In February 2023, Toronto’s sitting mayor John Tory called a press conference to announce his surprise resignation, citing a longstanding clandestine affair with a staffer. The move shocked city hall watchers in Canada’s largest city – Tory was a well-liked centrist conservative who had just begun his third uneventful term as mayor.
His sudden departure plunged the city into a mayoral by-election at a crucial moment.
Toronto is Canada’s largest and most diverse city, with a population of 3 million. More than half of Torontonians are visible minorities, and 47% of the city's population immigrated to Canada.
In recent years housing costs in Toronto have skyrocketed, and wages aren’t keeping pace. It’s increasingly impossible for young people to find an apartment to rent, let alone a home to buy, in the city. Public transit is overcrowded and woefully underfunded, and violent crime has been on the rise.
The by-election fielded more than 100 candidates for mayor. Forces of the centre and centre right were divided, while the centre left coalesced around Olivia Chow, a well-known social democratic politician and organizer who had run for mayor and lost in 2014.
Chow was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada when she was 13. She was first elected as a school board trustee in 1985, served as a city councillor in Toronto from 1992 to 2005, and as the New Democratic Party Member of Parliament for Trinity—Spadina (a federal riding in Toronto) from 2006 to 2014. In addition to her own accomplishments, she is well known as the wife of the popular late NDP leader Jack Layton, who died in 2011.
Her campaign focused on housing affordability and targeted the half of the city who rents. Chow promised to boost rent supplements, build affordable housing, re-invest in public transit and expand mental health crisis supports to divert calls from the police. She did not release a fully costed platform during the campaign and declined to say by how much she would raise property taxes, saying only that any increase would be “reasonable”.
Torontonians were looking for change, and her offer and strong name recognition made her an immediate front-runner. Her team ran a disciplined campaign that focused on her strengths as a candidate – her personal story, connection to the realities of everyday people, and her no-nonsense ability to get things done.
On June 26th, Chow pulled off a close victory, winning by 30,000 more votes than the second-place finisher. Chow will be the first racialized mayor in Toronto’s history, and the third woman. Her shortened mandate goes until 2025 when she’ll face a general election. Her win offers progressives in Canada an important boost and a high-profile platform for the years to come on issues of critical importance to regular people.
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