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Why Olivia Chow is the frontrunner to be Toronto’s next mayor

News

Barring major mistakes by the entire polling industry, Olivia Chow is poised to be the next mayor of Toronto on Monday night. A former Toronto city councillor and NDP MP, Chow is promising a “more affordable, safe and caring city,” and will be Toronto’s first officially progressive mayor since 2010 if elected. 

Outgoing mayor John Tory’s former deputy Ana Bailão, Toronto Sun columnist Anthony Furey, city councillors Brad Bradford and Josh Matlow, and former Toronto Police chief Mark Saunders are also running, but are all significantly trailing behind Chow.

While Chow has been the single-most popular candidate in the race since she entered it on April 17, critics say vote-splitting on the political centre and the Right will be the biggest reason for her likely victory. 

“You’ve got a big traffic jam of centrist candidates, at least six of them that have name recognition, and then you’ve got more populist candidates,” says Steve Lafleur. “The progressive faction has their candidate and the rest of the electorate is divided.”

A Hub contributor and Toronto-dwelling streetcar enthusiast, Lafleur says he planned to vote in advance, but after staring at the long lists of names on the ballot for over an hour, he will instead vote on Monday. Lafleur says it is not surprising that Chow is the frontrunner. 

A Mainstreet Research poll released on June 23 showed Chow was in the lead with 30 percent of those surveyed planning to vote for her, although Bailão was closing the gap at 22 percent. Tory had previously endorsed Bailão on June 21, while Premier Doug Ford endorsed Mark Saunders, who polled fourth at 12 percent.

There are 102 candidates in total, including former pyramid scheme orchestrator Xiao Hua Gong and the avowedly pro-canine candidate Toby Heaps, who was Ralph Nader’s U.S. presidential campaign manager in 2008. If Chow’s polling numbers are reflected in the votes cast on Monday, it will be the smallest percentage of a winner in any Toronto mayoral race since the city’s amalgamation in 1998.

The sheer number of candidates may be the only unifying theme of the byelection. Lafleur says Toronto is a combination of several different cities that were “smashed together” during the amalgamation, and thus have several different electorates with different priorities.

“If you live in North Etobicoke, you probably don’t have the same kind of transit issues I have as a streetcar rider. You probably don’t think as much about functional public toilets in public parks downtown,” says Lafleur. 

John Tory resigned in February when it emerged that the married and publicly-staid mayor had engaged in an affair with a staffer during the pandemic. Lafleur doesn’t view Monday’s contest as a change election, however, pointing out that the outgoing Tory is still polling well. 

“There isn’t necessarily a big appetite for change, but there’s also not a big fear of change, or at least it doesn’t look like it,” says Lafleur in reference to the large number of candidates running for mayor. 

Saeid Hashemi, a member of the Toronto New Liberals, a progressive neoliberal advocacy group calling for greater housing supply, says Toronto’s many issues make it unsurprising that Chow is leading the polls. 

“Given the city’s current challenges on various issues, such as cuts to transit service, budget shortfalls, mental health, and homelessness, voters are feeling frustrated,” says Hashemi. “Although there may be some vote splitting among different camps due to the large number of candidates, the shift in polls towards Chow is not entirely surprising.” 

Many opponents and critics of the frontrunner Chow have stated that the political Left is responsible for many of the problems facing Toronto, but Lafleur says voters are not stupid, and is unconvinced by that argument.

“Tory is the former leader of the Ontario PC party. We can play ‘no true Tory’ and…the reality is voters understand that the more conservative faction, or centre-right faction we’ll say, has been in charge,” says Lafleur. “Olivia Chow has not been anywhere near power for a very long time.” 

Chow last held public office in 2014, when she stepped down as a Toronto-area MP to unsuccessfully run against Tory when he won his first mayoral race. Tory himself was unsuccessful when he led the Ontario PCs between 2004 and 2009 and headed its disastrous showing in the 2007 provincial election. 

Considered a welcome break from the chaotic mayoralty of Rob Ford, Tory ended up overseeing a rise in crime, especially on the TTC, with attacks on the city’s public transit system drastically increasing during the last year of his mayoralty. 

Housing unaffordability in Toronto also skyrocketed, with rents rising over 21 percent between 2022 and 2023, and the monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment costing roughly $2500 last December. Additionally, there is widespread frustration over the declining effectiveness of the TTC and the snail pace of building new infrastructure in the city.

As mayor, Tory evolved from being a proponent of lower taxes to a supporter of tax hikes and displayed a willingness to adopt socially progressive causes, such as renaming Dundas Street in 2021 after its namesake, deceased since 1811, was accused post-mortem of delaying the abolition of the slave trade.

Anthony Koch, a Montreal-based Conservative commentator who travels frequently to Toronto for work and family reasons, says the only thing conservative about Tory was his name. 

“This was not a particularly conservative administration. He had a number of Liberals support him and endorse him,” says Koch. “The establishment Liberal class in Toronto love John Tory.” 

Koch unfavourably compares Tory to Montreal mayor Valerie Plante, who, while a progressive, took a far more hardline approach to public order, such as removing tent cities that sprung up during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says that conservatives have been bad organizers at the municipal level for a long time, which has contributed to Chow’s advantage in the polls. 

Regarding a unifying byelection campaign issue, Lafleur says that while law-and-order was a prominent issue when the mayoral race began, candidates proposing stricter measures to combat crime are not polling above 20 percent. While housing affordability has been a major problem in Toronto, Lafleur has not seen evidence that it is a ballot box issue for existing homeowners. 

“Frankly, I’ve been kind of disappointed by how unwilling a lot of candidates have been to really run on housing as an issue and I wonder if that speaks to the fact that maybe it isn’t as salient as I would like it to be,” says Lafleur. 

For better or worse, a new era is about to begin in Canadian journalism. Here’s what readers need to know

News

The government’s online news legislation became law this week likely setting off a summer-long staring contest between two tech titans and Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has already declared that news content will no longer be welcome on its platform as long as Bill C-18, which forces the tech companies to pay for any news content that appears in users’ feeds, is the law of the land.

Google has been slightly more circumspect about its next steps, although it has already run tests blocking certain news sites on Google News and has lodged strenuous complaints with the current state of the legislation.

With so much uncertainty, news junkies could be seeing the beginning of a new era of Canadian journalism, for better or for worse. Here’s what you need to know as the government gets to work on the regulations to accompany the legislation.

What to expect this summer

Facebook has already started blocking news content and vowed, as recently as April in an interview with The Hub that it would completely leave the market.

Critics of the bill have argued that, because it requires the tech companies to pay for every link on their platform, it essentially amounts to an unlimited liability.

“I think it is likely to be a tumultuous summer for those involved in the news industry. Unless the government backs off and puts a ceiling on Meta’s and Google’s liability we can expect to see a full shutdown of news links on their platforms by the end of the summer,” said Peter Menzies, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and former vice chair of the CRTC.

The legislation amounts to putting “a toll booth in front of every link for a news article,” said Kevin Chan, the global policy campaign strategies director at Meta, in an interview with The Hub in April.

“You can see why quickly that becomes untenable for us because we can’t control who puts it on the platform,” said Chan. “And so if we’re up against a rock and a hard place then we’re going to have to get out of the market.”

It’s not a ‘panacea’

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has said often that he doesn’t see this bill as a “panacea” to solve all the problems in the journalism industry.

The government has announced a bevy of initiatives intended to help media outlets, including a tax credit on labour costs, a tax credit for Canadians who subscribe to qualifying publications, and grants for local journalism.

Even experts who generally support Bill C-18 agree that it is, at best, a temporary solution or a single piece of a larger puzzle.

“The status quo where hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing from two private companies to some journalistic actors via contracts that are hidden behind NDAs is not a tenable situation,” said Taylor Owen, an associate professor and director of the Centre for Media Technology and Democracy at McGill University.

“As a citizen, I would like to know something more about the money that’s going from one single or two corporate actors to support through huge grants,” said Owen.

Where do we go from here?

The range of possible outcomes goes from Big Tech essentially banning news, to a world where tech giants are funding one-third of the journalism in Canada.

Menzies said he expects some kind of compromise, with the government tweaking the legislation through regulations.

“Hopefully (Rodriguez) will finally concede that Bill C-18 is just shockingly poor legislation and make the amendments needed in the regulations,” said Menzies.

“The problem is, even if he does, once the current supports for ‘newspapers,’ like the Local Journalism Initiative and the labour tax credit, expire after this year, the major companies will have less money next year than they do now. It’s a mess,” said Menzies.

Owen predicted that the most likely outcome is that several more countries follow Canada’s lead on this legislation and the tech companies grudgingly accept the new status quo.

“That’s probably the reality I see, is reluctant acquiescence broadly to the terms of these pieces of regulation that are going to look a little bit different in each country, but are probably going to be applied to cumulative countries with a billion people in it,” said Owen.

“This is not an idiosyncratic Canadian debate. This is a global conversation about how we protect funding and resources to our journalism sector,” said Owen.