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‘I have never been more optimistic about this city’s future’: John Tory wins third term as Toronto’s mayor


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‘I have never been more optimistic about this city’s future’: John Tory wins third term as Toronto’s mayor

John Tory is on course to become Toronto’s longest-serving mayor after he breezed to victory and secured a third term in Monday’s municipal election.

It was the climax of a six-month campaign that never looked competitive and ultimately wasn’t close. With 1,519 of 1,535 polls reporting and 550,076 votes counted, Tory had a crushing 62 per cent of the vote. Gil Penalosa trailed in a distant second with 18 per cent.

At Tory’s election-night party at the Fairmont Royal York, a luxury hotel downtown, the crowd of a few hundred supporters let out a modest cheer as the results were announced on a big-screen TV just 20 minutes after most polls closed at 8 p.m. Tory said he had asked the gathering be kept low-key to reflect the ongoing challenges Toronto is facing.

In a victory speech that emphasized themes of optimism and unity, the 68-year-old mayor thanked voters for giving him a “strong mandate” for the next four years and said he was confident that under his “experienced leadership” the city would get through post-pandemic uncertainty “and come out stronger the other side.”

“In fact, I have never been more optimistic about this city’s future, and you should be optimistic too,” he said.

Tory predicted that when his term is finished, even marginalized citizens “will be able to feel a real sense of progress and hope on jobs and on transit and on housing.”

“I’ll be in the office first thing tomorrow morning, working for you,” he said to the crowd, which erupted in applause when he reiterated his pledge to keep property tax increases below the rate of inflation.

Tory faced a field of 30 other candidates, but he was seen as such a formidable incumbent that after he announced his intention in March to seek a third term, potential high-profile challengers put their plans on ice. When registrations closed in August, he faced no big-name opposition.

Penalosa, a Colombian-born internationally respected urbanist, entered the race in July and released a series of eye-catching policy proposals, such as installing more than 90 km of bus lanes, cancelling the expensive rebuild of the elevated Gardiner Expressway, encouraging neighbourhood densification, and regularly giving over major streets to pedestrians and cyclists.

His vision of a “Toronto for Everyone” attracted progressive-leaning voters hungry for an alternative to Tory’s incremental conservatism but he lacked the name recognition and financial resources of the mayor.

In the back room of Annex mainstay bar Clinton’s, the dance floor buzzed as friends and supporters of Penalosa watched the results come in on CP24. As the loss was announced, some told the Star they had remained hopeful against the odds and at least felt, for a time, energized in the face of a bleak status quo.

“We changed the conversation. And that’s winning,” Penalosa said to applause after walking into the bar with his wife Claudia. After congratulating Tory, he noted that “all my ideas are available” to the mayor.

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Penalosa finished running through every ward in the city on Monday, the end of a 262-kilometre odyssey. But he will not be running again “ever” for elected office, he said, adding to cheers that this has been a “magnificent experience.”

He added: “I hope I will have contributed to moving people from hopeless to hopeful.”

With votes still to be counted, Chloe Brown was in third place in the mayor’s race with 6 per cent, followed by Blake Acton and Sarah Climenhaga, who each had less than 2 per cent. Turnout appeared to be significantly lower than in the 2018 election, which Tory won with a margin of 63.5 per cent.

First elected in 2014, the end of Tory’s second term was dominated by COVID-19. His handling of the crisis was generally praised but Tory acknowledged that the pandemic derailing his political agenda was a factor in his decision to run again after he’d previously suggested he’d step down after two terms.

His 2022 platform was thin on major new policy proposals: he promised to increase the tax discount for small businesses, prioritize the construction of a new waterfront park, and resist calls to reduce the police budget.

Instead, Tory pitched himself as the only candidate with the experience to navigate Toronto’s post-pandemic economic recovery and touted his record over the past eight years of co-operating with the federal and provincial governments to deliver Ontario’s $28.5-billion transit plan, and secure funding for badly needed community housing repairs.

In previous campaigns, Tory’s appeal rested largely on his potential to restore civility and competence to city hall after the scandal-racked administration of Rob Ford. But with the memory of those years fading, the challenges awaiting him in his third term already appear more daunting than anything he faced on previous election nights.

First among them is a pandemic-fuelled financial crisis that has blown a hole in the 2023 operating budget that’s estimated between $1.3 billion and $1.7 billion.

Meanwhile, housing costs continue to soar, and at-capacity shelters are turning people away. And in the final weeks of the election the deteriorating quality of municipal services — from overflowing litter bins to cancelled recreation programs — emerged as a campaign issue, a sign that many Torontonians believe their city is in decline.

In the coming term, Tory will have a suite of new tools at his disposal. The strong-mayor legislation the province passed in September will give him the ability to veto council decisions that impede provincial policy goals. He’ll also have the authority to table the annual budget and hire and fire senior city staff. Tory has promised to use the new powers sparingly.

Tory is the 65th mayor of Toronto and the fourth of the amalgamated megacity. Should he fulfil his next term, he’ll surpass Art Eggleton, who was in office 11 years, as Toronto’s longest-serving chief magistrate.

With files from Alyshah Hasham.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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