Toronto will soon decide who will be its next mayor, after revelations of an extramarital affair pushed the city’s long-time leader out of office. There is no shortage of candidates to choose from – in fact, a historic total of 102 names will be on the ballot, including Molly, the dog.
The six-year-old wolf-husky canine, and her owner Toby Heaps, are running on the promise to “Stop the Salt Assault” on city roads during the winter.
The overuse of salt on roads during the winter, Mr Heaps argued, can hurt the paws of tender-footed canines like Molly. His campaign also proposes a fix to housing unaffordability, a tax-hike on billion-dollar businesses and a ban on fossil-fuel heating systems in new homes and commercial buildings.
If he wins, he said he will designate Molly as the city’s first honorary dog mayor.
“I think city hall would make better decisions if there was an animal in the room,” he told the BBC.
But along with a desire for change, Mr Heaps said this election is an opportunity he simply could not afford to miss.
It is the first by-election in Toronto’s history since seven municipalities joined to form what is colloquially known as the “mega-city” 25 years ago. The contest was called after the resignation of John Tory, the city’s mayor for the past eight years.
Mr Tory’s rise to power in 2014 was seen as a welcome reprieve from the reign of Rob Ford, who made international headlines for admitting to smoking crack cocaine while in office.
But Mr Tory has been criticised for lacking a meaningful vision for Toronto, and for deepening inequality in one of the world’s most unaffordable cities. A Toronto Star column described him as “rarely inspirational and too often overly cautious”.
He is also blamed for overseeing a Toronto that is seemingly at a crisis point, especially as the city continues to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Many have pointed to an increase in gun violence, homelessness, housing prices and violence on public transit during his tenure.
Despite these criticisms, Mr Tory was elected three times – the most recent being in October 2022. Only a few dozen people had challenged him then, as he was seen as a shoo-in for re-election.
That is, until a scandal of his own forced him out of office a few months later.
A February article in the Toronto Star revealed the 68-year-old married mayor had an affair with a 31-year-old staffer during the Covid-19 pandemic. He resigned a few days after it was published.
With him out of the picture, the upcoming by-election on 26 June is “a wide open race,” said Nelson Wiseman, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Toronto.
“The difference between last time and this time is we don’t know who is going to win,” Prof Wiseman said.
The barrier for entry into the race is remarkably low. A fee of C$250 ($189) and 25 signatures is all a Torontonian needs to run for mayor. Unlike other large North American cities – namely New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – candidates do not run according to political party lines, which means there is no nomination process that would whittle down the pool.
Karen Chapple, the director of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto, said that with the field wide open, some are attracted to run just to see if they have a shot.
“There’s kind of a gamblers aspect to it, kind of a Las Vegas aura,” she told the BBC.
Coupled with the consistently low voter turnout in Toronto’s mayoral elections, this means that most successful candidates already need a fair bit of name recognition.