Is Toronto ready for a racialized mayor?

Evaluating Toronto's potential for a diverse mayor

Chloe Brown, a mayoral candidate in Toronto's Byelection for mayor moderates an event at the Worth Gallery discussing what the Black community would want from her if elected mayor on Saturday, June 10 (Nafisat Alao/Toronto Observer) 

As one of the most diverse cities in the world, Toronto prides itself on its multiculturalism and inclusivity. However, beneath its progressive image lies an astonishing truth: Toronto has never had a racialized mayor.   

The absence of a racialized mayor raises questions about systemic barriers and the city’s commitment to voting for a mayor of colour. 

Some of the top candidates running for the position of mayor on June 26 come from diverse backgrounds. Candidates like former Scarborough-Guildwood MPP Mitzie Hunter, former New Democratic Party MP, Olivia Chow, Chloe Brown who placed third in the 2022 mayoral election after her first time entering the race and many other candidates are all fighting for the position of Toronto’s next mayor.

Dr. Michael McGregor, associate professor in the department of politics and public administration at Toronto Metropolitan University, spoke about some of the implications racialized leaders face and how they may have played a part in Toronto not having a racialized mayor to date.

“I would say that all people with political ambitions face many of the same barriers, including finding supporters, learning about navigating the political system, funding etc. However, I do think racialized candidates find it particularly challenging to overcome these hurdles since the political system was not particularly designed for them,” McGregor said. 

He also shared his thoughts on the benefits of having a racialized mayor and what it could do for the city.     

“I do think that if you have a (mayor) that reflects the population, you are likely to bring about policy outcomes that better reflect the wishes of the citizenry … a continuous re-election of an older, whiter, wealthier male mayor would just continue to not be reflective of the general population,” he said. 

Jamaal Myers, the Ward 23 Scarborough North councillor, also talked about some of the behaviours that he noticed people adopt when racialized candidates run for positions within the city, and how that affects the view of the racialized candidate from citizens. 

“We all have a certain degree of internalized racism. We look at a candidate and think, ‘Yeah that looks like the mayor’ just because we have only experienced mayors that look like a certain demographic,” Myers said.  

“When we hear someone with a heavy accent who speaks a different language or who looks different, we just assume they are not very smart, but we never say ‘Hey, that person knows two languages … it’s really just about changing our frame of reference in terms of what we are looking for in a mayor,” he added. 

Other provinces in Canada have already made the move to elect racialized mayors. The current mayor of Vancouver, Ken Sim, who has been mayor since 2022, is the first Chinese-Canadian mayor of Vancouver. 

The two biggest cities in Alberta have elected mayors from diverse backgrounds. Amarjeet Sohi is the current mayor of Edmonton, and Naheed Nenshi was Calgary’s previous mayor from 2010 to 2021. Nenshi made history as the first Muslim mayor of a major city in North America.

Jyoti Gondek, of Indian descent, assumed the office of Calgary’s mayor in 2021, marking a significant milestone in the city’s history as she became its first female mayor.

Joseph Smith, director of youth outreach at Operation Black Vote Canada gave his thoughts on how he would see a racialized mayor representing Toronto. 

“It would be great to see one of our own being mayor of this city, from any diverse background too, really,” Smith said. “Minorities are starting to become the majority, and I think it’s time we elect a mayor that reflects what the majority of Toronto’s population is starting to look like.”

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Posted: Jun 23 2023 8:00 pm
Filed under: News Politics