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A look at the seven candidates leading the race to be Toronto’s next mayor

Toronto residents will elect a new mayor today, four months after former leader John Tory admitted to having an affair with a staffer and stepped down from the city’s top job. 

Voters heading to the polls will face a crowded ballot with a record 102 candidates to pick from. Here is a look at seven candidates who have emerged as the top contenders ahead of byelection day: 

Olivia Chow

Chow has maintained a steady, commanding lead in the polls for most of the campaign, and her front-runner status has made her a target for most other leading candidates in the race.

Chow has long been a fixture of Toronto’s progressive left – she became a school board trustee in 1985, served 12 years on city council and eventually became a New Democrat parliamentarian alongside her late husband and former federal NDP leader Jack Layton. 

She was unsuccessful in a bid for Toronto mayor in 2014, when she fell from an early top position to a distant third. She has said the difference this time around is she’s being her authentic self and trusting her political vision. 

Some of the 66-year-old’s notable achievements include supporting an anti-homophobia curriculum in the 1980s, helping bring nutrition programs to Toronto schools in the ’90s and fighting against exploitative immigration consultants in the 2000s. She has run an organization to train community organizers for much of the last decade.

Her current campaign is leading with a pledge to get the city back into social housing development and an annual $100 million investment in a program to purchase affordable homes and transfer them to non-profits and land trusts. She also wants to expand rent supplements to 1,000 homes and boost the number of 24/7 respite homeless shelters – promises funded by an expanded land transfer tax on homes purchased for $3 million and above.

Chow has not delivered a fully costed platform and, despite repeated questions from critics, will not say how high she would raise property taxes, though she’s said any increase would be modest.

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Ana Bailão

Bailão rose to prominence as the affordable housing committee chair after being elected to Toronto city council in 2010. Considered a low-profile appointment at the time, the issue of housing grew larger in the city and brought Bailão into the political spotlight.

The daughter of a construction worker and a seamstress, Bailão immigrated from Portugal at age 15 and grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in the Davenport ward she would later represent. 

She’s positioned herself on the campaign trail as a pragmatic consensus builder — backed by seven city councillors, nine Liberal parliamentarians and former mayor Tory — who helped elevate affordable housing into a defining issue in the byelection. 

Her critics, however, label her as a maintainer of a broken status quo as Toronto grows increasingly unaffordable and record numbers of people go unhoused.

Bailão opted not to seek re-election as a councillor in 2022 and took a job with a large Toronto developer as its head of affordable housing and public affairs. 

Her return to politics has seen her inherit some of the personnel and policies of Tory’s administration, including promises to keep taxes at or below the rate of inflation despite the city’s pandemic-ravaged finances.

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Mark Saunders

A cop for nearly 38 years and Toronto police chief from 2015 to 2021, Saunders positioned himself early in the campaign as a tough-on-crime candidate who could save the city from “out-of-control” lawlessness.

Born to Jamaican parents, Saunders immigrated to Canada from England as a child in 1967. After joining Toronto police out of high school, he was assigned to a range of divisions including the drug squad, emergency task force and homicide unit.

In 2015, he was appointed police chief, becoming the first Black person to head Canada’s largest municipal task force. 

Saunders cites his experience managing the police force’s more than $1-billion budget as proof he can manage city finances. He’s also the candidate of choice for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who recently put a Saunders campaign sign on his lawn. Saunders ran, and lost, in last year’s provincial election running under Ford’s Progressive Conservative banner. 

On the campaign trail, Saunders has pledged to increase the supply of housing by cutting down approval times, easing congestion by deprioritizing bike lanes on major streets and replacing supervised injection sites with treatment options to address drug use and homelessness.

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Josh Matlow 

A councillor for the riding of Toronto-St. Paul’s since 2010, Matlow has over the past 13 years undergone a transformation from centrist to one of city council’s leading progressive voices and critic of former mayor Tory. 

Matlow opened his campaign with the politically bold move of pledging to raise taxes. 

He said he wanted to be straightforward with voters about his plan to raise their property taxes by two per cent – which he says amounts to $67 per year – and not conceal the reality of dealing with the city’s nearly $1-billion budget deficit.

Beyond the tax hike, he has put forward plans to invest in rent-controlled and affordable housing units and reverse service cuts to public transit.

Before being elected to council, Matlow served as a trustee on the Toronto District School Board. 

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Mitzie Hunter

A former MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood, Hunter resigned from her provincial seat to run for mayor.

Hunter was one of the handful of Ontario Liberals to hang onto their seat after the majority government was defeated in 2018, a success she repeated in 2022 despite the failures of her party overall. 

She has served as minister of education, minister of advance education and skills development and associate minister of finance.

A champion of Scarborough, Hunter grew up in the east-end region of Toronto after her family moved to Canada from Jamaica when she was three years old.

Hunter released what she said is a fully costed platform earlier on the campaign trail, focusing on six priority areas including affordable housing and renter protection, and improving city and public transit services. 

She has said those improvements would be, in part, funded by a property tax increase of six per cent and below three per cent for households with income below $80,000.

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Brad Bradford

Bradford captured the public’s attention at several moments throughout the campaign with the birth of his second daughter and an anecdote about his “best friend Paul” living in his basement – a story he used to illustrate issues of housing affordability in the city.

Bradford, who has a background in urban planning, was elected to represent Beaches-East York in 2018. Former mayor Tory later assigned Bradford some plum roles, including naming him to executive council. 

Following his re-election to council in the 2022 municipal election, Bradford was named chair of the city’s planning and housing committee.

Bradford’s direct style, including his campaign slogan – “less talk and more action” – was inspired by what he said was a desire to get things done at city hall. 

He says affordability, transit and safety concerns of young families in the city are issues he understands firsthand. 

Bradford has a four-point plan to curb violence on the city’s transit system, a program to boost small businesses and has called for the lifting of a ban on recreational drinking in city parks. 

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Anthony Furey

Furey, a conservative columnist, wasn’t considered a prominent contender for much of the campaign and wasn’t invited to earlier mayoral debates, but he rose in the polls to find a spot among the leading contenders. 

He is currently on leave from his role as a fellow at True North, a far-right digital media platform. He’s known for being a former Toronto Sun columnist, with his commentary over the years including pieces criticizing measures to prevent spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic and scrutinizing elements of Islam.

Furey styles himself as a city hall outsider and has focused heavily on issues of crime, addiction, increased costs of living and Toronto’s nearly $1-billion budget deficit.

He’s suggested diverting funds from the city’s climate action program and putting them into hiring 500 additional police officers, among other measures. 

Furey has also pledged to phase out safe injection sites and replace them with treatment centres, as well as to put “families and children first” by clearing park encampments, which he says are “causing lawlessness and disorder.”

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This report by The Canadian Press was published June 26, 2023. 

Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press


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