Partisanship and Attitudes Towards City Council Redistricting in Toronto

Written by: Michael McGregor 

As anyone who wasn’t living under a metaphorical municipal rock in the period leading up to last month’s election in Toronto knows, much of the campaign was dominated by the high-profile battle over the ward boundaries to be used in the city council elections. In one corner stood the premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, who, the day before the candidate nomination deadline, announced that the size of Toronto city council was to be reduced from 47 seats to 25. In the other corner, opposing the move, stood most municipal politicians, an agitated media class, an array of scholars and community activists, and the opposition parties at Queen’s Park.

The primary goal of the provincial government’s Better Local Government Act was to unilaterally impose new city council ward boundaries on Toronto (to match existing federal and provincial boundaries). This decision was made without consultation with the city and was, in fact, against the wishes of most local politicians (incumbents and hopefuls alike). The province was able to foist this change on Toronto because the Canadian Constitution famously dictates that municipalities are a matter of provincial jurisdiction. As the widespread municipal amalgamations in Ontario and Quebec of the 1990s and 2000s illustrate, provinces have not always shied away from using their power over cities, in spite of vocal opposition from municipalities themselves.

Despite the constitutional power bestowed upon Ford, the provincial law was quickly challenged in court. In early September, it was found to be unconstitutional and a judge ordered the election to proceed under a 47 ward system. The basis of this decision was the argument that decreasing the number of wards in the city, so near to the election, would infringe upon the right to freedom of expression for both candidates and voters. In response to this judicial setback, Ford announced that he would invoke the seldom used, and highly controversial, notwithstanding clause of the Charter (S. 33), which allows federal or provincial governments to override some Charter rights if they should see fit to do so. In the end, however, the original court ruling was stayed by the Court of Appeal for Ontario. The Ford government never actually used S. 33, and the election went forward under a 25 ward system.

Through all of this, it was never exactly clear how the public felt about either the reduction in the size of Toronto city council, or the fact that the province can unilaterally make such changes to the structure of a municipality’s government. Aside from the PC government and a smattering of city councillors, there were few vocal proponents of the change. Both of the leading mayoral candidates (Tory and Keesmaat) came out against the change. At one point, Keesmaat publicly mused about the possibility of Toronto seceding from the province of Ontario to avoid precisely this type of provincial interference.

Using survey data from the Canadian Municipal Election Study (CMES), we can determine how Torontonians viewed the decision to reduce the size of council, as well as their opinion of the province’s constitutional supremacy over municipalities more generally. During the course of the 2018 campaign, CMES respondents were asked whether they agree or disagree (and how strongly) with the following statements: (1) It is a good thing that Toronto City Council has been reduced from 47 to 25 councillors and (2) The government of Ontario should have the power to unilaterally make changes to Toronto’s municipal government.

In addition to considering how the population as a whole feels towards these matters, we can divide the sample on the basis of provincial partisanship. Certainly, we should expect to see some motivated reasoning here, such that supporters of the provincial party in power might be expected to be relatively likely to support the policy change, simply due to the fact that their party has taken the stance that it has. By the same logic, we should expect opposition partisans to be relatively opposed to the change.

The figures below show the breakdown of attitudes towards the two measures noted above. Results are presented for the sample as a whole, as well as on the basis of partisanship. CMES data are weighted for age and gender to match the most recent census.

Figure 1: “It is a good thing that Toronto City Council has been reduced from 47 to 25 councillors” (by partisanship)


Figure 2: “The government of Ontario should have the power to unilaterally make changes to Toronto’s municipal government” (by partisanship)


The figures reveal several findings of note. First, the aggregate data suggest that, on the whole, Torontonians are not fond of either the reduction of the size of council or provincial supremacy over municipalities.

Figure 1 shows that a sizable majority (59.6%) of Torontonians were opposed to the reduction in the size of council. We see a similar result in Figure 2, with substantial opposition to provincial supremacy over municipalities (69.9%). On the whole, therefore, there seems to be relatively little support for the Better Local Government Act, at least in this city.

However, these attitudes are heavily dependent upon the partisanship of respondents. Conservative partisans were overwhelmingly supportive of the reduction in city council size – only 11.6% opposed the change. The comparable figures for opposition partisans and non-partisans were 77.2% and 57.3%, respectively. We see the same pattern with respect to attitudes towards the province’s right to unilaterally impose changes upon municipalities. Conservatives have by far the lowest rate of opposition to this (25.3%) while opposition partisans are at the other end of the spectrum in this regard, with 83.9% opposition. Non-partisans are in the middle, with 71.3% disapproving.[1] Thus while the majority of the population is seemingly opposed to the changes made to city council, and the manner in which they were made, the provincial government may take solace in the fact that their base is with them on this matter.

The third and final finding worthy of discussion here is that Torontonians are less strongly opposed to this particular act of provincial meddling in municipal affairs than they are towards meddling more generally. That is, though most Torontonians are opposed to the redistricting forced upon Toronto, an even greater share of the population is opposed to the fact that the province can impose their will on municipalities in such a manner (this pattern holds among all partisan groups). This is perhaps another silver lining for the Ford government (as far as electoral considerations are concerned). There is a substantial proportion of the population who are opposed to the fact that province can impose its will upon municipalities, but are not upset that such an imposition occurred in this instance.

[1] Chi-square results show that all groups are different at p<0.01.

Metro Vancouver and BC’s Civic Elections

Written by: Patrick Smith

Metro Vancouver is made up of 21 municipalities; it includes eight of British Columbia’s largest cities within the Lower Mainland/Fraser Valley city-region. These include the City of Vancouver (632,000), Surrey (520,000), Burnaby (235,000), Richmond (200,000), Coquitlam (144,000), Langley Twp. (120,000) and Delta (105,000) – plus Abbotsford (in the adjacent Fraser Valley Regional District – 145,000) as well as a number of quite small (under 5000 population) local authorities, such as the Island Municipality of Bowen Island (3800), villages of Anmore (2300) Lions Bay, (1400), and Belcarra (645) and one Treaty First Nation (Tsawwassen – 900) –plus 16 ‘other’ non-treatied Indian Reserves. 


In the 2014 local government elections, the best predictor of victory was incumbency; the majority of city-regional mayors were white and middle aged. In 2018, 13 of Vancouver-area’s 21 mayors did not run again and 16 mayors elected were newly returned. As to why so many sitting mayors did not re-offer in 2018, the clearest explanation is the new BC Local Election Financing legislation; for the first time, limits on donations and spending meant that fund-raising was more cumbersome.

In addition to fewer incumbents running, several who did run were also defeated: the most surprising was Burnaby Mayor, Derek Corrigan, losing after 16 years as mayor of BC’s third city and 31 years on council, Corrigan fell to ex-firefighter and political newcomer Mike Hurley. Other mayors who failed to be re-elected were from Port Moody, Pitt Meadows and White Rock; and in Richmond, the re-elected mayor, Malcolm Brodie won but with reduced support on council. In sum, 2018 civic elections in Metro Vancouver – and in BC – represented one of the largest single turnovers in recent civic history.

Taking the civic election outcomes of the three most populous local authorities highlights how seeking a general outcome or pan-Canadian comparison is mostly a mug’s game: In Vancouver, despite its long history of strong local party politics, the mayoral winner ran as an independent and two of the top three candidates were likewise independent. On council, while half of the ten places were won by the NPA (the city’s oldest party, the GREENS took 3, COPE – the ‘second’ original city party – won a single seat as did One Vancouver, a new entity. Though the apparent council split is 5 right of centre and five centre-left, the Labour-endorsed mayor, Political Scientist Kennedy Stewart’s vote could mean a range of 6-5 motion votes. Stewart’s margin of victory was 957, with the Non Partisan Association in second place. A total of 21 candidates contested for City Mayor.

In Surrey, BC’s “Second city”, an incumbent mayor decided not to run but her local ‘majoritarian party – Surrey First – did and were essentially shut out. Controversial ex-mayor Doug McCallum – more than a decade out of office – swept in with a neophyte council on a two-item platform of replacing Canada’s largest RCMP detachment with a new civic police force and replacing recent funding approved for a light rail system with a differently-routed and more expensive Skytrain technology (to eastern suburb Langley vs Surrey’s southern Newton neighbourhood.)

Meanwhile, in Burnaby, sitting between the two largest cities, Mayor Derek Corrigan, BC’s most successful mayor, seeking a fourth mandate with every council and school board seat was turfed out by a political newcomer, Michael Hurley. Unlike in Surrey, Hurley who was clearly elected Mayor, arrived with no council colleagues; Corrigan’s Burnaby Citizens Association incumbents were all returned, save one; DOA Punk Rocker Joey Shithead (aka Joey Keithley) won a single seat for the Greens. Burnaby’s $1B reserve was not enough to balance a local perception that Burnaby had not done enough on the Mayor’s watch on the housing affordability file.

Some of the most significant changes coming out of the 2018 local elections are expressing themselves in metro regional governance: apart from the Surrey shift in rapid transit policy direction, the head of the Translink Mayors’ Council was long-time Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan. His defeat meant that New Westminster Mayor, Jonathan Cote, takes on that role. At Metro itself, veteran councillor Sav Dhaliwal from Burnaby becomes new Metro Chair. While regional leadership has experience, the corporate memory of other regional representatives is significantly truncated at a time when key issues confront regional authorities.

With a federal election pending within a year, and provincial governing dependent on a tight coalition and a by-election in the new year (in Nanaimo, where a sitting NDP MLA ran and won as mayor), the local multi-level political landscape in Metro Vancouver makes for steep learning curves for new local representatives, and the potential for considerable high politics for senior authorities. Whether all the changes in regional political personnel in Metro Vancouver will lead to more collaborative arrangements or to intergovernmental political infighting remains to be seen. With four year local election terms, we will have time to figure it out.

Ottawa’s Municipal Election Results : Everything Old is New Again?

Written by Anne Mévellec and Luc Turgeon

In a previous post, we discussed some of the key issues that were likely to play a central role during the municipal election campaign in Ottawa: urban planning, fiscal policy, social development and the mayor’s control over council. Over the past year, the leadership of the mayor Jim Watson on those files had increasingly been questioned. Moreover, at the beginning of the campaign, it was announced that the opening of the LRT would be delayed again. On the other side of the river, in Gatineau, the chaotic rollout of the city rapibus system just before the 2013 election was one of the factors that contributed to the defeat of the former mayor Marc Bureau.

As such, one could have expected a more difficult race for the incumbent mayor than in 2014. In some ways it was. Watson faced some uproar over his decision to skip a number of mayoral debates, including debates that focused on the environment and on gender issues. His record was challenged by some journalists, leading to some testy exchanges on the issues mentioned above.

Ultimately, however, it made little difference. Watson was easily re-elected with 71% of the vote, only 5% less than in 2014. His main opponent, Clive Doucet, received only 22% of the vote. The result can be explained by Watson relatively prudent style of governing and his relentless campaigning. Moreover, the campaign of Doucet, who threw his hat in the ring at the last minute, often appeared largely improvised. Ambitious plans were typically short on details and his campaigned lack a unifying message. In addition, none of the other candidates really scored any points during the campaign. No candidate was able to impose an alternative theme to the campaign.

It would nevertheless be a mistake to think that everything old is new again in Ottawa. Almost a third of council will be composed of new councillors. Besides four new councillors that are replacing outgoing members of council, three candidates managed to defeat the incumbent in their ward. In some cases, those new councillors defeated allies of the mayor at council or candidates that were viewed as associated with the mayor. Another important change to note is the increase representation of women on council. While still significantly under-represented, 7 of the council’s 23 councillors are now women, up from only 4. Council is also younger, but is still far from representing the city’s ethno-cultural diversity.

What to look for in the coming years in Ottawa? First, in light of the changes to the composition of council, will the mayor face a more antagonistic council? It might well be the case. Some new councillors explicitly ran in opposition to Watson or by denouncing how council worked over the previous four years. Will this new blood be enough to bring a new dynamics to council? Second, will fiscal politics become a more prominent object of debate at city council? While the previous council had frozen increase in property tax at 2%, Watson announced during the last weeks of the campaign that he was willing to increase property tax up to 3% during a new mandate in order to confront the city’s infrastructure deficit. While this decision will likely please downtown councillors who had argued in favour of such a rise over the past year, it might lead to some pushback from some of the more conservative allies of the mayor. Third, will Mayor Jim Watson be an asset in relations with other governments, whether municipal or provincial? On the one hand, mayoral stability in Ottawa and Gatineau will possibly ensure better collaboration between the two cities, which share some of the same metropolitan issues. On the other hand, will Jim Watson and the City of Ottawa be listened to by the Conservative provincial government considering the mayor’s previous involvement with the Ontario Liberal Party? Finally, will this be the mayor’s last mandate? On the one hand, Watson clearly loves his job and continues to benefit from an extraordinarily efficient electoral machine that has yet to be significantly tested. On the other hand, the mayor might want to leave before voter fatigue eventually catches up with him. In any case, while the last four years were marked by relatively little debate at Council, the next four will likely be less consensual and more animated.

A Chance for Resurrection in Niagara

Written by: David Siegel 

My previous posts focussed on the major problems in the Region of Niagara. My point was the council needed a new broom, and I’m pleased to report that that happened. Of the 31 members of the council elected on October 22 (including the 12 mayors), eight were returning members plus one member who had served on council previously. Only one member of what was called the ‘Conservative cabal’ was returned. Unfortunately, some good members of the previous council were caught up in the sweep, but that’s what sometimes happens in these situations. This should give the council a new start and will allow to begin to rebuild trust with the people of Niagara.

Another positive result of the elections is that there will be nine women on the new council compared to four previously. My eyeball analysis suggests that there are more women on the councils of the area municipalities as well, but there are so many local councillors that I lost the energy to count.

With a sweep like this, there is a danger that the new council will suffer from inexperience. That will be leavened somewhat in this case by the presence of people with political experience in other realms such as a long-serving MPP who got caught up in the anti-Liberal fervour of the provincial election, one member who had served on regional council in 2006-10, and several who have served on local councils.

However, Niagara is a sprawling, deconcentrated region meaning that many of the neophytes simply don’t know one another. This is a problem because the first task of the new council will be the selection of a regional chair for the next four years. This election would have been the first time that Niagarans would have elected their regional chair, but the provincial government’s last-minute intervention put the kibosh on that. Instead, the council will select a chair at its first meeting. Council can select anyone in Niagara, but there is a long-standing tradition that the chair should be chosen from among elected members.

Support seems to be coalescing around Jim Bradley, the aforementioned Liberal MPP and cabinet minister with over 40 years experience at Queen’s Park. He is a very well-respected, competent, low-key guy. These qualities are exactly what the region needs now.

After selection of the regional chair, the council will then have to take on some very difficult issues. The Provincial Ombudsman is currently investigating allegations that the Chief Administrative Officer was appointed in an irregular manner, and the Provincial Auditor is investigating administrative issues in the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. There is also an application for a huge development in Niagara Falls that allegedly encroaches on wetlands.

In previous posts, I expressed major concerns about the reputation of the Region of Niagara. This new council opens the door to a major improvement in that reputation. However, this council is facing a significant challenge. Much depends of how these councillors react to that challenge.

London Election Results

Written by: Andrew Sancton

I support ranked ballots.  In London Ontario’s municipal election, I used my three ranked choices for mayor and for my local councillor.  The overall results, however, are not encouraging for people like me. None of the fifteen elections (mayor and 14 councillors from 14 wards) produced results that would have been different had the old first-past-the-post system been used.  In other words, the leader on the first count in every race turned out to be the winner, even when (as in the mayoral election) 14 counts were required to produce a winner.  Turnout was slightly lower than last time: 37% vs. 41% 

Who knew about “exhausted ballots”?  Certainly not me.  As I now understand it, ballots become exhausted in a particular contest when a voter’s choice or choices are all counted before a particular candidate is declared elected.  The most obvious way this can happen is if a voter votes for only one candidate; as soon as that candidate is eliminated, the ballot has no further value and is “exhausted”.  The same can happen to ballots which express two, or even three, choices if all the choices are eliminated before a winner is declared. 

The “exhaustion” problem could presumably be eliminated if voters were allowed (or forced) to rank all the candidates.  But who would do this if there were a dozen or more candidates, as there were in London’s mayoral election?  Prior to the election, I paid insufficient attention to what I considered to be the “nerdy”details of ranked-ballot counting.  I mostly accepted the argument that ranked balloting produced winners who could eventually be shown to have a form of majority support. 

In the mayoral election and in the elections of four councillors, the winner between two remaining candidates after multiple counts did not receive a majority of the legitimate votes cast (i.e. total votes cast minus rejected ballots).  In the mayoral election and two of the council races, the winner was shown to have achieved a majority only after the second-choices of his/her one remaining opponent were allocated.  In the hotly-contested ward in which I live and in another ward in which no incumbent was running, the winner did not even achieve this form of majority.  We have learned the hard way that ranked balloting, as implemented in London, does not necessarily produce winners who can claim majority support.   

Now to the substance of the election.  The new mayor is Ed Holder, a former MP and Harper cabinet minister.  He is opposed to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan approved by the previous council.  The only serious pro-BRT candidate finished third.  But seven pro-BRT councillors (including five incumbents) were elected, suggesting that many voters supported a pro-BRT councillor and an anti-BRT mayor at the same time.  People like me who considered the BRT a vote-structuring issue were probably wrong. 

Nevertheless, two pro-BRT incumbents were defeated by anti-BRT challengers and one pro-BRT councillor who retired was replaced by a BRT opponent.  This leaves a council that appears to be evenly balanced between the two BRT factions (one incumbent has consistently declared a conflict of interest on the issue). 

We will likely find out fairly soon if the new mayor will be one vote among fifteen or whether he will forge some new consensus, presumably around a kind of stripped-down modified BRT plan.  Then the challenge will be to extract funding from both federal and provincial governments.  Mayor-Elect Holder touted his political connections during the campaign.  He might need them.  There is some evidence that both the Ford PCs in Toronto and the federal Liberals in Ottawa have been distancing themselves from the BRT plan, so Holder might be successful on that front.  But will he be able to convince pro-BRT councillors – many of whom initially preferred Light Rail Transit (LRT) – to go along with him?  This could be an interesting test of mayoral power.     




Waterloo Region Roundup: Four noteworthy races and other happenings

Written by: Kate Daley

In the dozens of seats up for grabs across Waterloo Region’s eight municipal councils and two school boards, there are four races that are especially worth noting.

1) Regional chair

The most notable race in Waterloo Region this election is the regional chair’s race, addressed in a previous post.

The regional chair race is the first without veteran chair Ken Seiling, who has served uninterrupted since 1985, and who has never been seriously challenged since the chair position first became elected in 1997.

The election for chair is the only region-wide race, requiring its candidates to campaign to more than half a million people in an area twice as large as the City of Toronto. As a result, it is also the race most likely to incentivise paid advertising and other high-cost campaign approaches. While Seiling’s campaigns were notoriously low key, his biggest challenger in the 2014 election reported spending more than $200,000. We can expect money to play a much more significant role in the regional chair’s race from this election forward.

A late-breaking poll with limited sample size suggests former MP and sitting regional councillor Karen Redman is leading by a considerable margin.

2) Cambridge mayor

Long-time mayor Doug Craig is being challenged by Kathryn McGarry, who until the provincial election was Liberal MPP for Cambridge and Minister of Transportation. Also in the race is Ben Tucci, former councillor, and two new entrants.

The three most well known candidates joined Steve Paikin recently on The Agenda.

Cambridge does not have a strong history of ejecting sitting mayors. Craig took over the post in 2000, when Mayor Jane Brewer chose not to run again. Brewer had held the post since 1988, following long-time mayor Claudette Millar. The three of them together have governed the City of Cambridge for all but 3 years of the city’s 45-year history.

3) Kitchener Regional council

While the mayors of the seven local-tier municipalities sit on regional council, eight additional members are directly elected in city-wide contests to represent the residents of those cities. (It’s worth noting that they do not represent the local-tier councils or municipalities.)

Waterloo and Cambridge both have two directly elected seats, and all four of those seats have their incumbents running.

In Kitchener, however, Redman’s run for regional chair leaves at least one seat that will not be filled by an incumbent among Kitchener’s four seats. Notable new contenders include Michael Harris, former MPP for Kitchener Conestoga who was denied his party’s nomination by new leader Doug Ford, and former school board trustee Ted Martin.

Arguably the most interesting candidate, however, is Fauzia Mazhar, a community builder whose impressive resume includes serving as a founder and chair of the Coalition of Muslim Women of KW. While the Women’s Municipal Campaign School, which Mazhar has helped organize, has made some progress in increasing women’s representation on our eight councils, councillors are still overwhelmingly white, despite Waterloo Region’s diverse population. A win for Mazhar would be a crucial accomplishment to address the exclusion of racialized citizens from our dozens of local council positions.

4) A surprising acclamation

In a truly surprising turn of events, one-term Mayor of Woolwich Sandy Shantz is acclaimed. No one stepped forward to challenge her. This is despite a small but vocal group who have been persistent in their pursuit of Shantz, including repeated attempts to have her removed from office.

Other items of note:

  • Premier Doug Ford’s musings that he will make changes to regional government structures have at least one incumbent council candidate advocating for Cambridge’s succession from the upper-tier Region of Waterloo. This call has been made by various Cambridge leaders during various regional reform debates going back decades.
  • The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, led by former councillor Greg Durocher, initially chose to defend candidate interviews run by the chamber that focused on personal questions like whether candidates believe in a supreme being or were born in Canada. They quietly cut some of the questions from the interviews at release, citing length.
  • The Cambridge clerk is defending the city’s online voting system despite continuing concerns about its reliability. The system is being run by a third party contractor, and the online vote is proceeding despite the city having eliminated telephone voting on security grounds. Despite the clerk’s assertions about online voting being the same as online banking, online banking relies on all parties knowing what transactions customers have made, which cannot be replicated in voting by secret ballot.
  • The Township of North Dumfries has opted to eliminate in-person voting, and will replace polling stations with telephone and internet voting only.
  • While the mayors of Kitchener and Waterloo are both running again, Kitchener and Waterloo councils have 2 and 3 open seats, respectively, guaranteeing at least some turnover on their 11- and 8-member councils.

Kate Daley is an environmental professional and a graduate of York University’s PhD program in political science, where she studied transit, urban growth management, and regional government in the Waterloo area. She has managed two successful municipal campaigns, and participated in the organization of this year’s Women’s Municipal Campaign School in Waterloo Region. She is currently on parental leave with her family’s new baby.

Disclosure: The author’s spouse is a councillor representing the City of Waterloo’s Ward 6, and is currently running for re-election.

Niagara’s Unpredictable Election

Written by David Siegel

We’re deep into election season and so it is not surprising that many of the contributors to this blog are predicting who the next mayor or head of council in the blogger’s jurisdiction is likely to be. I will not be following that path.

This would have been the first time that Niagara chose its Regional Chair by popular election. However, the Ford government scuttled that, so we are back to a system of allowing councillors to select the Chair at the first meeting of council.

Even under normal circumstances, this would make it somewhat difficult to predict the next Chair, but these are far from normal circumstances. In normal circumstances, incumbents are highly likely to be re-elected as Michael McGregor has rightly pointed out elsewhere in this blog. My previous contribution detailed a serious issue hanging over incumbents that makes the normal pro forma re-election problematic.

I could mention a few other issues that I don’t have time to elaborate in full. The Police Services Board gave the police chief a three-year renewal of his contract and then almost immediately dismissed him without cause resulting in an $870,000 settlement. The Conservation Authority is under investigation by the Provincial Auditor for governance issues and operational practices. It has also been attacked for supporting a major development in an environmentally-sensitive area.

Not surprisingly, the major issue in this campaign can be summarized in one word— integrity. There has been very little discussion of lower taxes which has been a mainstay of previous campaigns. It seems like the current tribulations have attracted some good new people to run for office. Of course, many of them are inexperienced, although some have experience at other levels of government or in other environments.

In this environment, I can’t even predict who the next group of councillors will be, much less who they will pick as their chair.

The phrase about this being a watershed election that will determine how the jurisdiction will develop for future generations is much over-used, but this could be that kind of election for Niagara. The previous leadership of the Region has driven Niagara into the depths. This is a golden opportunity for a new broom to sweep into council and lead it into a new direction.

The extent of the change hinges on how attentive the electorate is. These issues have been much discussed in the print and social media. However, we start out with low voter turnout for local elections anyway, then we confront the fact that voters are generally less interested in regional elections than in the area municipalities that are closer to home. We can always hope that the situation at the Region is so bad that it will attract the attention of voters.

This is an opportunity for Niagara to turn a page. We shall see what happens next Monday.