Who is Jennifer McKelvie? Deputy mayor takes charge at Toronto city hall

Toronto Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie sits in the council chamber ahead of the budget meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.  (Chris Young/Canadian Press - image credit)
Toronto Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie sits in the council chamber ahead of the budget meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (Chris Young/Canadian Press - image credit)

When Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie spoke to reporters immediately after John Tory gave his farewell as mayor to the city on Friday, she said out loud: "Are they all going to be like this?"

McKelvie was in the midst of answering questions. She was visibly nervous and had admitted to being emotional about Tory's abrupt resignation.

The questions, however, were pointed. Toronto had just lost its mayor after it was revealed that Tory, a married man, had a relationship with a much younger woman who once worked in his office. Also, the city's budget had just passed.

And now, Toronto residents would like to know: Who is Jennifer McKelvie? What is McKelvie going to do as deputy mayor in the next few months as the city moves toward a byelection that will replace Tory?

The 46-year-old is now in the spotlight because of recent events, but has already indicated she plans to focus on "good governance" and keep a steady course. She has said she is not going to run for mayor.

Appointed deputy mayor last November, McKelvie is councillor for Scarborough Rouge-Park, Ward 25, a ward that she and her family have lived in since 2005. She won the ward in the Oct. 24, 2022 municipal election handily, receiving 14,168 votes. She received 10,719 votes more than second place finisher Jacinta Kanakaratnam.

McKelvie was first elected councillor for Scarborough-Rouge Park in October 2018. But that election was a much tighter race. She received 11,624 votes, only 154 votes more than second place finisher Neethan Shan, the incumbent, the first Tamil Canadian to sit on council.

Her electoral victories followed an unsuccessful bid for a city council seat in 2014 in what was called Scarborough East.

Alex Lupul/CBC
Alex Lupul/CBC

In a news release on Wednesday, the city said, following a mayor's resignation, the deputy mayor assumes certain mayoral "rights, powers and authorities" until a by-election is complete.

McKelvie will remain deputy mayor while the mayor's office is vacant. "The Deputy Mayor does not become the 'Acting Mayor' or 'Interim Mayor'," the release says.

The strong mayor powers provided by the Ontario government, however, will not be transferred to the deputy mayor.

Currently, McKelvie is chair of the city's infrastructure and environment committee and of the Scarborough community council. She is vice-chair of the city's executive committee, a member of the Toronto Zoo board and sits on the board of directors of Toronto Hydro.

McKelvie has roots in Scarborough

McKelvie grew up and lives in Scarborough. She has roots in the city's easternmost district and is a booster for the area, which was once a city in its own right.

Submitted by Jennifer McKelvie
Submitted by Jennifer McKelvie

In terms of service, she was the first president of the Scarborough Community Renewal Organization, from 2016 to 2018. The organization is a group of community volunteers who seek to renew Scarborough by advocating economic development, better suburban planning, enhanced natural environment, social development and health promotion, arts and culture. It was launched by the five Rotary clubs of Scarborough.

When that organization was formed in February 2016, she said: "Everyone here believes Scarborough deserves better."

According to Radio-Canada, McKelvie speaks French. Her grandfather was from Quebec and she studied in French for half the day from grades 5 to 8 in elementary school.

Until mid-November last year, she was chair of the Toronto Francophone Affairs Advisory Committee. She has told Radio-Canada that she believes that the city must protect and improve the lives of Francophones.

She holds a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Toronto at Scarborough. Prior to her election, she was a geoscientist and researcher. For nine years, she worked as a senior scientist for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, a non-profit organization that designs and implements Canada's plan for long-term management of used nuclear fuel.

McKelvie pledges 'smooth transition'

When Tory introduced her on Friday, he said: "I very carefully considered who I would appoint as the deputy mayor of this city. This is a woman who has the intelligence, she has the personality and disposition, she has dedication, the determination, the experience on city council to do an excellent job stepping into his leadership role and taking this city forward."

McKelvie, for her part, said: "Residents can rest assured that my entire focus of this time is ensuring a smooth transition and continued good governance."

Matt Elliott, a Toronto Star columnist and publisher of City Hall Watcher newsletter, tracks council votes on major issues. Elliott told CBC Radio's Here and Now that McKelvie was "very loyal" to Tory and that is why Tory chose her as deputy mayor.

"My records show that she voted with Tory 95 per cent of the time last term on significant items that came to the floor of council," Elliott said.

On Thursday night, a day before Tory officially stepped down, she visited Toronto Police Service's 43 Division, which serves the eastern edge of Toronto. She has pledged to follow the priorities of Tory, a man she said she admires.

"I will be making sure that we continue to deliver on the priorities on which Mayor Tory received a mandate from voters last October: keeping our city safe, getting housing built, getting transit built and making sure the nuts-and-bolts city services continue to be delivered in the best possible way," McKelvie said on Friday.