The 2021 Toronto Council Power Rankings
City Hall Watcher #140: The always fun and always controversial list of who's got the most power at Toronto City Hall — a free milestone edition
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Hey there. Great to be back in your inbox for a special MILESTONE issue of City Hall Watcher. Around these parts, we celebrate milestones — every tenth issue — by opening the doors to non-subscribers with a free issue, in the hopes that they are so impressed they just have to mash that subscribe button.
This week’s issue includes an update to the popular (and often anger-inducing) annual COUNCIL POWER RANKINGS. It’s a list of every member of Toronto Council, ordered by how much power they have to shape the city.
For the first time, I’ve also included year-to-date and term-to-date attendance data for each councillor.
Before we dive in, allow me to make a shameless pitch to non-subscribers. Here’s just a quick overview of the kind of stuff you’ve missed by not subscribing to this newsletter.
A September update to LOBBYIST WATCH, featuring Frank Stronach, the Toronto Police Association, Ontario Place and more
An in-depth look at bike theft data in Toronto, with charts and maps
Several editions of the wildly popular INTERSECTION INSPECTION feature, which looks at decades of data on specific intersections requested by readers — recent inspections include Bloor & Avenue Road, Richmond & Spadina, and Keele & Sheppard.
That kind of cool weekly content is available for just five bucks a month or $50 a year — plus tax. It’s a bargain and a deal. I hope you’ll consider signing up to support my work and independent journalism in general. Group subscriptions are available for teams and corporations at a tidy discount. And if you’re already a subscriber but think a friend might be interested, you can give them a gift subscription.
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Anyway, enough with that. Let’s get to the list.
👉 Gmail readers, this issue is long enough that it will get clipped. View it in your browser for an uninterrupted experience.
— Matt Elliott
The Toronto Council Power Rankings for 2021
Two years ago, I introduced the Council Power Rankings as a way of measuring which councillors were making waves at City Hall. I brought it back last year for an update. Cards on the table: I stole this idea from sports journalism.
These aren’t meant to be objective or scientific — obviously — nor should they be seen as demeaning to any member of Council. As elected officials, all of them are powerful.
Rankings are based on a variety of factors, including committee roles, voting records and recent headlines.
The Team Tory score included with each entry is a measure of how often each member of Council votes with Mayor John Tory on major items, based on my Council Scorecard.
Attendance percentages are based on Voting Records data via TMMIS. Attendance is calculated by dividing the number of Council votes in which a member was marked “absent” by the total number of recorded Council votes this term, and this year. There have been exactly 300 recorded Council votes so far in 2021, which is kind of neat. I love a good round number.
All photos are recent screen grabs from the Toronto Council YouTube channel. Because all meetings over the last year were held virtually, you get an opportunity to judge headphones and/or hairstyles. I am duty bound by ethics to note that several members have since received haircuts.
1. Mayor John Tory (Last year: #1, Change: ▪️)
Mayor of Toronto
Notable roles(s): Mayor of Toronto
Council Scorecard Team Tory Percentage: 100%
Missed votes (term): 15.87%; Missed votes (year to date): 11.33%
The mayor, predictably, remains at the top of the heap. He’s won an impressive 97.46% of major Council votes this term, and is well positioned to return to office for a third term next year, should he choose to run again as it is widely expected he will. No one with any kind of name has shown a willingness to challenge him electorally.
A few cracks have emerged in his team in recent months. Deputy mayors Denzil Minnan-Wong and Stephen Holyday have broken with Tory on some key issues, and he was forced to delay a move to legalize rooming houses at the July Council meeting after several members of his hand-picked Executive Committee indicated they’d break with him if it came to a vote.
But overall this mayor doesn’t have a whole lot to worry about. And he finally got a haircut.
2. Councillor Joe Cressy (Last year: #2, Change: ▪️)
Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York
Notable role(s): Chair of the Board of Health
Team Tory Percentage: 57.89% (⬆ from 54.22%)
Missed votes (term): 4.24%; Missed votes (year to date): 5%
Chair of the Board of the Health hasn’t traditionally been a coveted position at City Hall, but Cressy got the gig just before all eyes turned to public health, first with a prolonged battle against Premier Doug Ford’s move to cut funding to municipalities, then with the whole pandemic thing.
It’s raised Cressy’s profile significantly, to the point where he’s a name that often comes up when people think about progressives who could challenge for a post-Tory mayoralty. I thought he might fall down a few spots this year as the pandemic entered the rear view mirror, but the pandemic never left.
3. Councillor Ana Bailão (Last year: #3; Change: ▪️)
Ward 9 Davenport
Notable role(s): Deputy Mayor (honourary), Chair of Planning & Housing Committee
Team Tory Percentage: 92.11% (⬆ from 91.46%)
Missed votes (term): 5.12%; Missed votes (year to date): 4.33%
Bailão is the other name that comes up frequently when people speculate about post-Tory mayoral contenders. Bailão has taken ownership of the tough housing file and delivered some pandemic-era wins with modular housing sites. But progress on the Housing Now sites has been slow enough to draw a negative headline, and the forced retreat on rooming houses in July wasn’t a great look.
She’s got a big test this fall as Inclusionary Zoning policy comes to her committee and Council. If implemented successfully, it might be the kind of thing you could build a mayoralty platform around in a few years.
4. Councillor Jennifer McKelvie (Last year: #14: Change: ⏫)
Ward 25 Scarborough-Rouge Park
Notable role(s): Chair of the Infrastructure & Environment Committee, Chair of Scarborough Community Council, Chair of the Toronto Francophone Affairs Advisory Committee
Team Tory Percentage: 94.07% (⬇ from 94.19%)
Missed votes (term): 3.26%; Missed votes (year to date): 0.00%
Rocketing up the charts. McKelvie took over as chair of the powerful Infrastructure & Environment Committee in January after Councillor James Pasternak stepped aside. (And, inevitably, dropped a few spots on this list.)
I can’t recall a first-term councillor who has ever ended up with so much responsibility. In addition to chairing the Infrastructure Committee, Scarborough Community Council and the Francophone Affairs Advisory Committee, McKelvie is also on the TTC board, the Budget Committee, the Zoo Board and, of course, Tory’s Executive Committee. It’s a busy schedule, but she’s managed to keep a perfect Council vote attendance record so far this year.
5. Councillor Gary Crawford (Last year: #6; Change: 🔼)
Ward 20 Scarborough Southwest
Notable role(s): Budget Chief
Team Tory Percentage: 87.61% (⬇ from 91.67%)
Missed votes (term): 3.66%; Missed votes (year to date): 5.67%
The long-time Budget Chief had a tough task with the 2021 budget, and may have an even tougher one with the 2022 budget, but he’s got a lot of experience built up now. He earned some kudos with me when he spoke out forcefully against an attempt to smear residents of a modular housing project in his ward.
6. Councillor Jaye Robinson (Last year: NR; Change: ⏫)
Ward 15 Don Valley West
Notable role(s): TTC chair
Team Tory Percentage: 78.87% (⬇ from 79.59%)
Missed votes (term): 41.34%; Missed votes (year to date): 8.00%
Robinson went unranked last year as she was still on leave for cancer treatment. But she’s returned and picked up right where she left off. (She was ranked 4th in the in the 2019 power rankings.) The TTC is also set to have another tough budget year, and the looming closure of the Scarborough RT will need to be stick-handled very carefully to avoid disaster. A new post-pandemic ridership growth strategy seems like a good idea.
7. Councillor Michael Thompson (Last year: #4; Change: 🔽)
Ward 21 Scarborough Centre
Notable role(s): Chair of the Economic & Community Development Committee, Deputy Mayor (honourary)
Team Tory Percentage: 91.96% (⬆ from 91.25%)
Missed votes (term): 8.84%; Missed votes (year to date): 1.00%
Thompson slides down a couple of spots as the role I expected he’d play during Toronto’s post-pandemic economy recovery was delayed by the continuing pandemic. He was a major voice in last year’s debate over police reform, and there hasn’t been an equivalent this year. With the Toronto Police Association kicking off a lobbying effort and a tough 2022 budget barrelling toward us, maybe that’ll change.
8. Councillor Stephen Holyday (Last year: #13; Change: 🔼)
Ward 2 Etobicoke Centre
Notable role(s): Deputy Mayor (honourary), Chair of Audit Committee
Team Tory Percentage: 61.21% (⬇ from 66.67%)
Missed votes (term): 0.29%; Missed votes (year to date): 0.00%
It may be controversial to have Holyday this high, but he’s one of the most frequently heard voices during Council meetings and is often the strongest opposition to some of the mayor’s key policies. Audit Committee is a sneaky powerful portfolio, as it often drives headlines, like we saw with the tree maintenance saga. Can’t argue with his perfect 2021 attendance record.
9. Councillor Paul Ainslie (Last year: #10: Change: 🔼)
Ward 24 Scarborough East
Notable role(s): Chair of General Government & Licensing Committee, Chair of Toronto Zoo Board of Management
Team Tory Percentage: 86.09% (⬆ from 85.54%)
Missed votes (term): 4.30%; Missed votes (year to date): 0.33%
One of the steadiest and most predictable voices on Council. Expect to hear him moving motions about Open Data and better integrating technology in government, always. And hey, someone’s got to do it.
10. Councillor Brad Bradford (Last year: #8; Change: 🔽)
Ward 19 Beaches- East York
Notable role(s): -
Team Tory Percentage: 87.29% (⬆ from 83.72%)
Missed votes (term): 3.49%; Missed votes (year to date): 6.00%
One of the key votes in the mayor’s majority coalition, Bradford has to walk a tricky line as the representative of a left-leaning ward who also owes at least some of his success to a 2018 Tory endorsement. Dealing with a challenging local issue right now as some residents push back against an affordable housing project. They’re making comic strips about him, but the hair is all wrong.
11. Councillor Frances Nunziata (Last year: #11; Change:▪️)
Ward 5 York South-Weston
Notable role(s): Speaker
Team Tory Percentage: 89.83% (⬇ from 91.86%)
Missed votes (term): 0.12%; Missed votes (year to date): 0.67%
She’s officially been speaker for more than a decade now, and shows no sign of giving up the gig. Chairing virtual meetings is a tough job. Occasionally speaks on the issues, but often seems content to just be the referee.
12. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Last year: #12: Change:▪️)
Ward 16 Don Valley East
Notable role(s): Deputy Mayor (statutory), Chair of the Collective Bargaining Committee, Chair of the Striking Committee
Team Tory Percentage: 77.57% (⬇ from 85.00%)
Missed votes (term): 10.29%; Missed votes (year to date): 10.67%
Tory’s statutory deputy mayor should probably rank higher on the list, but Minnan-Wong doesn’t often appear alongside Tory, hasn’t really championed any major policy changes lately, and has one of the worst attendance records on Council.
13. Councillor James Pasternak (Last year: #5; Change: ⏬)
Ward 6 York Centre
Notable role(s): Chair of North York Community Council
Team Tory Percentage: 81.82% (⬇ from 86.08%)
Missed votes (term): 9.07%; Missed votes (year to date): 4.67%
A big drop for Pasternak entirely due to his stepping down as chair of Infrastructure & Environment Committee.
14. Councillor Shelley Carroll (Last year: #16; Change: 🔼)
Ward 17 Don Valley North
Notable role(s): Deputy Speaker
Team Tory Percentage: 71.03% (⬆ from 68.83%)
Missed votes (term): 11.28%; Missed votes (year to date): 9.67%
One of Council’s most authoritative voices on the budget process. She employs strategy on Council in a way reminiscent of the late Councillor Pam McConnell. Should get more opportunity to chair Council meetings as the deputy speaker.
15. Councillor Mike Layton (Last year: #15; Change: ▪️)
Ward 11 University Rosedale
Notable role(s): -
Team Tory Percentage: 57.26% (⬆ from 54.12%)
Missed votes (term): 2.50%; Missed votes (year to date): 1.00%
His successful move in July to get Council to include a stormwater charge in upcoming water fee consultations was a legit surprise and a real credit to his perseverance. Dude doesn’t give up.
16. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Last year: #7; Change: ⏬)
Ward 13 Toronto Centre
Notable role(s): Chair of the Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee
Team Tory Percentage: 57.39% (⬆ from 50.59%)
Missed votes (term): 5.52%; Missed votes (year to date): 1.67%
A steep fall, but last year’s position was based entirely on the successful push with Councillor Josh Matlow to force a Council debate on police reform. Wong-Tam remains one of Council’s strongest voices in the push for gender equity, accessibility and the rights of queer people.
17. Councillor Gord Perks (Last year: #18; Change: 🔼)
Ward 4 Parkdale-High Park
Notable role(s): Chair of Toronto & East York Community Council
Team Tory Percentage: 53.39% (⬆ from 48.84%)
Missed votes (term): 0.12%; Missed votes (year to date): 0.33%
The councillor who votes against the mayor most often, Perks brings an encyclopedic knowledge of Council procedure and the budget. Still, he ends up on the losing end of a lot of votes. Tied with Nunziata for best attendance record so far this term, with only two missed votes.
18. Councillor Josh Matlow (Last year: #9; Change: ⏬)
Ward 12 Toronto-St. Paul’s
Notable role(s): -
Team Tory Percentage: 56.52% (⬆ from 52.33%)
Missed votes (term): 1.51%; Missed votes (year to date): 3.00%
Like with Wong-Tam, Matlow drops a bunch of spots from last year’s high that came in the wake of the police funding debate. Matlow spent the better part of a decade as one of the loudest voices opposing the Scarborough Subway. That fight is pretty well over now, but I’d expect he’ll have a lot to say about the SRT shutdown plan, especially if it results in chaos.
19. Councillor Paula Fletcher (Last year: #19; Change: ▪️)
Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth
Notable role(s): -
Team Tory Percentage: 66.07% (⬆ from 65.43%)
Missed votes (term): 8.20%; Missed votes (year to date): 11.33%
No change for the Ward 14 veteran, who is dealing with a lot of issues related to construction in her ward right now. Key role to play in the next steps of the port lands development.
20. Councillor John Filion (Last year: #20; Change: ▪️)
Ward 18 Willowdale
Notable role(s): -
Team Tory Percentage: 60.00% (⬆ from 55.42%)
Missed votes (term): 3.43%; Missed votes (year to date): 2.33%
The Willowdale councillor almost retired last term, before the Council cut drew him back into campaign mode. It’ll be interesting to see what he decides to do next year.
21. Councillor Mark Grimes (Last year: #21: Change: ▪️)
Ward 3 Etobicoke-Lakeshore
Notable role(s): Chair of the Exhibition Place Board of Governments, Chair of Etobicoke York Community Council
Team Tory Percentage: 88.79% (⬇ from 89.87%)
Missed votes (term): 13.95%; Missed votes (year to date): 29.00%
If this were a ranking of power as it relates to Exhibition Place, he’d be at the top of the list.
22. Councillor Mike Colle (Last year: #17; Change: 🔽)
Ward 8 Eglinton-Lawrence
Notable role(s): -
Team Tory Percentage: 79.49% (⬇ from 81.40%)
Missed votes (term): 5.17%; Missed votes (year to date): 4.33%
A real wildcard who often surprises with his votes on issues. A loud voice against developers in midtown.
23. Councillor Michael Ford (Last year: #24; Change: 🔼)
Ward 1 Etobicoke North
Notable roles: -
Team Tory Percentage: 69.91% (⬇ from 72.29%)
Missed votes (term): 9.42%; Missed votes (year to date): 11.67%
Still a relatively quiet voice at City Hall, Ford made some headlines recently with a push to end the ActiveTO program.
24. Councillor Anthony Perruzza (last year: #23: Change: 🔽)
Ward 7 York-West
Notable role(s): -
Team Tory Percentage: 76.19% (⬇ from 78.38%)
Missed votes (term): 11.57%; Missed votes (year to date): 9.00%
He and Colle are Council’s wildcards. It’s hard to predict how they’ll vote on any issue. On close votes on divisive issues, Perruzza can be the difference maker.
25. Councillor Cynthia Lai (Last year: #22; Change: 🔽)
Ward 23 Scarborough North
Notable roles: -
Team Tory Percentage: 85.96% (⬆ from 85.42%)
Missed votes (term): 7.21%; Missed votes (year to date): 1.67%
26. Councillor Nick Mantas (Last year; NR; Change: ▪️)
Ward 22 Scarborough-Agincourt
Notable role(s): -
Team Tory Percentage: 90.91%
Missed votes (term): 14.00%; Missed votes (year to date): 14.00%
Mantas was elected to succeed Jim Karygiannis in a January by-election. Aside from running into a bit of hot water with his constituents over overnight street parking, he hasn’t been much of a voice on Council yet.
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More from Matt: on terrible construction sites, and who is left to vaccinate
📰 For the Toronto Star last week, I wrote about my frustrations with construction sites all over the city this summer. Turned into a bit of a rant, but people seemed to agree with it.
🗞 For the Star this week, I look at the city’s magic number needed to get the vaccination rate to 90%. The good news is the math suggests the anti-vaxx weirdos protesting at hospitals can’t stop us from getting there.
Look for it in your favourite newspaper.
In other news
An all-star team up at the Star, as reporters Jennifer Pagliaro, David Rider, Ben Spurr and Victoria Gibson have the rundown of the major federal parties and their views on the issues that’ll most effect Toronto. “In an antiquated system that treats big cities as mostly powerless junior partners, with lots of responsibilities and access to property tax revenues but little else, Toronto is struggling to help its residents with everything from refugee resettlement to combating COVID-19.”
Bookmark this one. TVO’s John Michael McGrath has a very helpful and detailed explainer laying out the divisions of power between the various levels of government.
“Indeed, a city progress report published in July noted that the delays on the first 11 sites — encompassing 10,826 units, 36 per cent of which are considered affordable — ranged from nine to 24 months, with not a single project even remotely on schedule.” For the Globe & Mail, John Lorinc looks at the major delays impacting the City’s Housing Now program.
The week at Toronto City Hall
MONDAY: 🌳 North York Community Council met today. A construction staging area proposal for Laird Drive that I mentioned in my Star column got referred back to staff, which is good news for pedestrians. The proposal would have closed a sidewalk for three years.
🏗 The CreateTO Board is also meeting today. After sitting vacant for 35 years, the Wellington Destructor at 677 Wellington Street is set to get a new lease on life with a new tenant. The Board is debating a term sheet for a new long-term lease. The name of the proponent will be kept confidential until negotiations close. Local councillor Joe Cressy has written to the board expressing his support of the deal for the former incinerator building. “Rather than burning garbage, the building can be a vibrant destination and a welcoming community hub,” he writes.
TUESDAY: 🚧 The Infrastructure & Environment Committee gets together.
An item about the much-needed permanent replacement for the Dufferin Street bridge over the rail corridor tells quite a tale. The old bridge was demolished in 2013, with temporary bridges installed in 2014 — one for eastbound traffic, one for westbound, and one for pedestrians.
The temporary bridges will last about ten years, which doesn’t leave much time. According to a City report, Metrolinx told the City to hold off on permanent replacements until they figured out their electrification plans, because they weren’t sure how much clearance they’d need beneath the bridge. In 2017, Metrolinx said they’d take over the bridge project entirely.
But that didn’t last. “In September 2019, Metrolinx informed the City that the … Dufferin Street Bridges would no longer be included in their GO Expansion procurement package.”
Negotiations with Metrolinx to get them to reconsider went nowhere. So now the City is scrambling to get a permanent bridge design complete and installed before the temporary bridges reach the end of their service life in 2024.
The result? Staff are recommending the City award a $3.6 million no-bid contract to LEA Consulting to speedrun the process and ensure they can avoid a situation where Dufferin needs to be closed for a prolonged period of time.
The agenda also includes an update on the TOCore parks strategy, highlighting recent moves to acquire new parks in the green space deficient downtown core.
WEDNESDAY: 🚈 The TTC Board meets.
Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same. The Scarborough RT’s closure is inevitable, with decommissioning planned for 2023. Staff have started looking at plans to replace the service, that carries about 35,000 people a day, with buses, until the Scarborough Subway opens in 2030.
Options include extending bus routes that currently end at Scarborough Town Centre so they end at Kennedy subway station, or keeping the bus routes in place but running an express shuttle along the SRT route. A final report is due this January.
The Board will also contend with a staff recommendation to spend another $14.8 million disinfecting vehicles (and fixing the corrosion caused by the disinfectant chemicals) through the end of the year, as part of pandemic public health measures. Given what we know about COVID and how it spreads, this kind of thing seems unnecessary. I hope the Board asks some tough questions.
🐕 The Dangerous Dog Review Tribunal considers the appeal of a muzzle order lodged against a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever named Storm.
🗂 The General Government & Licensing Committee will meet. Their agenda includes a report on a City move to write off $29.4 million in unpaid fines dating back to the 1980s.
Interestingly, the largest write-offs amounts relate to a couple of big financial scandals of the 80s and 90s. A defunct corporation named Osler Inc, who lost millions in a bond trading scandal, owes the City more than $5 million. And Pia Williamson, who was convicted in 1992 for bilking money from investors in a real estate scheme and was later arrested after she fled to London, owes the City $701,280. “Court record contains no date of birth and no address,” notes the report. Both cases date back to before the City was made responsible for the administration of courts.
The committee will also review the annual list of the biggest property tax debts. Woodbine Mall again takes the top spot, owing $7.9 million.
THURSDAY: Yom Kippur. No meetings scheduled.
FRIDAY: 🌳 Scarborough Community Council meets to consider some zoning amendments and fence exemptions. All in a day’s work.
NEXT WEEK: Planning & Housing meets on Tuesday. Economic & Community Development goes on Wednesday. Executive Committee meets Thursday.
City Hall Watcher #140
Thanks for reading! I know it was jam-packed. They’re not all this long, I promise. And one of the reasons I am excited to bring on another writer is so I can split some of this content up. Big plans for the fall. Again, if you know someone who might be a good fit as a City Hall Watcher contributor, get in touch.
And remember: you can subscribe for just five bucks or fifty bucks a year. A bargain and a deal.
If you’re mad about your placement on the Power Rankings, email me. We’ll hash it out.
Otherwise, I hope to see many of you back here next week, for a brand new issue of City Hall Watcher. It’ll be in your inbox on Monday, like it always is.1
Except holidays, duh.