TORONTO — Voters in Toronto head to the polls Monday to elect their next mayor, with a record 102 candidates to choose from.
Whoever ends up leading the city will have to deal with a nearly $1-billion budget shortfall, a housing affordability crisis and aging public infrastructure, among other issues. Ahead of byelection day, The Canadian Press spoke to residents across the city to get a sense of the issues they most want to see addressed.
Here is what they said:
Kliadres moved to Canada from Cyprus four decades ago, raised a family, worked at a Toronto hospital for years and is now retired.
But at 72, she said she’s having a hard time making ends meet.
“We can’t afford vegetables and healthy food,” she said, pointing to her grocery bag in her hand as she stood outside a shopping mall in Flemingdon Park, a neighbourhood in east Toronto.
“I am retired, the pension that I get is not enough, not even for the rent.”
Kliadres criticized politicians for not doing enough to support residents as the cost of living in the city skyrockets. She said she hoped the next mayor would take action to lower the cost of housing and groceries.
Kliadres also said she hopes the next mayor fights the province’s plan to relocate the Ontario Science Centre – not far from her home – to a revamped Ontario Place on the city’s waterfront. The science centre belongs to her neighbourhood, she said, and should remain accessible to local residents.
Chant lives and works in downtown Toronto and wants whoever becomes mayor to address the gridlock plaguing the area.
Traffic congestion, which was bad to begin with, has been getting worse, he said, and public transit is “under strain.”
“It’s just pointless. You’re better off walking,” he said of the traffic in his area, noting that one reason he lives downtown is so he doesn’t have to drive to work.
The next mayor should work on plans to jumpstart a downtown relief transit line, said Chant, who is a lawyer. He also hopes whoever helms the city encourages multimodal transportation systems that accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, cars and transit.
The new mayor should also adopt policies that allow density across the city to address the housing shortage, while funding programs aimed at helping those in need, Chant said.
“If you want to live in a great city, then you have to pay for that,” he said.
Public safety and unaffordability are the two main issues Hamarakis wants the next mayor to address.
“Safety is a huge one – going on the bus, travelling around, being on the streets, shopping, anything,” said the 48-year-old who lives in the east-end region of Scarborough.
The rising cost of living is another major challenge for many city residents, he said.
“You can’t afford housing, can’t afford food,” Hamarakis said. “You need somebody that is going to focus on safety and finances and money.”
Hamarakis added that he would also like to see the much-delayed Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit project finally open to the public.
“That has been going on way too long,” he said
Barrett wants the next mayor to not raise taxes, saying living in the city is already expensive enough.
“That is a big concern that many people are having,” said the 83-year-old who lived in the west-end area of Etobicoke.
“Some people cannot afford that.”
Barrett said she was worried about rising poverty in the city, especially among children.
“They are our future, and they have to be looked after,” she said. “That is the most important thing to feed the people, house (them).”
McPhee said the cost of housing in Toronto is a major problem the next mayor needs to take action on.
“I can’t afford to buy a house,” the 48-year-old Scarborough resident said.
“Taxes are obviously out of control,” he added.
McPhee said many residents who rent are being taken advantage of by landlords who raise rents while services decline.
“Everything is out of control here … it doesn’t matter who you vote for,” he said, adding he likely wouldn’t cast a ballot. “People are stressed out.”
Burrell, who lives in the High Park area, west of the city core, said tackling traffic needs to be one of the top priorities for the next mayor.
“Traffic is a huge thing,” said Burrell, 41, a provincial government employee.
“It is a huge drain on people’s mental wellness and it is a huge drain on just time and all of that stuff for the overall functioning of the city.”
The next mayor also needs to ensure Toronto remains a diverse city where people of all backgrounds can thrive, she said.
“The best thing about Toronto is that everybody is welcome here and we all belong here,” she said, as her one-year-old child played by her side.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2023.
Sharif Hassan, The Canadian Press