Toronto mayoral race tilts back to John Tory as Olivia Chow struggles to become the anti-Ford

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew

With just over a week before Toronto chooses a replacement for Mayor Rob Ford, a new poll suggests former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory is back in the lead, while the once-favoured Olivia Chow continues to lag after losing the inside track as the preferred “anyone but Ford” candidate.

A new survey released on Thursday suggests Tory has regained a solid lead over rival Doug Ford, who replaced his ailing brother on the ballot last month, and holds a solid advantage when it comes to voter confidence.

The Forum Research poll comes one week after another survey that put Tory in a surprising statistical tie with Ford. Meantime, In the latest poll, Tory’s numbers remained consistent while Ford’s numbers dipped back to levels seen before the sudden statistical bump last week.

According to the latest poll, Tory would receive 39 per cent of the vote if Toronto’s mayoral election was held today. Ford, who replaced his brother, Mayor Rob Ford, on the ballot last month, would receive 33 per cent - down from 37 per cent last week.

Olivia Chow, meantime, saw her support inch slightly upward, sitting at 23 per cent of the vote compared to 22 per cent last week.

Another four per cent of respondents said they would vote for another candidate.

"While John Tory is not increasing his vote share, neither is he losing share, which Doug seems to have done after two very strong weeks. It may be that those strong weeks scared some support back to the Tory camp. The one thing for sure is, Olivia Chow is not seen as the anti-Doug," Forum Research President, Dr. Lorne Bozinoff, said in a statement.

With advance polls now open and time ticking down before Election Day on October 27, Chow is running out of time to reposition herself as the alternative candidate to the Ford legacy.

After four years of divisive politics and suspect results at Toronto City Hall, many eligible voters will be inspired to vote as much to block another Ford mandate as they are to support a specific candidate.

Meaning that Tory’s current position as the alternative to Ford could be a boon in 11 days, while Chow is still struggling to usurp that title.

Chow has spent much of the past few weeks targeting Tory, and his transit plan, while all but ignoring Ford. Her most common references to Ford come when she is rying to link Tory to the past four years of Ford mayoralty.

On Wednesday, Chow released an attack ad that portrays Tory as a flip-flopping weather vane, which mentions that Tory contributed to Rob Ford’s 2010 mayoral campaign.

CBC News’ Geoff Nixon recently wrote about the threat of strategic voting to Chow, who had entered the mayoral race under the banner of being the anti-Ford. Over time, however, Tory took over that role.

Laura Stephenson, an associate professor in the department of political science at Western University, told the voters are less likely to engage in strategic voting when their preferred candidate still has a chance at winning. By that measure, Chow can counter the threat of strategic voting by appearing more competitive than polls suggest she currently is.

But that task will be an uphill battle. The latest survey results found that Tory has the highest approval rating among the top three candidates. While Chow sits at a 46 per cent approval rating and Ford’s approval rating has dipped to 40 per cent, Tory’s numbers have increased to 55 per cent.

Tory’s support also comes from those who identify themselves as Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and Greens – groups that were more likely to back Ford than Tory. Those who identified as PCs were 45 per cent behind Tory and 48 per cent behind Ford, while those who identified as Liberals were 53 per cent behind Tory, 23 per cent behind Chow and 22 per cent behind Ford.

This could suggest that those with some Fordian leanings would be more comfortable shifting to Tory than Chow in strategic voting.

That is a question that will have to wait until Election Day to be answered. Until then, strategic voting is just a concept – one that could either bury or elevate Chow down the final stretch.