Taking Stock of Toronto's 2023 Mayoral Candidates

Ryan Kelpin

After nine years of John Tory’s rule as mayor, Toronto is preparing for an election that will essentially be a referendum on Tory and his political allies.

Toronto’s social services and infrastructure continue to decline, TTC fares keep going upas quality and quantity of service get worse, and the response to inequality and homelessness has been police violence.

There are three general camps the nearly-50 mayoral candidates can be grouped in.

First, there is a large contingent of status quo candidates who aim to consolidate the Tory and Ford austerity that has dominated for years. This includes former chief of police Mark Saunders, Tory’s former campaign manager Ana Bailão, and the city councillor who says he will be like John Tory but “faster,” Brad Bradford.

Then there are fringe far-right candidates like former Toronto Sun columnist Anthony Furey.

And there are a few centrists and a few progressives, including councillor Josh Matlow, 2022 mayoral candidate Chloe Brown, and Olivia Chow, who used to be a city councillor and NDP MP. Some progressive voters worry these candidates could split the vote on the centre-left. It’s not clear who of these are the most popular or strongest candidates during the early phases of the campaign.

The reality is that the business as usual is not working for most Torontonians. Conservatives have governed the amalgamated city for 20 of its 26 years and their response in this election is that we need to double down on what has fundamentally not worked.

What we need is fresh faces and bold ideas of a progressive nature, bolstered by a demand that Toronto should benefit all of its citizens. City Hall should invest in infrastructure and services that benefits more than just car commuters and should not treat policing as an untouchable pedestal in the budget.

The new mayor will have the strong mayor powers, which were negotiated in secret by Tory and Ford. We deserve a candidate that will not utilize these anti-democratic powers. But, recognizing that whoever is elected may use them, the stakes in this election are high.

Brad Bradford

Positions on the Issues

  • Voted to cut TTC budget and other social services while raising the police budget

  • Supports the Gardiner Expressway project which will cost 44% of the city’s transportation budget until 2030

  • Voted in favour of violently clearing homeless encampments, and against opening more warming centres

  • Supports Ontario Place private spa project and campaign team features a lobbyist for Therme Spa

  • Political ally of John Tory, described himself as being like Tory but “faster”

  • Strong proponent of using strong mayor powers to override council which he deems “inefficient”

His Team

  • A who’s who of corporate management and lobbying, including advisors from Navigator (public relations), Strategy Corp (which is lobbying to privatize Ontario Place for the Therme spa), along with former and current banking and real estate execs. His digital campaign is headed by right-winger Jeff Ballingall from Ontario Proud, which was also involved in Pierre Poilievre’s Conservative leadership campaign

The Bottom Line

  • He said it best: Tory, but faster

Ana Bailão

Positions on the Issues

  • Repeatedly voted to cut TTC services while raising fares

  • Voted and advocated for raising police budgets alongside cuts to social services

  • Supports Gardiner Expressway project but, like Tory unsuccessfully tried already, wants to convince province to pay for it

  • Instrumental in passing the vacant homes tax, which taxes real estate speculators who leave units empty

  • Voted for violently clearing encampments

  • Seemingly an advocate for the use of strong mayoral powers

Her Team

  • Features multiple campaign heads of Tory’s from 2014 and 2022. Campaign run by Nick Kouvalis, right-wing strategist and formerly advisor to Tory and Chief of Staff to Doug Ford.

The Bottom Line

  • She’s the former head of Tory’s campaign and voted with him 92% of the time. Like Brad, running on a platform of change, but has been part of the problem and isn’t proposing real changes

Mark Saunders

Positions on the Issues

  • As former Toronto Chief of Police, fought to protect the racist practice of carding, and blamed the LGBTQ+ community for the poor police investigation into serial killer Bruce McArthur

  • Refused to debate and sidelined the media during his 2022 provincial election campaign with the PCs

  • Directly responsible for ballooning police budgets

  • Was appointed and paid by the Ford government to push the effort to turn Ontario Place into a large private spa

  • Supports strong mayor powers, which is scary when combined with his personal and career links to the police

His Team

  • Includes former campaign advisors to conservative leaders Erin O’Toole, Stephen Harper and Doug Ford

The Bottom Line

  • He’s has been in a position of power through nearly everything that has been wrong with Toronto policing and overall municipal budget priorities. A Saunders win would mean unlimited power for the police, which Toronto does not need

Josh Matlow

Positions on the Issues

  • Considering canceling Gardiner Expressway rebuild and moving money to other transportation needs

  • Has advocated for cutting the police budget, now calls for holding it at its current level, not increasing it for inflation in the future

  • Proposes increasing property tax for the purpose of funding declining infrastructure and social services starved by decades of austerity budgeting

  • Outspoken advocate against the violent encampment clearings, before, during, and after

  • Would push to cancel Ontario Place private spa by withholding the necessary city owned land Refuses to use strong mayor powers and was the most vocal advocate against Tory for secretly campaigning for them

His Team

  • Campaign advised by John Laschinger, who advised David Miller and Olivia Chow. Digital media and communications run by progressive Canadian artist Cadence Weapon (Rollie Pemberton)

The bottom line

  • Matlow opposed most of John Tory’s policies that made life worse for working class Torononians, for Tory’s whole tenure

Mitzie Hunter

Positions on the Issues

  • Has been a liberal MPP for 10 years, so views tend to reflect provincial Liberal Party

  • Used to be chief administrative officer of Toronto Community Housing, refers to herself as a “city builder” and voted to abolish the Ontario Municipal Board, which had allowed unelected bureaucrats to overrule Toronto’s planning policies

  • No clear position about the police budget,argues for greater role of social services in homelessness outreach

  • Was elected MPP as the self proclaimed “Subway Champion” for Scarborough, and was major supporter of Rob and Doug Ford’s subway project over the cheaper yet more effective LRT proposal

  • Has vowed not to use strong mayor powers

Her Team

  • Multiple advisors from Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal administration and veteran Liberal strategist John McKenna

The Bottom Line

  • The centrist of the election – so far – and a popular candidate from the Scarborough suburbs. Will be interesting to see how she positions herself relative to Matlow and Bailão

Chloe Brown

Positions on the Issues

  • Opposed the violent encampment clearings, opposes the use of police in homelessness outreach

  • Would potentially cancel Gardiner Expressway rebuild

  • Not entirely clear about cutting police budget, but would expand role of social service workers in crime prevention and outreach

  • Would push to cancel the Ontario Place private spa project

  • Mixed messaging on using strong mayor powers

Her Team

  • Her 2022 campaign was very bare bones and 2023 appears to be similar

The Bottom Line

  • Campaign is based around “three big ideas” rooted in “people-centred approaches,” “cooperative leadership,” and sustainability, but not entirely clear what the actual progressive policies are that institutionalize these ideas

Olivia Chow

Positions on the Issues

  • Opposed violent encampment clearings and opposes use of police in homelessness outreach

  • Unclear on Gardiner Expressway rebuild project, was pro-rebuilding in 2013-2014

  • Not clear on cutting police budget, but has traditionally argued for a stronger role for social service workers and funding

  • Has advocated against Ontario Place private spa project

  • Was against formal strong mayor powers when running in 2014, would likely be the same now

Her Team

  • Includes established NDP and NDP-aligned voices

The bottom line

  • While billed by some as the great progressive hope, she lost to both Tory and Ford in the 2014 election despite them splitting the centre and right-wing votes

Celina Caesar-Chavannes

  • Caesar-Chavannes was elected as the Liberal MP for Whitby in 2015. In 2019, citing anti-Black racism and tokenization on the part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, she left the Liberals to sit as an Independent, and did not run for re-election
  • After her time in office she wrote the book Can You Hear Me Now? How I Found My Voice and Learned to Live with Passion and Purpose
  • Caesar-Chavannes’ election platform had not been published by press time. She has been critical of deploying more police into the TTC, and indicated she would use the strong mayor powers

Gil Penelosa (DROPPED OUT)

He finished second in the 2022 mayoral race and now endorses Chow

This article appears in the May/June 2023 Issue.