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Toronto Voting 101: How to choose your city councillor

Fun Fact: In addition to electing a mayor next week, Toronto will also elect 44 other people who will each win access to a drab city hall office and a panel of buttons that allow them to vote yes or no on the city’s most critically important issues.

Seriously, everything — from transit to housing to traffic to taxes — all comes down to pushing buttons.

So voting for a city council candidate is important. Most people get that. But deciding who to support can still be complicated. For one thing, there are literally hundreds of candidates milling about in search of hands to shake, their sharp clothes and toothy grins making many of them virtually indistinguishable from one another.

For another thing, these candidates don’t formally represent political parties, which makes it hard to figure out what their views are on anything. In some wards, you’re just an errant ballot mark away from voting for a convicted killer.

So what’s a voter to do? If you're still undecided, start with this: my three-step guide to choosing your Toronto City Council candidate on October 27.

1. Find out who your incumbent is — and whether they’re any good.

If you’re in one of the seven wards without an incumbent councillor, skip this step!

My City Council Scorecard is a pretty good resource for evaluating incumbents. It tracks major council votes over the last four years, giving a quick overview of how councillors voted on the big stuff. It also gives each councillor a “Ford Nation Percentage” that tells you how often they sided with Mayor Rob Ford on these issues.

Here’s a list of councillors ranked by Ford Nation Percentage:

I’ve also published some maps showing how the Ford Nation percentage looks geographically.

You can do what you want with this information, but it should be helpful. For example, if you love the Ford family's policies and their folksy shenanigans, you’d hope to see your councillor with a Ford Nation percentage higher than 50 per cent. On the other hand, if you’re tired of the Fords and their tendency to vote against even the most innocuous of things, you’d want your councillor to be well below that mark.

My picks? If I lived in their respective wards, I wouldn’t have to think much before voting for Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, Coun. Janet Davis, Coun. Gord Perks, Coun. Mike Layton, Coun. Sarah Doucette, Coun. Shelley Carroll, Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon and Coun. Josh Matlow.

2. Figure out who else is running in your ward — and whether they’re any good

This step can be challenging, especially if you’re in a ward without an incumbent. Many of those races have attracted more than a dozen candidates, like bears to a picnic basket.

Thankfully, several groups have put together some resources that can help narrow the field. Here’s what I’d recommend.

First, go to the Every Candidate website and use your address to pull up information about your ward. It’ll list all the candidates. Clicking on a candidate’s profile page will tell you whether they live within the ward they want to represent. I’m not a super stickler about this — I think you can effectively represent an area if you live a few blocks out of it — but I’d be a bit wary any candidate who lives more than a couple of kilometres outside the boundaries, unless they can offer a satisfying explanation, like Ward 2 candidate Andray Domise.

Next, check to see which candidates in your ward filled out the Women in Toronto Politics Position Primer. Disregard all the ones that couldn’t be bothered. Seriously, it was a 10-question survey. How hard is that?

Finally, check to see if they’ve been endorsed by the Toronto Land Transfer Tax Coalition. They’re a group that is committed to phasing out a revenue source that brings in about $350 million each year. I find the whole idea of simply eliminating a major revenue source incredibly irresponsible, so I wouldn’t vote for anybody on their list.

That should narrow down your options a bit. You can take a look at the surveys done by ArtsVote, the Toronto Environmental Alliance, the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation and even the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition. They all provide a different lens with which to evaluate your remaining candidates.

I've also published local debate recaps for Ward 16, Ward 7 and Ward 12.

There’s a strong slate of people running for council this year. Among non-incumbents, I’d have few second thoughts about voting for Idil Burale (Ward 1), Domise (Ward 2), Russ Ford (Ward 6), Keegan Henry-Mathieu (Ward 7), Lekan Olawoye (Ward 12), Jean-Pierre Boutros (Ward 16), Alejandra Bravo (Ward 17), Alex Mazer (Ward 18), Dan Fox (Ward 24), Jane Farrow (Ward 30), Mary Hynes (Ward 34), Paul Bocking (Ward 35) and Robert Spencer (Ward 36).

3. Vote - and don’t stop there

Unless you’re one of the 161,147 people who have already voted, remember to cast a ballot on October 27. The city has a tool that’ll tell you where to go. Don’t worry if you didn’t receive a voting card. Just bring your ID, some proof of residence, your game face and probably some patience for whatever lines you might face.

Remember: non-citizens can’t vote under any circumstances, but non-residents can vote if they own or rent property in Toronto. Weird, I know.

Once you’ve voted, your commitment to democracy can and probably should continue. If you’re looking for a way to help your chosen council contender pull out a victory, consider getting in touch with them and offering to help out on election day.

With these local races, it’s the ability of candidates to get out the vote that really makes the difference. Put some work into it, and you just might end up with a councillor who pushes all the right buttons.