Toronto Mayor Rob Ford took part in his first mayoral debate since leaving for rehab, and as expected the atmosphere was charged, with both Ford supporters, and protesters, clashing alongside the candidates.
The debate, which was hosted by the Canadian Tamil Congress, took place at the Global Kingdom Ministries at 1250 Markham Rd. in Scarborough. It started at 7 p.m. and ended shortly before 9 p.m.
Things got heated before the debate even started, with spirited shouting matches breaking out between members of Ford Nation and the so-called ‘shirtless’ protesters that have been dogging the mayor on the campaign trail.
Ford faced off against the other main contenders — Olivia Chow, John Tory, David Soknacki and Karen Stintz. The candidates addressed issues of concern to Scarborough residents, including transit, jobs and youth engagement.
Chow was first to speak and she urged voters to “fire” Ford. “Let’s fire him for his constant disrespect of our diversity, for avoiding accountability, and embarrassing our city in front of the world.”
Ford sarcastically “thanked” Chow for her kind words before launching into his familiar list of accomplishments like the Scarborough subway plan, axing the vehicle registration tax, and finding $750 million in efficiencies at city hall.
“We are booming,” he said. “I said there was not going to be garbage strikes or transit strikes. Friends, there has not been one strike with labour since I have been mayor…”
Soknacki said he wants to be mayor to “make changes, not to make excuses” and said his priorities include building Light Rail Transit (LRT) in Scarborough, saying LRT is cheaper, faster, and serves more people than subways.
Stintz started out by saying an election is about trust. “We’ve seen what Rob Ford has done with our trust,” she said to scattered jeers. She then said she trusts Olivia Chow to “take us back to the David Miller years” and said she can’t trust Tory because she “doesn’t know where he stands.”
“Vote for who you trust, Karen Stintz for mayor.”
In his opening remarks Tory focused on transit. “This is critical to our future,” he said, vowing to complete the Scarborough subway and continue with his Smart Track plan to use existing GO Train tracks to add subway stops.
Touting himself as the subway mayor, Ford openly opposed both Chow and Tory’s transit plans, saying Chow’s plan would bring the city back to the days of Transit City.
“A subway above ground, that’s the biggest oxymoron I’ve ever heard in my life,” Ford told Olivia. “This is going back to the David Miller era. This is exactly what David Miller wanted.”
Ford then called Tory a “shadow” of Chow.
“You know you’re going to tear up Finch, you know that. You’ve admitted that. And Sheppard, and Eglinton, and Etobicoke.” said Ford. “That’s your plan…LRTs.”
Tory the shot back at Ford saying the Smart Track was faster and a model taken up in other metropolitan cities such as London and Washington.
“Unfortunately Rob you have a real allergy to the truth,” he said. “The really important thing that you don’t seem to get here is that the Smart Track line is built on existing GO track lines which go nowhere near the street, they’re already there. They don’t require tunnels to be built, they don’t require land to be acquired and you can have those trains running in seven years not in 17 years.”
Chow defended her plan saying both Ford and Tory’s subway plan would need another four years study before construction could begin and that would hit taxpayers right in the wallet.
“In the last four years we have wasted a lot of time debating and talking and no work has been done,” said Chow. “Above ground means that we can build it four years faster, four more stops and a billion dollars less. That means 30 years of property tax increases that you do not need to have.”
Reporters Cynthia Mulligan, Tracy Tong and Mark Douglas were there. Follow their live coverage below.
The debate was moderated by National Post columnist Chris Selley, and was open to the public.
— Cdn Tamil Congress (@ctconline) July 10, 2014
According to a Forum Research poll conducted on July 2, Ford’s approval rating and re-election chances have not been “boosted” since his return from rehab.
Tory has overtaken Ford in the race for mayor, but Chow still holds the lead with 36 per cent support of voter support.
Tory, now in second place, has 27 per cent, and Ford has dropped to third place with 26 per cent. Soknacki remains in fourth place with four per cent, followed by Stintz in last place with three per cent.
In terms of his approval rating, Ford also remains in last place with 31 per cent — one percentage point less than a poll conducted on June 23.
Torontonians head to the polls on Oct. 27.
With files from Patricia D’Cunha