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Tory's road to re-election runs straight through downtown Toronto: Elliott

Showing support for new bike lanes on Bloor and pushing for lanes on the Danforth are among the issues John Tory can take on to woo downtown voters.
Showing support for new bike lanes on Bloor and pushing for lanes on the Danforth are among the issues John Tory can take on to woo downtown voters.

Now that Doug Ford has announced he will once again challenge John Tory in next year’s mayoral election it seems a good time to remind the mayor of a little electoral math.

Because the math tells us something really important about the 2018 race: it tells us that Tory’s road to re-election runs straight through the downtown.

Let’s look back at some numbers. In the 2014 election, in the wider central area comprised of the old City of Toronto and East York, Tory got 143,425 votes – nearly three times more than Ford and more than progressive candidate Olivia Chow.

In an election decided by an overall margin of less than 65,000 votes, that made the difference.

The early numbers for 2018 suggest downtown support will again be critical for Tory. In a poll released by Mainstreet Research last week, Tory trounces Ford in a one-on-one match-up by 27 points, winning the vast majority of downtown votes.

But throw in a progressive candidate with downtown appeal like Coun. Mike Layton and things change quick — and that should worry Tory.

In a hypothetical Layton-Ford-Tory match-up, Mainstreet finds Tory’s support downtown dropping from 72 per cent to 43 per cent, putting Ford within seven points of city-wide victory. A similar thing happens when Tory and Ford are stacked up against former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat or former mayor David Miller.

The numbers don’t lie. Downtown voters are ready to move their vote if a more progressive option presents itself.

There are a couple of ways the mayor can counteract this. He could work from the same playbook he used in 2014, casting himself as the only candidate who can prevent Ford from winning — using fear to convince voters to ignore any progressive candidates who emerge.

Or he could spend the six months left before the campaign period officially kicks off to win the legitimate support of downtown voters.

Not such a wild idea, right? It doesn’t need to be complicated.

He could start by coming out in favour of keeping the bike lanes on Bloor Street — and extending them along Danforth Avenue. He could make it clear that he supports permanently transforming King Street into a transit-first corridor. He could endorse widespread improvements to TTC service, including two-hour timed transfers.

He could talk more about transit and less about traffic. More about parks and less about parking. Rail Deck Park is an issue Tory can own entirely – a legacy project in the making. He just needs to present a realistic plan to pay for it.

That hard part for Tory, I suspect, will be acknowledging that despite spending the last four years pushing low taxes and expressing his support for expressways and Scarborough subways there are a cohort of car-loving suburbanites that will not support him. The lure of easy answers offered by Ford is too strong.

But that’s OK.

Tory didn’t need Ford Nation’s support to win in 2014, and he won’t need it in 2018. Provided, of course, that he can once again win support from downtown voters.

Winning on the issues seems a safer bet than strategic campaigning. If the mayor wants downtown’s support, he should earn it.

This post was originally published at on 2017-09-18T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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