C$250 ($189) and 25 signatures is all a Torontonian needs to run for mayor. Unlike other large North American cities – namely New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – candidates do not run according to political party lines, which means there is no nomination process that would whittle down the pool.
Karen Chapple, the director of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto, said that with the field wide open, some are attracted to run just to see if they have a shot.
“There’s kind of a gamblers aspect to it, kind of a Las Vegas aura,” she told the BBC.
Coupled with the consistently low voter turnout in Toronto’s mayoral elections, this means that most successful candidates already need a fair bit of name recognition.
The front-runner of the race is Olivia Chow – the political opposite of John Tory, who has served in public office since 1992 and is the widow of Jack Layton, the most celebrated leader in the history of Canada’s left-leaning New Democratic Party. Many of her opponents are former city councillors, with their own profiles in the community.
But the breadth and diversity of candidates this time around – from Molly the dog to an 18-year-old fresh out of high school – tells a story of how fragmented the city has become, Ms Chapple said.
With a population of nearly three million, including many newcomers and immigrants, Toronto is the fourth-largest city in North America and consistently cited as one of the most diverse cities in the world. But with all those people from different walks of life, comes different perspectives on what kind of city Toronto should be.
Some are able to afford the city’s staggering real-estate market, while others rent basement flats with roommates. There are commuters who live in the city’s outer limits battling daily traffic and downtown dwellers jostling for space on the subway. Those different views are reflected in the pool of candidates. Former police chief Mark Saunders has promised to increase the city’s police budget to tackle crime, while Ms Chow has focused her pledges on Toronto’s housing crisis, promising to build homes on city-owned land.
“You’re seeing sort of a reflection and microcosm of what Toronto is as a city,” Ms Chapple said.
Meanwhile, Chloe Brown, a young policy analyst who has spent the bulk of career working with underserved communities, has bluntly stated that “Toronto does not need more policing,” promising instead to fund mental health supports.
Experts and candidates have said that having more than 100 candidates on the ballot could both be a positive and a negative thing.
For one, it ensures that a range of perspectives are heard and included.
But on the other hand, Ms Chapple said it also means that Toronto’s next mayor will likely be decided by a very small percentage of the population.
“You could have a situation where you could have an extreme minority essentially making decisions for the city,” she said.
With so much competition, Mr Heaps – Molly’s owner – said he is aware that he may not become Toronto’s next mayor. His decision to run, he said, was born out of a conversation with his seven-year-old son.
“I said, ‘Okay, well you know there is a good chance we might not win. How would you feel then?'” Mr Heaps recalled.
“He said, ‘I’d be mad, I’d be sad, but I’d be happy that you tried’.”
“That was good enough for me.”
Source : BBC