'Take this win and run with it': Tory's resounding victory an opportunity for bold action

John Tory has secured a second term as Toronto's mayor, besting his rival and former chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat after a wild election campaign.

Tory wins 2nd term as Toronto's mayor with 63.5% of the vote, trouncing chief rival

John Tory won a resounding victory in his bid for a second term as Toronto mayor. He has said he will not seek a third term. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

John Tory easily secured a second term as Toronto's mayor on Monday, resoundingly defeating his rival and former chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat after an unpredictable election campaign.

Tory took a whopping 63.5 per cent of the vote in a field of 34 candidates, a considerable increase from his 2014 showing when he managed 40 per cent of total votes in a crowded race that included Doug Ford, now the premier of Ontario. 

Similarly, while he lost large areas of north Etobicoke, Scarborough and three crucial downtown wards in 2014, this time around every corner of the city threw its support behind the 64-year-old, self-styled consensus-builder.

Tory's victory is the second-largest since Toronto amalgamated in 1998. Only former mayor Mel Lastman won with a bigger margin in 2000, when he took 80 per cent of votes. 

Polls throughout the campaign certainly pointed to a firm Tory victory on election night. However the final results suggest strong support for his agenda among voters.

'Historic mandate'

In a victory speech at a downtown Toronto hotel, Tory said his win amounts to a clear mandate.

"I want to say thank you to the people of Toronto for your confidence, for your support, for their inspiration, and for this historic mandate that they've given me tonight," he told the crowd, adding that he also wanted to thank his opponents. 

"It takes courage, it takes endurance to run a race this long," he said. 

Further, Tory said he'll get to work immediately on key issues facing the city, including building new transit and housing, and combating a recent surge in gun violence.

Now's the time to show some leadership and be bold and take some bold steps.- Mitchell Kosny, Ryerson University professor

"I heard the message loud and clear that we must do more to speed up the increase in supply of affordable housing so people from every single income group will be able to live here and work here," he said. 

"Over the next four years, my goal is to make sure no one anywhere in our city feels like opportunity is a distant point on the horizon. We must continue to be a city that is a place of hope for everyone, not a place where people lose hope."

His primary opponent in the race Keesmaat pulled some 23.5 per cent of the vote, surely to be a disappointing finish for the progressive challenger who tried to frame Tory's leadership as "timid" and ineffective.

She joined the race at the last minute, just one day after it was reported that Ontario's Progressive Conservative government would cut the number of councillors from 47 to 25. But her late entry meant she had little time to earn the trust of voters.

Keesmaat served as Toronto's city planner for five years, including three years under Tory himself. Her campaign ultimately failed to build momentum heading into election day. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

While her campaign ultimately failed to gain traction, it did spotlight some popular policy proposals on issues like transit and affordable housing. Tory acknowledged as much in his speech, saying she "brought ideas forward which I'm sure we will discuss in the coming days."

In her own concession speech to supporters, Keesmaat congratulated Tory and said that despite her crushing defeat, she still believes that a better version of Toronto is possible.

"I'm not going to give up working on it and I hope you don't either," she said. 

"We'll be working to make housing more affordable for ordinary families, by building more of it. We'll be working to make our transit system better by continuously building to a plan that makes sense ... We'll eventually figure out ways for people to afford to live here."

Keesmaat also mentioned taxes, an issue on which she fiercely disagreed with Tory. Both promised to keep property tax increases at or below the rate of inflation, but Keesmaat criticized Tory for his refusal to pursue other ways to raise money. 

At Toronto city hall, the balance of power lies with council. Therefore, a mayor must cultivate a coalition of like-minded councillors to truly implement their agenda. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

During the campaign, Keesmaat proposed a surtax on luxury homes costing more than $4 million. That revenue would partly fund the construction of affordable and rent-to-own housing units on neglected city land. One poll released late last week found widespread support for the policy idea. 

"We'll also eventually pay for the city services with a tax system that's fair and asks people to contribute their fair share to ensure that there's a place for absolutely everyone in this city," she told supporters. 

'He should take this win and run with it'

Beyond the mayor's race, the province's unexpected upheaval threw several council races into chaos, and pitted incumbents against one another in 11 wards across the city.

Tory's team watched those contests closely, as he needs to build a majority coalition to pursue an aggressive policy agenda at city hall. Two of three council candidates he endorsed in the run up to election day won their races, and several other long-time incumbent allies were also re-elected.

Over all, it appears that a majority of those elected to council lean to the political right, a reality that will likely benefit Tory in the long run. 

Toronto mayor-elect John Tory celebrates his election victory with family and friends. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Mitchell Kosny. a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, said Tory needs to seize on his major win.

"He came out of the election pretty much as good as he could have. But I think everything is ramped up for him now, and it's ramped up good," he explained.

"He better step forward now, he's into his second term, he's got a resounding mandate and a council he can work with. Now's the time to show some leadership and be bold and take some bold steps."

If it proves to be another four years of the status quo, voters will sour on the second-term mayor, Kosny added.

"He should take this win and run with it, because it's the best chance he's ever going to have."

About the Author

Lucas Powers

Senior Writer

Lucas Powers is a Toronto-based writer and photographer. He's reported for CBC News from across Canada. When he's not angling for stories, he's probably flyfishing for trout.