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With at least 5 incumbents out, Toronto council will have a new look after fall election
June 27, 2022

No one can predict who the winners and losers in October's municipal election will be, but one thing is for certain: there will be some new faces on council.

That's because there will be at least five wards with no incumbents when Torontonians cast their ballots this fall.

And that's a great opportunity to get some fresh ideas onto the chamber floor, according to former city councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who stepped away from city hall in 2018 after two terms and several unsuccessful attempts to persuade council to adopt term limits.

"There is a strong edge to incumbency," said,McMahon, who was elected to represent Beaches-East York as a Liberal MPP in the June 2 provincial election.

"We talk out of both sides of our mouths sometimes: We want more gender equity, we want youth, and we want more diversity on council, and you really cannot have new fresh faces without levelling that playing field."

Coun. Ana Bailao, left, and Coun. Joe Cressy, right, seen here with Mayor John Tory, centre, are two of five incumbent Toronto city councillors who have announced they're not running in this fall's municipal election. Tory is running for a third term as mayor. (Martin Trainor/CBC)
Veteran councillors Michael Ford and Kristyn Wong-Tam successfully made the jump to provincial politics last month, Ana Bailao, Joe Cressy and John Filion have chosen not to run for council again. And as of Friday, Coun. Anthony Perruzza, who represents Humber River-Black Creek and Mark Grimes, who represents Etobicoke Lakeshore, hadn't yet registered to run. Candidates have until Aug. 19 to do so.

in 2018, when Premier Doug ford unilaterally reduced council from 44 seats to 25, only three political rookies won election.

One of them was Coun. Brad Bradford, who represents Beaches-East York.. He and McMahon both say it's crucial to get new people, and their ideas, onto council

"It's always great to have fresh perspectives, fresh ideas," he said. "Elections are a competition of ideas and people with different backgrounds that really reflect the diversity of the city."

Term limits are one way to level the playing field because they ensure new blood every two or three terms, depending on the length of the limit. But there can also be a downside, according to  Sheila White, a longtime staffer and political adviser to the late Mel Lastman when he was mayor. She herself has run in two municipal elections.

"What if you have a councillor who's just stellar, who's always been there for you and is delivering on every single issue? ... You don't want to force that person out."

Another argument against term limits: some veteran councillors have pointed out tha they can drain a municipal council of valuable political experience.

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McMahon sees one way around that. She says she'd like to see a transition period at council, wherein an outgoing councillor shows the novice the ropes as a way to ease the move from a veteran to a rookie.

Bradford says even if limits are imposed, there is always a core of people at city hall -- staff, experienced aides and veteran councillors -- on whom newcomers can depend.

Other challenges
"There's going to be a number of incumbents who are running again, and so there is that continuity of experience," he said. "I know as a first term councillor there was a lot of opportunity to learn from my colleagues, to have that mentorship."

Incumbents aside, those new campaigners face other challenges, White says.

She says campaign costs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. As well, some candidates have affiliations with the major political parties -- another big advantage.

"A political party can deliver canvassers, workers, free labour and other kinds of help that a candidate that's not supported by a political party wouldn't have," she said.

White and Bradford say the value of a strong volunteer staff can't be overestimated.

"The most essential component for a candidate is to get out there to the door," White said.

"You need a canvassing team to help you knock on those doors. And ideally, you'd like to canvass your neighbourhoods, all your polls, at least once and maybe twice or three times if you could, because people need to know who you are."

Bradford -- who narrowly won his seat over a politically well-connected opponent in 2018 -- says his rookie campaign began with a handful of friends in his living room.

'Exponential growth'
"You go from the six volunteers at the beginning ... to 120 people out there on Election Day pulling the vote, making sure you get your vote out ...You have to have that exponential growth."

Bradford, McMahon and White all say they'd encourage any political novice to seriously consider a run for office.

"At the end of the day, it's a labour of love," Bradford said.

"You're doing it because you want to make a difference in your community. You want to make a difference in our city.
It could go a bunch of different ways," he added.

"But if if you want to be a part of a positive civic conversation, then you can't lose."