The Canadian News

With John Tory resigning, Ontario PC machine revs up for Toronto mayor race

'We’ll make sure there’s only one credible centre-right candidate,' says a Conservative political organizer

Mike Crawley – CBC News

In a statement, Premier Doug Ford said that John Tory ‘will be remembered as a dedicated and hard-working mayor who served as a steady leader during the most difficult days of the pandemic.’ (Carlos Osorio/CBC)

Conservative political organizers in Toronto have shifted into high gear in the wake of John Tory’s announcement that he will resign as mayor and names of potential candidates are starting to emerge.

The two names being floated the most frequently by Ontario PC and Conservative Party of Canada sources who’ve spoken with CBC News since Tory’s shock announcement on Friday night:

  • Beaches-East York councillor Brad Bradford, who’s chair of the city’s planning and housing committee
  • Willowdale MPP Stan Cho, who’s currently associate minister of transportation in Premier Doug Ford’s government.

“We’ll make sure there’s only one credible centre-right candidate,” said a senior political organizer with connections to both the Ontario PCs and federal Conservatives. CBC News agreed not to name the organizer to allow them to speak freely about political strategy.

The organizer said the concern among conservatives is that a left-wing candidate could become mayor if multiple centre-right candidates split the vote.

Although mayoral candidates do not run under a political party banner, most high profile candidates have links to provincial or federal parties, or rely on campaign organizers who’ve worked in party backrooms.

Brad Bradford is the city councillor for the Beaches-East York ward and chair of the city’s planning and housing committee. (CBC)

Bradford’s political background is not closely tied to the Conservatives. In Beaches-East York, he represents a ward that both provincially and federally swings between New Democrat and Liberal. His mother, Valerie Bradford is the Liberal MP for Kitchener South-Hespeler.

However, three Ontario PC Party sources said people connected to Bradford have been exploring support for him in Conservative political circles.

In an interview on Saturday, CBC News asked Bradford if he’s considering running

“What I can tell you is I care deeply about this city,” Bradford said. “I think what the city needs right now is a moment of unity, leadership bringing people together. It would be really unfortunate if we saw us descend into a world of politics and spiking the football for personal gain.”

Bradford said what’s needed in municipal government is leadership that can work with everyone.

“I’ve always wanted to to work with everyone down at City Hall. I think that’s what we’re elected to do, work together, get things done,” he said

Stan Cho is the associate minister of transportation in Premier Doug Ford’s government and MPP for Willowdale. (CBC)

Four Ontario PC Party sources independently told CBC News that Cho is a potential mayoral candidate.

Cho declined comment when contacted on Saturday.

A source close to him said that Cho is flattered by the number of people asking him to run, but hasn’t given it any real thought.

Despite some speculation in Conservative circles that deputy mayor Jennifer McKelvie would launch a campaign, CBC News has learned that she is not going to run.

McKelvie is in line to become acting mayor once Tory officially resigns, and would lead council through the upcoming budget process.

“Jenn will not run,” a source close to McKelvie said Sunday. “Jenn is taking her duty as deputy mayor seriously. She is not running as she wants to ensure that she is focused on the near future of the city during this important transition period.”

CBC News been unable to reach McKelvie for comment.

Jennifer McKelvie, councillor for Scarborough-Rouge Park, was named deputy mayor last fall and is positioned to become acting mayor once John Tory officially resigns. (CBC)

Kory Teneycke, who managed both of Ford’s winning provincial election campaigns, described Bradford and Cho as credible potential candidates.

“They’re a younger generation of leadership ,and I think that’s probably a healthy thing to see a bit of renewal,” said Teneycke, co-founder and CEO of the political affairs firm Rubicon Strategies.

Teneycke said there are lots of names being bandied about as potential candidates from all parts of the political spectrum.

“But what they all have in common is relatively low name recognition compared to that of John Tory, who’s spent the last decade being the most popular political figure in the GTA,” he said.

‘Strong mayor’ powers means plenty at stake

Kevin Gaudet, a longtime Conservative insider and president of BrightPoint Strategy, said the potential for vote-splitting among multiple candidates on the left “creates room for a reasonable and focused centrist candidate.”

Gaudet agrees that lack of name recognition hampers Cho and Bradford.

“No candidate is perfect,” he said. “Can Bradford be consistent? Cho is a Ford minister and a suit. Can he break out on his own? It would take a bold communications and policy plan.”

WATCH | Tory’s departure could provide opportunity for opponents: 

Toronto Mayor John Tory’s sudden resignation after admitting to an affair with a staffer has left Torontonians with mixed emotions, along with questions about his personal conduct and possible abuse of power.  2:01

For the Ford government, there’s plenty at stake in who becomes mayor of Toronto, in part because the province has given Toronto’s mayor extra powers to push through certain bylaws and policies with the support of just one-third of council.

The Ford government said the “strong mayor” powers were designed to speed the pace of housing development. If a left-wing candidate were to become mayor, the plan might not work out quite the way the PCs intended.

“Irrespective of the outcome of the race, I don’t think that the premier is going to have any trouble working with whoever is elected,” said Teneycke.

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