With more than 2,800 responses from eligible Toronto voters, the Toronto Election Study (TES) is in the final drive of its pre-election survey. Results based on raw data from the survey suggest that a plurality of voters is unsatisfied with the current City Council. However, only a handful of incumbents are facing any significant competition this election.
“Given all of the media attention and polling devoted to the mayoral campaign in Toronto, one can easily neglect the 44 other election contests occurring in the city’s wards,” explains Laura Stephenson, an associate professor in Political Science at Western University and one of three TES investigators. “While news media try to cover a bit of each ward campaign, it’s easy to understand why the election for City Council lacks the scrutiny of the mayoral race.”
Mike McGregor, an assistant professor in Political and International Studies at Bishop’s University, adds, “The fact that information on ward campaigns is lacking might explain why 42 percent of respondents have not decided who to vote for in their ward, compared to nineteen percent who are still undecided about the mayoral race.”
Aaron Moore, an assistant professor in Political Science at the University of Winnipeg, says this scenario is somewhat unsettling when one considers that Council ran Toronto without a mayor for the past 11 months.
“In Toronto, residual authority rests with Council, not the mayor, who is institutionally weak. You can bet the composition of the next Council will have more of an impact on the direction of the city in the next four years than the choice of mayor,” explains Moore.
Stephenson notes that TES faces the same constraints as polling firms in calling the ward races, as the data for any given ward are insufficient on their own. However, she suggests that the overall trend in Council races is in keeping with past elections.
“If we include Rob Ford among the incumbents, of the 39 incumbent councillors running in this election, we expect between 90 to 95 percent to be re-elected,” says Stephenson.
There are a few competitive races, however, suggests McGregor.
“Councillors Maria Augimeri in Ward 9, Frank Di Giorgio in Ward 12, John Parker in Ward 26, and Ron Moser in Ward 44, seem to be facing stiff competition this election, though our sample size is too small to be sure,” he explains. “The battle to replace Karen Stintz in Ward 16 seems to be wide open, with 70 percent of respondents to our survey still undecided.”
McGregor also notes that a number of potential successors seem to have emerged to replace Gloria Lindsay Luby. In contrast, voters in Wards 5, 20, and 39 seem to have settled on replacements for the incumbents that aren’t running.
“While these results are very tentative, and there are still many undecided voters, it seems that Justin Di Ciano, Joe Cressy, and Jim Karygiannis have comfortable leads in their wards,” says McGregor.
Moore believes that the candidates’ strong profiles may account for their success so far.
“Justin Di Ciano was narrowly defeated by Peter Milczyn in the last election, so voters in Ward 5 are familiar with him,” says Moore. “Cressy is a former NDP candidate at the federal level, and Karygiannis is a former MP.”
“The fact that most of the incumbents for City Council are likely to be returned to office by voters is not so surprising, as 42 percent of respondents are satisfied with the performance of their councillor, compared to less than 20 percent that are unsatisfied,” argues Stephenson. “That said, only 25 percent of respondents are satisfied with City Council as whole, while close to 40 percent said they were unsatisfied.”
Moore considers this an interesting contradiction for voters, and believes it is a result of the parochial nature of politics in the city. “Voters expect their councillor to represent the interests of their ward and to bring back the proverbial bacon. However, it’s this often exclusive focus on community or ward interests that leads to unsatisfactory outcomes for voters in the city as whole.”
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