The latest mayor resigned after having an affair with his staff.
The mayor before him was stripped of his powers after he admitted to smoking crack cocaine.
It would seem that being mayor of Toronto, one of North America’s four largest cities, would come with a lot of baggage, not to mention its crumbling public transportation system, rising homelessness, and sporadic violent crime.
Instead, 102 candidates are on the ballot to lead the city, a record for Toronto, underscoring public discontent with the city’s leadership.
As voters in the city of three million – Canada’s most populous and its financial center – prepare to choose a mayor on Monday, Toronto is grappling with the litany of problems also facing other urban powers trying to bounce back from the pandemic.
For decades, Toronto has been known as “a functioning city”, lauded as an oiled machine for order and livability, with a robust inventory of affordable housing, an efficient transportation system and many other indicators of urban stability.
Now the city is in crisis after more than a decade of drastic and devastating budget cuts to social services withdrawal of tax support for housing in the 1990s from the highest levels of government.
The pandemic has exacerbated problems with lockdowns that have curtailed revenue streams for the city and with social distancing rules that have made it much more costly to run.
In February, the city’s former mayor, John Tory, resigned after admitting to an affair with a staffer, leaving the city’s deputy mayor, Jennifer McKelvie, in charge.
The next mayor will be tasked with turning the tide of the city and restoring the image of the office in one of its most difficult times. This election is seen by many as a fiscal austerity referendum by Toronto’s last two mayors, both Conservatives.
“The good news is this is turning into an election of change,” said Jennifer Keesmaat, a former chief planner who served under those mayors. “People say, that’s enough, you’ve had your chance with the low taxes and the low level of investment.”
Regardless of who is elected, the winner will face a large backlog of deferred maintenance that will eat up a significant share of the city’s revenue and run into a budget shortfall of more than C$1 billion.
The leading candidate in some polls is Olivia Chow, a veteran leftist politician, who lost to Mr. Tory in 2014 and announced a plan to address affordable housing by having the city build and acquire more units. Vowing to “build a Toronto that’s thoughtful, affordable, and safe,” she’s proposed raising property taxes, without saying by how much.
But The Toronto Star, the city’s largest newspaper, and the former mayor, Tory, backed Ana Bailão, a longtime councilor whom the paper called a “pragmatic centrist”. Ms. Bailão said she will keep property taxes low in a city that already has among the lowest in the province of Ontario.
Divestment in city services has increased with former Mayor Rob Ford’s populist call to halt what he called the “gravy train” at City Hall. Years of austerity budget by his successor, Mr. Tory, followed. Both mayors appealed to voters who believed Toronto had done too much for downtown residents and not enough for the city’s outlying regions.
Mr Ford, whose four-year term ended with an admission that he smoked crack cocaine, has found ways to cut the budget Millions of dollarsincluding by changing service levels for a wide range of city services and cutting city jobs.
Among the problems that most exasperate Toronto residents is the lack of affordable housing. The average rent in Toronto has hit a record high of more than CAD 3,000 a month, according to a recent relationship by Urbanation, a real estate analysis company. And the city has a subsidized housing waiting list that is now 85,000 families deep.
The issue has become such a third rail that among the 102 candidates, none has stepped forward to be the voice of the small faction of affluent residents who oppose affordable housing developments that boost density.
Activists say bold policies, such as rezoning some major highways to increase density and reduce fees and taxes on affordable housing developers, are needed to offset the limited construction of subsidized housing projects in Canada in the last 25 years.
“We are so spectacularly behind in our housing supply,” Ms Keesmaat said. “Fiddling on the fringes is not going to be how we house the next generation.”
The affordable housing crisis has been exacerbated by the surge in population, which grew by a record-breaking one million people as Canada raised its immigration targets. Most of the new arrivals landed in Toronto and surrounding suburbs.
The city also saw an influx of refugees entering homeless shelters last month, dropping from 530 in less than two years ago to 2,800.
Ms. Chow has proposed addressing affordable housing by having the city act as its developer to build 25,000 rent-controlled homes over the next eight years, as well as by purchasing properties of market value and letting non-profits manage them. .
Liberal voters are divided on how to tackle the city’s problems, and the sheer number of candidates, including a handful of big names in local politics, threatens to splinter the vote to the center and right of the political spectrum.
At Ms Chow’s first campaign rally, a week before the election, her supporters barely filled half of a banquet space in a commercial plaza in a neighborhood that is a stronghold for liberal voters.
“I’m not very impressed with the turnout today,” said Warren Vigneswaran, 76. He said he was on the fence about whether to vote for Ms Chow, worried her property taxes would go up. “But she’s a leading candidate and her policies are better than anyone,” he added.