The news came fast Friday night. Following revelations by the Toronto Star that John Tory had an inappropriate relationship with a former staffer, the mayor promptly called a press conference in which he admitted to the affair, apologized, and resigned, leaving the city stunned. It was a dramatic turn of events for a mayor who swept the October election with 62 percent of the vote, and whose bland-but-steady image propelled him to power in 2014 in the wake of the tumultuous Rob Ford years. So, what happens now?
By-election no sooner than May 1
Without getting into the nerdy details of the City of Toronto Act, Municipal Elections Act, and Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act (all of which have something to say about the protocol for a by-election), the earliest possible date Torontonians will head to the polls is Monday, May 1. More likely, however, the by-election will be held later in May, if not June.
Jennifer McKelvie will be interim mayor
Once Tory files his official resignation papers with the city clerk (Tory has not given any indication about exactly when he’ll leave), deputy mayor Jennifer McKelvie will take over as interim mayor. The city councillor for Ward 25 — Scarborough-Rouge Park was first elected in 2018, and re-elected last October with 72 percent of the vote. McKelvie is a strong Tory ally, so expect more of the same from the mayor’s office in terms of policies on various issues. Between 2018 and 2022, McKelvie voted with Tory 97 percent of the time.
Uncertainty surrounding the 2023 budget
Depending on when the handover of power takes place, McKelvie could be the one presiding over the 2023 budget, which is scheduled to be voted on at a special city council meeting on February 15. The budget was hand-crafted by Tory using his “strong mayor” powers, and advocates say it over-funds the police and doesn’t do enough to address the city’s long-standing problems. Council can vote to amend the budget, but “strong mayor” powers mean that Tory (or McKelvie, depending on who is mayor) can veto those amendments, and council needs a two-thirds majority to override any of those vetos.
With a strong mayor suddenly weakened, left-leaning councillors might feel emboldened to fire big shots at the budget and push for amendments. However, getting any amendments through will still take a majority, and the left is outnumbered on council by most counts. Even if they’re successful at doing that, the mayor can veto, and they won’t have the two-thirds needed to override.
The race for the next mayor
Tory’s resignation sets up a wide open race for mayor, the first without an incumbent since 2014, when Tory faced off against Doug Ford and Olivia Chow. Nothing has come close to that level of competitiveness since. In October, Tory won by a landslide, victorious in every ward, and cruising to a third term with a 44 percent vote margin over second-place finisher, Gil Penalosa.
Tory’s popularity heading into the recent election definitely had a “scare-off effect” on prospective candidates, dissuading big name challengers from running. With the absence of an incumbent, and strong mayor powers fully in place this time around, we can expect (or hope for) exciting candidates to throw their hat into the ring for a chance at being big city boss for the next four years.
Interestingly, a progressive mayor stands to benefit most from the new mayoral powers concocted by Tory and Doug Ford in late 2022. The minority rule provision within Bill 39 (Better Municipal Governance Act) grants the mayor the ability to propose by-laws, if deemed to advance a provincial priority, that require only one-third of council votes to pass. It means that a progressive mayor in alliance with the nine or so progressive councillors has the numbers to make big moves, despite not having a majority—a plot twist neither Tory nor Ford would have anticipated before Friday.
Barely 48 hours after Tory’s shocking announcement, former 2022 candidates Gil Penalosa and Blake Acton have already indicated they’ll run in the by-election, while potential big-name mayoral hopefuls both inside and outside City Hall mull over whether to jump into the race. It’s much too early to speculate who the frontrunners might be—time will tell. Stay tuned!