The story of Toronto’s streetcar “bull’s eyes”

7566316174_524a59174e_o.jpgReplica of Toronto Railway Company streetcar #327 operates at the Halton County Radial Railway museum, with the unique glass bulbs visible below the metal “Belt Line” sign. Photo taken June 2012

In 1891, the Toronto Railway Company (TRC) was created, taking over the city’s streetcar system from its predecessor, the Toronto Street Railway. The TRC quickly began electrifying Toronto’s transit network, operating fifteen routes across the city. Electric streetcars were faster than horse-drawn trams, and passengers had difficulties figuring out which streetcar was theirs at night.

This was a problem as many streetcar routes overlapped. For example, Dupont and Avenue Road streetcars operated on Yonge Street south of Bloor, and Belt Line and Yonge streetcars both ran on Front Street. While the TRC had metal signs on the top and sides of each streetcar to denote the route, they weren’t illuminated. With electric light still in its infancy — arc lamps were too intense while early incandescent lamps were too dull to adequately illuminate route signs — the TRC developed an ingenious solution: uniquely coloured glass bulbs mounted on the roof, lit by interior lights. These lights became known as “bull’s eyes.”

Under this scheme, the Yonge Streetcar could be identified by one blue light, while the Broadview Streetcar could be identified with red and green lights. This system required passengers to memorize their route’s colours, and as new routes were introduced, changed, or withdrawn, it became cumbersome. Eventually, lighting technology caught up: while back-lit destination signs were possible by 1910, the TRC became hesitant to spend any capital funds to modernize its fleet or expand the streetcar railway network. The City of Toronto was forced to start its own streetcar system, the Toronto Civic Railway, to serve outlying neighbourhoods.

Though the Ontario Railway Board (predecessor to the Ontario Municipal Board) refused to force the TRC to expand the street railway network beyond the 1891 boundaries, it ordered the TRC to install backlit route signs. These new signs were introduced in February 1913, and those unique coloured bulbs disappeared by 1915. Six years later, the TRC’s franchise was up, and the city-owned Toronto Transportation Commission came into being.

In 1935, the TTC re-introduced “bull’s eyes” to its streetcar fleet. Officially known as an advance light, a single roof-mounted light, which gave off a blue-green hue, was designed to let waiting passengers know a streetcar was on its way. At the same time, the TTC installed dash lights, which both illuminated advertising cards and provided additional lighting, a useful safety feature.

IMG_7929-001.JPGTTC PCC Streetcar #4549 on Queen Street West in September 2018

New PCC streetcars, which began arriving in 1938, were built with the advance lights already installed. By 1940, all streetcars, including the remaining wooden cars acquired from the Toronto Railway Company, were equipped with advance lights. After the Second World War, PCC streetcars purchased from cities such as Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Kansas City, were similarly fitted with the roof-mounted lamps.

IMG_8717-001.JPGCLRV streetcar on Queen Street East, with two blue-green advance lights above the back-lit destination sign. 

By the 1970s, the TTC decided to maintain its street railway fleet after planning for their eventual replacement with buses and subways, and sought a replacement fleet for its ageing PCCs. The new Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) and Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs) were designed with dual advance lamps, mounted within the streetcar body, immediately above the destination sign.

Advance lights were introduced to TTC buses starting in the mid-1990s, as new wheelchair-accessible vehicles were added to the fleet, starting with high-floor Orion V and Nova RTS buses, and continuing with newer low-floor vehicles. Blue lights indicated that the bus was accessible. As a bonus, when combined with new digital orange LED destination signs, the bus advance lights served to further improve the visibility of approaching transit vehicles.

11041809023_47fc64e5e7_o.jpgNova articulated bus with orange LED destination sign and blue LED advance lights indicating it is an accessible vehicle

The new Bombardier Flexity streetcars are similarly equipped with new blue LED lights, as they too are fully accessible vehicles. While blue advance lights are unique to TTC buses, the new light rail vehicles for Waterloo Region’s ION LRT, also built by Bombardier, sport similar blue lights.

IMG_8421-002.JPGION LRT vehicle undergoing testing in Kitchener, February 2019

Sources:
John F. Bromley and Jack May: Fifty Years of Progressive Transit (Electric Railroaders’ Association, 1973)
Mike Filey: Not a One-Horse Town: 125 years of Toronto and its Streetcars (Firefly Press, 1990)

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Filling the gap in Southwestern Ontario

9119948871_f1716baa80_oWhile there’s GO train service between Toronto, Guelph, and Kitchener, it’s inadequate for the regions’s transportation demands 

Earlier this year, I took a ride on Wroute, a new service connecting Guelph, Kitchener, and Burlington that has some characteristics of a bus service, a taxi company, and ride-hailing app. With a fleet of Tesla Model X electric SUVs, Wroute tries fill a gap left by GO Transit and other intercity transportation operators in the Guelph-Kitchener/Waterloo-Hamilton Triangle. It’s an interesting concept, but it is not enough to move commuters quickly, reliably, frequently and, most important, affordably.

I spoke with two Kitchener residents — James Bow, author and webmaster of Transit Toronto, and Brian Doucet, Canada Research Chair in cities planning at the University of Waterloo — to find out what the region really needs.

You can read the full article at the TVO website here.

IMG_8407-001.JPGTesla operated by Wroute at Guelph Central Station

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A year later, progress on Canongate Trail

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Canongate Trail, February 2019

In February 2018, Duncan Xu, an 11-year old boy, was struck and killed crossing a residential street in North Scarborough on his way home from school. He was one of forty-two pedestrians unintentionally struck and killed by motorists in Toronto last year.

Not long after Duncan’s death, I visited the neighbourhood and wrote about the tragedy.  Canongate Trail, where Duncan was struck, is a two-lane residential street. At the time, there were no traffic calming measures in place to slow down motorists, many of whom used Canongate as a shortcut around the busy intersection of Kennedy Road and Steeles Avenue. The local councillor, Jim Karygiannis, decided to unilaterally close a walkway linking the rear schoolyard with Canongate Trail, close to where Duncan was killed. Duncan used the walkway before he tried to cross the street.

Since then, more permanent fixes were made. At the request of Karygiannis and local residents, city staff studied both reducing speed limit and installing traffic calming measures. While staff recommended reducing the speed limit to 30 kilometres an hour, they concluded that traffic calming measures such as speed humps were unwarranted.

The speed humps were added anyway, along with other measures. A new all-way stop was added at Ockwell Manor Drive, near where the walkway meets the Canongate Trail sidewalk. Beyond the point where the walkway meets the sidewalk, fencing was installed to discourage children from running into the street. These are significant improvements.

IMG_8530-001The walkway to the school and a nearby park is reopened, with a metal barrier between the sidewalk and the roadway

Still, more can always be done. Curb extensions or bulb-outs at intersections would be another effective traffic calming measure, narrowing the roadway, slowing down turning vehicles, and increasing pedestrian visibility while reducing pedestrian crossing distances.

What’s most disheartening though is that it took a young child’s death for these measures to happen. All residential streets should have a 30 km/h limit and streets designed to slow motorists down, including measures such as curb extensions and speed humps. As with the “Slow Down – Kids at Play” lawn sign campaign, action only comes after a high-profile tragedy. Even then, it’s not enough.

It’s good to see progress on Canongate Trail. But this should be the standard everywhere. We can and should do better in Toronto if we are all serious about implementing a true Vision Zero policy.

IMG_8535-001New 30 km/h speed limit and a new stop sign on Canongate Trail, February 2019

IMG_6027-001What Canongate Trail looked like in March 2018

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Why Brampton’s property taxes are high — and what it can do about it

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To effectively reduce its residential property tax rate, Brampton must diversify its tax base

It’s budget time for most municipalities in Ontario. Unlike cities elsewhere in the world — where municipalities can levy income, sales, and payroll taxes — places like Toronto, Ottawa, and Brampton rely on property taxes for most of their operating revenue, and they are complicated.

Toronto homeowners enjoy the cheapest property tax rates in the Greater Toronto Area, too low in fact to properly support city services like transit, housing, or adequate snow clearance.

Meanwhile, Brampton has some of the highest property tax rates in the city. A typical house in Brampton whose assessed value is $800,000 would be levied $8,284.73 in property taxes in Brampton. A similar house in suburban Scarborough or Etobicoke might be worth more, but the taxes on a house accessed at $1 million would be just $6,355.10.

While freezing property taxes might be popular, it isn’t a sustainable solution to high property taxes. A property tax freeze means that the city will not collect any additional tax revenue, regardless of new development or higher property assessments; unlike income and sales taxes, property tax revenue does not grow with the economy. Commercial and industrial property tax rates are higher, but Brampton doesn’t have enough of either land use compared to housing.

Brampton’s property tax issues are structural; tax cuts or freezes will not help. Having a diverse tax base, like Toronto’s, is a better solution, but it won’t be easy. I explain more in Bramptonist. 

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What GO Transit service to Brampton might look like without the freight bypass

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VIA and GO trains meet at Brampton Station

In 1967, GO Transit launched a new rail service between Pickering and Hamilton. The new commuter train service was made possible as GO just built a new freight bypass so its trains could avoid Downtown Toronto and connect to a new sorting yard in Vaughan. Today, trains on the Lakeshore Line operate as frequently as every fifteen minutes during weekdays, and every half hour on weekends. Unfortunately for Brampton, that freight bypass built in the 1960s runs right through its downtown core, limiting the number of passenger trains that can serve Brampton, Guelph, and Kitchener.

Last December, the provincial government cancelled plans for a new freight bypass that would have diverted CN trains from a critical section of track in Brampton, allowing for frequent GO and intercity services. Around the same time, a new GO Transit schedule resulted in extreme overcrowding and extended delays on the Kitchener Line. As population and ridership grows, there are few answers and little promise of relief that the freight bypass would have provided.

In my debut article for Bramptonist, I comment on the future of the Kitchener Line, the only GO line serving Ontario’s fourth largest city and an important commuter link to Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo. What can Brampton expect now that the freight bypass is dead?

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Voter turnouts in the 2018 Toronto municipal election

2014 was a watershed year for municipal voter turnout in Toronto. After a disastrous four years of Rob Ford as mayor, 54.7 percent of all eligible voters went to the polls, electing John Tory. That was the highest voter turnout in decades, even higher than 1997, when Torontonians elected Mel Lastman to lead a newly amalgamated City of Toronto. In 2010, when Rob Ford was elected mayor, turnout was 50.4 percent, compared to 39.3 percent in 2006 and 38.3 percent in 2000.

Four years ago, the mayoral race was especially competitive. Progressive Olivia Chow was the initial front-runner against Ford, but Tory (who previously ran for mayor in 2003) pulled ahead as Chow’s campaign floundered. Late in the campaign, Rob Ford dropped out due to health concerns, so his brother Doug took his place. Among the three frontrunners, Tory got 40.3 percent of the vote, while Doug Ford took 33.7 percent. Chow only got 23.1 percent. Voters also elected seven new councillors that year, and returned Rob Ford to Ward 2.

After two elections in which over half the number of eligible voters took part, in 2018 voter turnout fell to just 40.9 percent. This was hardly surprising. John Tory cruised to victory despite a challenge by former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, while a sudden reduction in the number of wards confused voters and crushed the hopes of many council hopefuls and their supporters.

Though 769,000 electors voted in this mess of an election, voter turnout varied across the city. In Ward 23, Scarborough North, only 34.1 percent of eligible voters turned out to the polls. In Ward 7, Humber River-Black Creek, just 34.6 percent of electors voted. Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York, had the third worst turnout, with just 34.8 percent.

Areas with the highest voter turnout were Midtown and east end Toronto. Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth had the highest turnout, where 49.2 percent of electors cast a vote. It was followed by Ward 15 and Ward 12 (both of which had 48.5 percent turnout) and Ward 19, where 48.4 percent of electors went to the polls.

Wards 12, 14, 15, and 19 had interesting and competitive council races. In Ward 14, the race featured two progressive incumbents, while Ward 19 was one of just two races in which an established city councillor was not running for re-election. Wards 12 and 15 also had competitive races. However, in Ward 4, Gord Perks won re-election easily.

Yet Ward 23 had an open council race in which no incumbent was running. And Ward 7 was one of the most interesting and important races of 2018; this is where Giorgio Mammoliti was finally defeated after years of campaign violations, buffoonery, and embarrassments.

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2018 voter turnout by ward (alternate version available here)

Voter turnout has consistently been low in Toronto’s northwest and northeast corners. In 2014, Ward 8 and Ward 41 (which made up parts of new Wards 7 and 23) had the lowest numbers of electors casting a vote. Turnout was highest in more affluent neighbourhoods, especially in places like Midtown Toronto, the Kingsway neighbourhood in Etobicoke, and in Toronto’s East End. What surprised me mostly was the poor turnout in Ward 10 in 2018.

2014-election-turnout-e1547405905585.jpg

2014 voter turnout by ward (alternate version available here)

The difference in voter turnout across the city is more apparent at the neighbourhood level. With the poll-level results available through Toronto’s Open Data Catalogue, I allocated the poll results to each of Toronto’s 140 neighbourhoods, while adjusting the numbers based on the number of votes cast in the advance polls in each ward. The map below shows voter turnout at the neighbourhood level in 2018.

citydata-nabes-turnouts-2018-e1547406217401.jpg
2018 voter turnout by neighbourhood (alternate version available here)

What is immediately apparent is that voter turnout is highest in many neighbourhoods surrounding Toronto’s downtown core, while turnout is lowest in the former City of York, in northwestern Toronto and parts of Scarborough. Areas of high voter turnout tend to be affluent neighbourhoods with high levels of home ownership. These neighbourhoods include the Kingsway, Lawrence Park, Leaside, Cabbagetown, Rosedale, Forest Hill, Swansea, the Beaches, and Leaside. Many of these areas also have active residents’ associations. With Ryerson professor Myer Siemiatycki, I looked at the results of previous municipal election voter turnouts in a report published by the Maytree Foundation.

Downtown, areas with major condominium developments also have lower turnout, especially in places like the Waterfront, CityPlace, Liberty Village, and the Bay Street corridor. These areas are more likely to have younger residents and many renters. Engaging voters both in downtown condos and those living in the inner suburbs remains a challenge. While voter turnout was much higher in 2014 across the city, the same basic patterns are evident.citydata-nabes-turnouts-2014.jpg
2014 voter turnout by neighbourhood (alternate version available here)

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Mapping the Downtown city council races

At the end of 2014, despite some disappointing results in that year’s municipal election, I was feeling optimistic about 2018. In 2014, there were a number of great candidates running for city council, and I expected many would try again in 2018. After council finally approved the recommended 47 ward model for the 2018 election, I was excited. Downtown, which was badly underrepresented under the 44 ward model, would get three additional wards. Vacancies left by departing councillors, including Mary-Margaret McMahon and John Filion, would further improve the chance for fresh new voices to join city council. At least eight wards across Toronto would not have an incumbent running.

Of course, we all know what happened to that dream.

Downtown tends to elect some of Toronto’s hardest-working and most progressive councillors. They’re hard-working out of necessity: old Ward 27 had the largest population in the city, and all four old downtown wards struggled with pressures caused by massive new development and social concerns, especially as older, affordable housing stock is replaced by new condominiums. (Similar pressures exist in North York Centre and Midtown.)

The last council term

In 2014, four councillors were elected downtown. Mike Layton was re-elected in Ward 19, which ran from Dovercourt Road in the west to Bathurst Street in the east, including Exhibition Place, Fort York, and the Mirvish Village redevelopment site at Bathurst and Bloor. Layton was first elected to council in 2010. Layton is the son of respected long-time councillor and federal NDP leader Jack Layton.

Joe Cressy was elected in old Ward 20, which was located between Bathurst Street and University Avenue, and included the Annex, University of Toronto, the Entertainment District, City Place, and much of the waterfront. The previous elected councillor in Ward 20 was Adam Vaughan, who resigned in 2014 to run in a federal by-election in Spadina-Fort York. He is now the Liberal MP for Spadina-Fort York. A long-time political activist, Cressy is the son of former city councillors Gordon Cressy and Joanne Campbell.

Kristyn Wong-Tam was re-elected in Ward 27, which included Rosedale, Yorkville, the Church-Wellesley Village, Ryerson University, and Moss Park. A local business owner and an advocate for both LGBTQ and Asian-Canadian community issues, Wong-Tam was first elected in 2010.

Pam McConnell was re-elected in Ward 28, which included Cabbagetown, Regent Park, the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood, much of the Financial District, and the Distillery District. She was first elected as a Metro councillor in 1994. She is credited for many local improvements, including the Regent Park redevelopment and the revitalized Berczy Park. Sadly, McConnell died in 2017. She was replaced by council appointee Lucy Troisi in a controversial vote.

The promise of new representation

At the beginning of 2018, with three new wards, each of the seven downtown races were starting to shape up.

Mike Layton planned to run for re-election in Ward 19, whose boundaries were similar to the ward he was first elected to in 2010. Joe Cressy planned to run in new Ward 24, and Kristyn Wong-Tam planned to run in Ward 22. Despite her promise not to run for election after her appointment, Lucy Troisi registered to run in Ward 23, against former Liberal provincial cabinet minister and 2010 mayoral candidate George Smitherman. Also running in Ward 23 were Megan Willson, an entrepreneur and community organizer; Khuram Aftab, a local convenience store owner; and Walied Khogali Ali, a progressive community activist in Regent Park and St. Jamestown.

Ward 20 had an especially crowded field of candidates, with eleven council hopefuls. Among the most prominent was local TDSB trustee Ausma Malik, a rising political star. Malik, like other Muslim women and men, faced targeted attacks during the 2014 municipal election. Her win was one of a few bright spots in a nasty campaign season. Malik was backed by many progressives, including Layton and Cressy.

Other high-profile candidates included businessman, transit advocate, and naval reserve officer Kevin Vuong; lawyer April Engelberg; former television journalist and Conservative Karlene Nation; disgruntled restaurateur Al Carbone; second-time candidate Dean Maher, founder of two local neighbourhood associations; and Sabrina Zuniga, federal Conservative candidate for Spadina-Fort York in the 2015 election. Late to register was Han Dong, a local Liberal MPP defeated in the June provincial election. Dong’s entry into the race was supported by former councillor and Liberal MP Adam Vaughan.

Candidates in Ward 21, which encompassed Corktown, the Distillery District, and St. Lawrence Market, included Jennifer Hollett, a former broadcaster and provincial NDP candidate in University-Rosedale; and Suzanne Kavanagh, past president of the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association and advocate for local public spaces, including Toronto’s waterfront.

In Ward 25, which included the Yorkville and Church-Wellesley neighbourhoods, there were several well-known candidates, featuring several activists within the local LGBTQ movement. These included Chris Moise, a local Toronto District School Board trustee; Niki Ward, director of the 519 Community Centre; and Ryan Lester, a director of development with the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, and former director at Egale Canada.

Downtown voters were spoiled by choice, and there were many worthy and qualified candidates.

But then, of course, Doug Ford seized control of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party and won the provincial election in June. One of his first acts was to unilaterally cut Toronto City Council to just 25 wards, with the promise to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to get it past any legal challenge.

Seven downtown wards were reduced to just three. Councillor Joe Cressy decided to run in Spadina Fort-York, while Mike Layton registered in University-Rosedale. Kristyn Wong-Tam ran in Toronto Centre, along with appointed councillor Lucy Troisi.

Many allied progressive candidates, including Ausma Malik and Jennifer Hollett, withdrew their candidacies. Chris Moise decided to run for re-election as TDSB trustee, which he won. Other candidates who withdrew included Han Dong,

Ward 10

There were 14 candidates running in Ward 10, Fort York-Spadina, including Joe Cressy, April Engelberg, and Kevin Vuong. Cressy won with 55.8 percent of the vote, with Engelberg coming in second place with 11.6 percent and and Vuong with 10.5 percent. Cressy placed first in all but seven polls, most of which were condominium buildings in the Harbourfront and Liberty Village neighbourhoods. The top three candidates all supported the King Street Pilot, while Al Carbone got a mere 1.8 percent of the vote.

2018 Election - W10
Poll results in Ward 10

Ward 11

The new Ward 11 was a very different ward from the one in which Mike Layton had run in 2010 and 2014. Only a fraction of old Ward 19 was included in University-Rosedale, which includes neighbourhoods such as the Annex, Yorkville and Rosedale, areas previously represented by Councillors Cressy and Wong-Tam. Layton was challenged by Niki Ward and by latecomer candidate Joyce Rowlands, an occupational health nurse, writer, and policy consultant, and the daughter of former City of Toronto mayor June Rowlands.

Despite the change in ward boundaries, Layton won easily with 69.6 percent of the vote, while Rowlands placed second with 13.2 percent, and Ward in third with 9.1 percent. Layton came first in every poll, but Rowlands did best in Rosedale, almost winning Polls 027 and 029. This was the same area in which Wong-Tam had the least support in 2014.

2018-Election-W11Poll results in Ward 11

Ward 13

The new Ward 13, Toronto Centre, had much more of former Ward 28 than Councillor Wong-Tam’s old Ward 27. The Rosedale and Yorkville sections of Ward 27 became part of new Ward 11. While Ward 13 is geographically smaller than old Ward 27 (the only instance of this happening under the 25-ward model), it still has a larger population, and has many different challenges than the old ward, as it now includes St. Jamestown, where hundreds remain displaced after a fire, and Regent Park, which is still undergoing redevelopment.

Wong-Tam won with 50.3 percent of the vote, with other high-profile candidates doing quite poorly. George Smitherman got just 15.2 percent of the vote, while Lucy Troisi, the Ward 28 incumbent, got just 8.6 percent. Wong-Tam placed first in all but seven polls, while Troisi didn’t place first anywhere. It’s clear by the poll results map below that Wong-Tam’s support was lowest in St. Jamestown and in the Regent Park neighbourhoods while strongest in old Ward 27 and the area south of Queen Street.

This speaks to the challenges for many councillors elected to new, larger wards. At least Kristyn Wong-Tam is one of Toronto’s most effective and hardest-working councillors, so Ward 13 is in good hands.

2018 Election - W13.jpgPoll results in Ward 13

Conclusion

Downtown Toronto is fortunate to have experienced, dedicated, and hard-working councillors, but concentrating all the work in just three wards is unfortunate. Not only is the population of central Toronto growing faster than most other parts of the city, it has additional needs: an increasing share of the city’s employment that requires additional infrastructure such as a Relief Line Subway, and pressing social needs especially as new development downtown squeezes out affordable rental housing and the institutions that support marginalized people.

I also think of all the great people running for council who never got a fair shot at running for council. Though re-electing Councillors Cressy, Layton, and Wong-Tam is the best result especially considering the circumstances, I was excited by many of the new voices who put their names forward in good faith earlier in 2018. Hopefully, they remain active in the community and get a fair chance in the future.


 

Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York
Candidate Votes Percent
Michael Barcelos 451 1.6
Al Carbone 519 1.8
Joe Cressy 15,903 55.1
Ahdam Dour 80 0.3
April Engelberg 3,346 11.6
Dean Maher 611 2.1
Andrew Massey 473 1.6
Rick Myers 747 2.6
Karlene Nation 860 3.0
John Nguyen 1,032 3.6
Kevin Vuong 3,018 10.5
Edris Zalmai 147 0.5
Sabrina Zuniga 1,564 5.4
Andrei Zodian 133 0.5
Ward 11 University-Rosedale
Candidate Votes Percent
Michael Borrelli 671 2.1
Marc Cormier 995 3.1
Mike Layton 22,370 69.6
Joyce Rowlands 4,231 13.2
Michael Shaw 581 1.8
George Sawision 376 1.2
Nicki Ward 2,933 9.1
Ward 13 Toronto Centre
Candidate Votes Percent
Darren Abramson 108 0.4
Khuram Aftab 1,794 5.7
Jon Callegher 713 2.3
Richard Forget 150 0.5
Tim Gordanier 734 2.4
Jonathan Heath 144 0.5
John Jeffery 530 1.7
Walied Khogali Ali 1,408 4.5
Gladys Larbie 101 0.3
Barbara Lavoie 176 0.6
Ryan Lester 968 3.1
Kyle McNally 138 0.4
Catherina Perez 511 1.6
George Smitherman 4,734 15.2
Jordan Stone 161 0.5
Lucy Troisi 2,698 8.6
Megann Willson 411 1.3
Rob Wolvin 64 0.2
Kristyn Wong-Tam 15,706 50.3
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