Toronto Mayor John Tory easily won re-election on Monday, trouncing the city’s former planner after a campaign marked by unprecedented interference from the provincial government, but at least a dozen other communities were forced to extend voting by as much as a day due to technical or other difficulties.
Tory took about 63 per cent of the vote while his main rival, Jennifer Keesmaat, took about 23 per cent _ giving the incumbent mayor a far more significant victory than when he was first elected four years ago.
“That’s quite an evening isn’t it,” Tory, 64, joked in his victory speech, calling his mandate historic. “I want to acknowledge Jennifer Keesmaat, who brought ideas forward which I’m sure we’ll discuss in the coming days.”
In all, voters in more than 400 communities across Ontario cast ballots for their next municipal government after campaigns that had seen everything from legal battles to electoral reform. Entire councils in 26 municipalities were unopposed and were acclaimed.
In Toronto, Keesmaat and other critics had tried to paint Tory as weak and unwilling to stand up for the city after Premier Doug Ford slashed the number of council seats from 47 to 25 mid-race.
Tory countered by arguing he prefers a low-key approach that allows him to get on with upper levels of government and get things done. A total of 242 candidates vied for a spot on the city’s shrunken council.
Keesmaat was gracious in defeat, while still pushing some of her favourite themes.
“Mr. Tory has worked hard his whole life in political office, and I’m sure that our mayor will return to office determined to make his time there count,” Keesmaat said in her concession speech in which she thanked supporters. “We’ll eventually figure out ways for people to afford to live here.”
Four years ago, Tory took only 40 per cent of the popular vote when he edged out Ford, who finished in second place with 33 per cent. Ford went on to become Progressive Conservative leader earlier this year and became premier this summer.
Myer Siemiatycki, a professor of politics at Ryerson University, called Tory’s win “decisive,” saying he had only one real challenger this time as opposed to two in 2014. The right-of-centre Tory, however, will have to do more to win council to his side now, Siemiatycki said.
“This council will have a lot more opposition voices as it were to the mayor than the last council did,” Siemiatycki said. “It will be an interesting four years ahead _ it will test Mayor Tory’s conciliatory abilities and talents, which are there but didn’t reach across the aisle in his first term in office.”
In Brampton just northwest of Toronto, ousted Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown made good on his political comeback. Brown edged out incumbent Linda Jeffrey for mayor with close to 90 per cent of votes counted. He had been forced to step down from his post as leader of the provincial party in January amid sexual misconduct allegations he denies.
Elsewhere in Ontario, technical issues with online voting systems prompted a number of municipalities to extend their voting hours, some by as much as a day.
Five eastern-Ontario municipalities went so far as to declare an emergency over the state of the election, adding that voting would be open for an additional 24 hours in the Township of Laurentian Valley, City of Pembroke, Town of Petawawa, Town of Renfrew, and Township of Whitewater Region.
“We are joining numerous other municipalities in the province, to ensure that our electors get the opportunity to vote,” said a joint statement from the municipalities.
Other municipalities offering a 24-hour voting extension included those in Grey and Bruce counties using online voting, all communities in the Muskoka region, Bradford West Gwillimbury, and Greater Sudbury.
Other locales, such as Cambridge, Kingston, Prince Edward County and Pickering, offered more modest extension until later Monday night.
Results were also slow in coming from London, Ont., which became the first Canadian municipality to use ranked ballots in a local election _ an option no other municipality opted to try. The system allows voters to choose three candidates in order of preference.
Two other cities, Cambridge and Kingston, were holding votes on whether to adopt the ranked ballot system for the municipal election in 2022.
According to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, there were 6,645 candidates running in local council races across the province with 9.2 million people eligible to vote.
In spite of various municipalities’ different circumstances, many campaigns were connected by common threads. Hot button issues such as housing and accessible public transit were campaign issues in Toronto and smaller municipalities alike.