Running on a platform that emphasizes restoring public safety in the city, Mark Saunders has distinguished himself as a leading candidate on a moderately centre-right agenda.
As Toronto’s former police chief from 2015-2020, Saunders is relying on name recognition and experience from decades as a cop to challenge progressive frontrunner Olivia Chow and tackle the city’s growing crime problem.
However, Saunders faces the monumental challenge of convincing Chow supporters to switch their support to his campaign and shoring up support from rival candidates like Anthony Furey, Ana Bailão, and Brad Bradford.
True North is writing a profile on each of Toronto’s major mayoral candidates so Torontonians can make an informed decision as to who they will vote for in the June 26th byelection.
After graduating high school, a young Saunders joined the Toronto Police Service, eventually serving in the force for 38 years.
Over Saunders’ career, he has earned several accolades including the Order of Merit of the Police Forces, the Police Exemplary Service Medal, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
In 2015, the Toronto Police Services Board named Saunders as Toronto’s first black police chief, an appointment that was expected to improve relations between the police and minority communities.
However, Saunders’ tenure as Toronto’s top cop was fraught and elicited mixed reactions from the city’s police officers and citizens.
In 2018, a vote from the members of the Toronto Police Association conducted a symbolic vote of confidence in Saunders in which 86% of the 47% of members who voted voted against Saunders’ leadership.
In July 2020, Saunders resigned his position as Toronto’s chief of police months before he was due to serve a second term in the role.
With the name recognition and reputation that he had built during his time as Toronto’s top cop, Saunders threw his name into the race, running on a platform of restoring community safety by tackling the various problems contributing to the issue.
Despite believing Toronto’s drug injection sites save lives, Saunders has expressed disgust with used needles being left on the city’s sidewalks around these drug sites.
Saunders would direct the city’s resources to prioritize cleanliness around drug injection sites, create a colour-coded syringe system for needle tracking, and creating an option to report used needles within Toronto’s 311 app.
Saunders opposes and would withdraw City Hall’s request to the federal government that they decriminalize hard drugs like crack cocaine, MDMA, and heroin for the personal use of adults and youth 12-17 years old.
Saunders has also announced that as mayor, he would hire an additional 600 uniformed officers – 200 TTC special constables and 400 police officers – in order to make traversing the city safer, especially on the TTC.
“By deploying 400 additional police officers, we’ll halt and reverse the rising tide of violence in Toronto,” said Saunders.
On the tent encampments popping up in Toronto’s parks, Saunders says that he would support removing encampments from parks that he says could threaten families walking through parks with used needles and criminal behaviour flooding the parks.
“Residents are scared to walk through the park or play in it with their kids and pets because of the many tents, needles, and criminal behaviour,” said Saunders.
In response to a memo circulated to city volunteers announcing that the Canada Day celebration at City Hall would be cancelled, Saunders defiantly opposed the decision and promised that Toronto would continue to celebrate the nation’s anniversary under a Saunders mayoralty.
Among other announcements, Saunders promised to end the gridlock afflicting the Toronto’s streets, crack down on car thefts, make the TTC free for seniors on Mondays, and drop CafeTO fees for small businesses.
In recent weeks, Saunders has positioned himself as the definitive anti-Chow candidate who will prevent the former NDP MP from ruining the city.
Saunders claims that Chow would make gridlock worse, would cause crime to rise, would fire police officers, and defund the police.
While Saunders claims to be the only alternative to the frontrunner Chow, Saunders is far from achieving a comparable level of support to Chow’s and is being closely trailed by other candidates.
Forum Research’s latest poll found that 35% of Torontonians plan to vote for Chow while Saunders polls at 14% – a 21% margin.