While Toronto appeared to vote for change when the ballots were counted on Election Day, a closer look at the voting map afterward seemed to show that some things haven’t changed after all.

While John Tory won the centre of the city, residents in Scarborough and Etobicoke largely voted for Doug Ford, highlighting a downtown-suburban divide that civic watchers have frowned about since amalgamation.

“I don’t think the lines were very different than they were in earlier elections,” says University of Toronto Professor Nelson Wiseman.

But while Wiseman says the trend is similar to previous elections, he says the result doesn’t necessarily indicate a disagreement about ideas.

“People didn’t vote on the issues; they voted on who’s more like them,” he says. “Ford appealed to people who felt more disenfranchised. Tory appealed to people who are more cerebral.”

But if disenfranchisement helps explain the divide, then the question remains: why.

With the results map roughly lining up along income lines in the city (with many wealthier areas supporting Tory), Wiseman acknowledges that inequality is a factor in voting patterns, though he points out that Toronto doesn’t exhibit a higher degree of inequality than other major cities.

Still, with much talk about the need to move the city forward, here are six suggestions for how to do that in a way that could help to unify Toronto.

Fix Transit

Politicians in Toronto have been talking about building better transit for decades, but progress has moved at a glacial pace. While the gridlock has meant billions in lost productivity, there are other pressing reasons for enabling more people to get around the city faster.

“It doesn’t matter what corner of the city you live in, you want to see action on those key (issues) that matters to everyone. Transportation is one of those matters,” CivicAction CEO Sevaun Palvetzian says. She points out that improved transit would help people in less advantaged areas get around to a wider range of work opportunities.

Palvetzian also points out that with the newly elected council and the government at Queen’s Park both set to be in place for the next four years, there is a four-year opportunity to move things forward without disruption.

Think like a region

“The city is booming. That doesn’t mean everyone in the city is booming,” Wiseman says.

The trick, according to the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) Executive Director John Kiriu, is to try and make sure that “rising tides raise all ships.”

While that might mean addressing some issues on a neighbourhood by neghbourhood basis, Palvetzian says the big picture issues that will benefit everyone should be the focus.

“One of the things that has mired us in the past is that we haven’t always had the benefit of looking at this from a regional perspective,” Palvetzian says, noting that there are millions of trips across municipal boundaries every day.

While there may be disagreements about some of the specifics, most city stakeholders agree that the most important way to connect the city is to help people move around it faster.

Lobby for federal policies that reduce inequality

If inequality is the problem that colours the divide between parts of the city, it’s not clear what municipal politicians can do to fix the problem.

“I don’t think the city has the tools to lessen inequalities in terms of incomes,” Wiseman says. “It can try to work on providing more transit for people who don’t have it, but it’s very expensive.”

Instead, most of the levers to try and balance income disparity belong to the federal government, Wiseman says. That said, Toronto can use its clout as the biggest municipality in the country to lobby Ottawa to adopt measures that might balance the scales.

“For a lot of poor families – they have low incomes, there’s not much to share there,” Wiseman says pointing to the Conservatives’ move to introduce income splitting for families. “But if you create childcare spaces that are cheap, the second parent can go work.”

While those measures may be expensive, they could be key to making sure that the city doesn’t grow apart.


During the mayoral campaign Tory positioned himself as someone who could work with others and show leadership.

That said if he wants to bridge the city’s divisions as mayor, he’ll need to do both, Palvetzian notes, especially when it comes to issues that might pit one part of the city against another.

“This is not an era of leadership where it’s just ‘follow me, here I go.’ It’s not just ‘follow me,’ it’s ‘work with me,’” Palvetzian says.

Find jobs for unemployed youth

According to CivicAction, the lifetime cost of an unemployed youth to the system could be as high as $1 million.

“I think there are certain issues that lend themselves to a big tent. Youth unemployment is one of those challenges,” Palvetzian says.

While youth across the city are affected, she acknowledges the issue is experienced very differently neighbourhood by neighbourhood, especially among a number of ethnic minorities.

Making kids in the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhood feel like their future matters could be key to building a Toronto that’s more unified.

One size does not fit all

While the city-wide problems need to be the focus, Kiru says it’s also important to remember that what works in one part of the city might not work in another, particularly when it comes to planning development.

“I think what we have to do is acknowledge that there are different needs across the city,” Kiru says. “The same thing that works in Scarborough may not work downtown.”

Kiru says that while walkability might be the focus downtown, the suburbs are still designed for cars. While striking a balance isn’t easy, trying to build a city where the two planning types can co-exist may go a long way toward easing the sense of alienation some residents feel.

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