In my last post, published on Christmas Eve, I looked at Wards 21, 22, and 25, three Midtown wards that all voted for Tory and backed their popular incumbent councillors. Unlike those three wards, Ward 26 was rather interesting.
Ward 26, half of Don Valley West (Ward 25 being the other half), was the only ward that booted out an incumbent councillor, John Parker. In retrospect, this should not have been unexpected. Parker was the only defeated sitting councillor in the last election. While Parker was a conservative-leaning councillor, I found him to be a pleasant, friendly and humourous politician in person; and a very effective deputy speaker, a welcome change from Frances Nunziata’s conduct as speaker.
Ward 26 is among the most socioeconomically and racially divided wards in Toronto. North and west of the Canadian Pacific tracks that divide the area is the affluent neighbourhood of Leaside. East of Leaside is Thorncliffe Park, a low-income, high-density apartment neighbourhood, with a very high immigrant population. Yet Thorncliffe Park has proven to be a very successful model for community engagement; it had one of the highest voter turnout rates in Toronto in the 2010 election. East of Don Mills is the similarly low-income, high-immigrant neighbourhood of Flemington Park, and to the far north-east, is the Wynford Heights-Concorde Place neighbourhood of high-rise condo and rental towers.
The socioeconomic divide is immediately apparent in the above map of the mayoral election results in Ward 26. Most Leaside polls voted for John Tory by margins of over 50%. Most polls in Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park voted for Ford, but not by very high margins. In the Wynford/Concorde area, the rental towers voted for Ford, the condos for Tory. Olivia Chow won only one poll, a co-operative housing poll in Thorncliffe Park. John Tory won a majority of votes in Ward 26 (53.1%), thanks largely to his very high popularity in Leaside and Concorde Place condos, but also because Ford was not especially popular in the low-income, high-immigrant parts of the ward.
The council race
John Parker was never especially popular in Ward 26, and in retrospect, his loss should not have been all that surprising to observers of Toronto politics.
Parker was first elected to Toronto City Council in 2006, when councillor Jane Pitfield didn’t stand for re-election ran for mayor. Pitfield lost to (then-popular) David Miller in a lopsided mayoral race that year. But ever since Pitfield’s departure, every council race in Ward 26 has been very competitive.
Parker, a Progressive Conservative MPP in Mike Harris’ government, came in first place in the 2006 election in a crowded race of 15 candidates. That year, Parker won by only 214 votes over second-place Mohamed Dhanani; Parker took only 20.1% of the vote.
In 2010, Parker was returned to city council, but again it was a very competitive race. Jon Burnside, a former Toronto police officer and businessman, ran against Parker, and lost by only 415 votes. That election was a three-way race, with Dhanani dropping from second to a close third place, only 250 votes behind Burnside.
In the 2014 election, there were several important local issues, including anger over big-box developments in the ward, and traffic safety (following the death of a young Leaside girl in July 2014). John Tory endorsed Jon Burnside late in the campaign, and there were complaints that Parker was aloof and unresponsive to his constituents. These factors allowed Burnside to take Ward 26 by a healthy margin, winning 42.7% of the vote to Parker’s 28.0%.
Leaside residents voted enthusiastically for both Tory and his pick for the ward. The Concorde Place/Wynford condo polls also mostly picked Burnside as well; Parker’s support mostly limited to polls in Flemingdon and Thorncliffe Parks. Ishrath Velshi, Parker’s former executive assistant (later Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s EA) came in a distant third place, winning only 5 polls.