TORONTO — Two former Ontario party leaders carved municipal paths to political redemption Monday, narrowly winning mayoral races mere months after disappointing provincial losses, while several large cities opted to hand their incumbents another term.
Former NDP leader Andrea Horwath was elected mayor of Hamilton, where she began her political career on city council 25 years ago, while former Liberal leader Steven Del Duca was elected mayor of Vaughan, Ont. But neither had an easy ride to victory.
Horwath was neck and neck throughout the night with the former president and CEO of the city’s chamber of commerce and Del Duca eked out a victory over a longtime city councillor, winning by just 851 votes.
Horwath led the Ontario NDP for four elections, but resigned after the party failed again to form government this June.
Del Duca is a former Liberal cabinet minister, but was only party leader for two years. He tried to right the formerly powerful Liberal ship following its disastrous 2018 election showing, but he resigned after leaving the party only one seat further ahead after this year’s election.
The mayors of Toronto and Brampton — both former Progressive Conservative party leaders themselves — were handily re-elected. The two-way municipal-provincial pipeline makes sense for people seeking to stay in public office, said Angela Drennan, a vice-president and municipal practice group lead at Sussex Strategy Group.
“Municipal and provincial issues often intersect,” she said.
“So if anybody was aspiring to go anywhere, it may not be in fact, federal. I know everybody thinks that is the echelon to try to achieve, it actually does make quite a bit of sense.”
Peterborough, in eastern Ontario, saw another former provincial politician move to municipal politics. Former Liberal cabinet minister Jeff Leal won the mayoral race there. But his former cabinet colleague, Kathryn McGarry, was defeated in the Cambridge mayoral race, despite being the incumbent.
A couple of former federal politicians also found success Monday. Bonnie Crombie, a former Liberal MP, was re-elected in Mississauga, and in Barrie, former Conservative MP Alex Nuttall won the race for mayor after the city’s former leader Jeff Lehman left the post to unsuccessfully run for the provincial Liberals in the spring provincial election.
Along with Crombie, the mayors of two other large cities were also re-elected with large margins. John Tory won a third term as mayor of Toronto and Patrick Brown was re-elected as mayor of Brampton.
Brown’s main challenger, Nikki Kaur — determined to unseat him — had the backing of several experienced political players. But the man who has taken many knocks along the way in his political career prevailed.
“This is a win against the politics of negativity, of mudslinging,” he said in a victory speech.
“We ran a positive campaign. We refused to engage in the ugly side of politics and focused on what we’ve achieved for Brampton over the last four years, and what we hope to achieve in the next four.”
In Toronto, Tory said housing will be one of his key priorities.
“We’ve come so far over the past eight years, but we have unfinished business that I’m absolutely determined to see through,” he said.
“We’ve made so much progress on getting transit and housing built and growing our economy … We’re going to get housing built, much more housing, and much more affordable and supportive housing.”
Ontario recently granted the cities of Toronto and Ottawa so-called strong mayor powers, which allow the heads of those cities to overrule council votes that conflict with building housing. Tory supported the move, but Ottawa’s new mayor did not.
Former journalist Mark Sutcliffe coasted to victory over councillor Catherine McKenney to become mayor of that city. It was an open race as Jim Watson did not run again.
“You voted for positive change,” Sutcliffe said in his victory speech. “You voted for compassion and fiscal responsibility. You voted for a safer, more reliable, more affordable city.”
Andrea Lawlor, an associate political science professor at Western University’s King’s University College, said there are a number of factors helping incumbents keep their jobs.
“Name recognition goes a long way — it has very insulating effect against challengers,” she said. “The second thing is, yes, I think there is some fatigue out there and I think we will see that in the voter turnout rates.”
Voter turnout in Toronto was about 29 per cent with most polls reporting. It was roughly the same in Milton and Cambridge, but lower at about 27 per cent in Vaughan and 24 per cent in Brampton. However, Ottawa’s race saw a turnout of 44 per cent.
London will get a new mayor, with Josh Morgan, a city councillor and deputy mayor, winning an open race over former London-Fanshawe MP Khalil Ramal.
In nearby Woodstock, the incumbent mayor facing six sex assault charges involving two women went down in a massive defeat. Trevor Birtch garnered just 305 votes, placing fourth — well behind winner Jerry Acchione’s 3,612 votes.
Ken Boshcoff, a former mayor of Thunder Bay, will lead that city again. In the Greater Toronto Area city of Milton, Gord Krantz, who is believed to be Canada’s longest-serving mayor, won a 14th term.