TORONTO — Josh Matlow opened his campaign to lead Canada’s most populous city with an unorthodox, but arguably bold, political move: a pledge to raise taxes.
The former actor entered politics after working as an environmental activist, ultimately winning a seat on Toronto’s city council in 2010. He has over the past 13 years become known as one of the council’s leading progressive voices.
As he entered the race to succeed John Tory, who resigned suddenly in February after admitting to an affair with a staffer, Matlow told voters that if elected he planned to raise their property taxes by two per cent.
He told The Canadian Press he wanted to be straightforward with voters, and not conceal the reality of dealing with the city’s estimated $1 billion budget deficit.
“Anyone who is mayor is going to have to both be efficient with the budget we have, and is going to have to get real about raising the revenue,” Matlow said in an interview.
“I’d rather just be upfront about it and begin the conversation with Torontonians about what it will take to manage this budget and to fix the services that have declined for too many years. The challenges are too important to be timid about,” he added, noting that his proposed tax hike amounted to an additional $67 per year for each homeowner.
Kate Graham, who teaches at Western University’s Local Government Program, credited Matlow for being direct, stressing that property taxes in Toronto are likely to go up regardless of who wins the election.
His proposal was an example of a “bold position to take,” she said.
Matlow served as a trustee on the Toronto District School Board before being elected to serve Toronto-St. Paul’s, a central city ward, on council.
Beyond the tax hike, he has put forward plans to invest in rent-controlled and affordable housing units, policies aimed at addressing Toronto’s housing shortage crisis.
He has also supported a new levy on commercial parking lots, funds he says he would use to invest in climate initiatives and public transit.
In the early phases of the campaign, some pundits speculated that Matlow could earn support from voters seeking a shift towards more progressive governance in a city led by a right-of-centre mayor through most of its recent history.
But then Olivia Chow, a prominent former federal lawmaker and long-standing figure in the left-wing New Democratic Party, entered the race.
Polls in recent weeks have consistently given Chow a commanding lead ahead of the June 26 vote.
Matlow told The Canadian Press that the ideas he has argued for through the campaign “are not just to win an election.”
“They’re there to support our city, and to be able to govern effectively,” he said. “I told my team from day one that no matter what happens, I want us to be really proud of this campaign.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 20, 2023.
This profile is part of a series by The Canadian Press looking at leading candidates in Toronto’s mayoral byelection. Candidates were chosen based on polling and their participation in mayoral debates.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Kiernan Green, The Canadian Press