Q. What is a municipal government responsible for?
So much about our daily lives that most people don't realize - everything from how tall the fence in your backyard can be to whether a bus picks you up near your home frequently enough to get to work or school on time. As the closest level of democracy to residents, your city councillor - and collectively council - is responsible for how we get around, the recreation services available, the affordability of daycare and to some extent housing, clearing snow from the roads and much more.
Q. Can you tell us about who is running for Mayor? How do we elect the mayor - is it a separate vote from our local councillor?
There are 35 people running for mayor, including the incumbent (meaning he currently holds the office) John Tory. His top challenger is Jennifer Keesmaat, who was formerly the city's chief planner - a top-ranking position in the city bureaucracy. There are also others, like lawyers Saron Gebresellassi and Knia Singh running. You can find a list of all those signed up here: http://app.toronto.ca/vote/candidateListAll.do
In Toronto, you get to vote for a city councillor and school board trustee in the ward you live in and also the mayor, who represents the whole city.
Q. So there are wards in Toronto - I noticed they changed the boundaries this year. Why would the number of wards change?
This has been a very confusing election with the changing wards. There are currently 44 wards. Several years ago, the city undertook a review to redraw the city's ward boundaries. The main reason was that the population sizes between wards had become imbalanced - some wards had more than 90,000 people in them while others had fewer than 50,000. The concern is that votes would not have equal weight between wards. The review resulted in council approving a 47-ward system, which altered several of the boundaries and increased the total number of wards by three. But on July 27, Premier Doug Ford suddenly announced he would change the rules of this election so that there would only be 25 wards. That became law on Aug. 14. As of the beginning of September, the city and others have challenged that move in court and we are awaiting a judge's decision. There will likely be appeals whatever the judge decides, so the number of wards for this election at the moment is still uncertain.
Q. Why don't municipal politicians have political party affiliations like provincial and federal politicians? How do we know what a candidate stands for if they don't have a larger party platform to reference?
Not all cities are the same, but in Toronto, all councillors are considered independent, meaning they represent the interests of the community regardless of their own political leanings. Many councillors do have political party affiliations, but there are no parties at council. That means, unlike provincial and federal politics, that votes are not "whipped" based on which party a councillor belongs to. You'll often see councillors who do not align politically vote the same way. It makes things, some argue, more democratic and reflective of the grassroots nature of the municipal level of government. It can definitely lead to some tense votes where councillors are trying to make deals right up until the bells are ringing and produce interesting results.
Q. What are the best social media accounts I can follow if I want to stay on top of municipal politics?
There are several reporters covering municipal politics full-time, including my colleagues @dmrider, @samantha_kb, @DavidNickle and others. A full list of press gallery members is here (most are on Twitter): https://www.toronto.ca/home/media-room/press-gallery-accreditation/
You can also follow the list I've made of current city councillors by going to my Twitter feed @jpags.
Searching #topoli will find those tweeting about Toronto politics broadly.