Photo of last month’s debate, courtesy of CP24.
For some reason, selected candidates for the mayoralty of Toronto are having a debate tonight on CP24. Christopher Bird is watching for Torontoist, because you probably aren’t.
7:55 PM: Tonight’s debate topics are supposedly “the environment” and “the arts.” Rob Ford’s team is already complaining that this debate is biased against Rob Ford, because everybody knows Rob Ford hates the environment and the arts. Little do they know that originally the debate was going to be about cute puppies as well, but they decided that Rob Ford might not be able to control his rage in the presence of a cute puppy.
7:57 PM: Oh, that was a joke. Rob Ford doesn’t hate the environment or the arts. He just hates spending money on them!
8:00 PM: And we’re off. Stephen “Mister Bowtie” LeDrew and Melissa “Wholly Unremarkable” Grelo are your hosts. Everybody claps, because we are all optimistic that tonight, a candidate might actually say something substantial. It could happen. You never know.
8:01 PM: Tonight’s debate is hosted in the Masonic Temple. Did you know the Masonic Temple is historic? It’s so historic you guys. Boy, I sure am glad that we’re getting to hear about the Masonic Temple rather than municipal issues and stuff.
8:03 PM: Ben Mulroney is not hosting tonight’s debate because he’s at home with his newborn twins. On the bright side this means we don’t have to see Ben Mulroney tonight. On the downside, this means that Ben Mulroney has spawned.
8:05 PM: John Tory says “it’s time to get to the beef” of the election on a debate where we have spent the first five minutes introducing the building, introducing the post-debate discussion team, and explaining where Ben Mulroney is.
8:06 PM: Mister Bowtie “introduces” the candidates for the people who haven’t been paying attention. He does this by telling us their names. If you didn’t know Joe Pantalone’s name, you are now totally ready to vote.
8:08 PM: The audience believes that the mayor shouldn’t get a payraise, and that a low salary doesn’t discourage quality people from applying for the job, thus illustrating that voters live in a perpetual fantasyland because have they seen their options? George Smitherman complains that David Miller shouldn’t have spent fifty thousand dollars on the study which told us that Toronto’s mayorship is low-paid. Pantalone says that Smitherman “hates knowledge.” Yes. Really.
8:11 PM: Rob Ford will cut half a million dollars from the mayor’s expenses! He will save each citizen of Toronto a whole quarter, because Rob Ford hates spending! Rocco Rossi jumps on the bandwagon to say how much he hates the mayor getting paid to do work and politicians all suck, so vote for him. Smitherman tells Rossi that all politicians don’t suck and besides Rossi is a legendary backroom politico, so if Rossi thinks politicians suck then Rossi thinks Rossi sucks. You can almost see Smitherman thinking “Check. And. Mate.”
8:13 PM: Audience member asks if it’s right that the mayor of Mississauga gets paid more than the mayor of Toronto. Rossi blathers something about how you can get a study to prove anything and then get another study.
8:15 PM: An audience member is really angry about the mayor’s salary because why should mayors get paid a lot of money? Smitherman says he agrees with him. The audience member again asks somebody to “justify” City Hall salaries, because… I’m not sure why, because all of the candidates basically agree that salaries aren’t justified. This debate is getting the audience it deserves.
8:20 PM: Tamils! Let’s talk about Tamils! Joe Pantalone says that Toronto should welcome the Tamils because we have lots of Tamils and they’re a productive immigrant community, and besides, when we allowed Vietnamese boat people as refugees, they became a productive community, so we should let the Tamil refugees in. Sarah Thomson reminds us that many Tamil refugees have advanced degrees, but Regent Park is a bad example of settling refugees so let’s not do that. Rocco Rossi says immigration is generally good, but Toronto needs to advocate for greater federal immigration spending so we get our fair share, and that we need to integrate our immigrants better. Smitherman slams Ford for being a dickhead vis-a-vis refugees. Rob Ford, who still looks like Flounder from Animal House, says “well, we can’t afford to help people because we can’t afford to pay for our basic services.” The audience applauds Flounder. Pantalone calls Flounder out for being small-minded and provincial, and also gets applause. HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS, ACTUAL SUBSTANCE.
8:25 PM: Audience member says that Canada and Toronto are founded on immigration, and if you can’t handle incoming immigrants, how are you competent enough to be mayor, Rob Ford? Okay, he didn’t call out Flounder by name. Except that he really, really did.
8:27 PM: After Smitherman slams Flounder again for being a stupid bigot, Rossi jumps on the dogpile in his centre-right way by pointing out that Toronto has an aging population and we need immigrants to keep ourselves economically viable. Pantalone then jumps on from the left, talking about the diversity of Toronto’s past refugee populations: the Jews, the Chileans, the Vietnamese, et cetera. Thomson doesn’t want to attack Ford because she did that the whole last debate and instead talks about how community housing needs to be restructured. Flounder calls everybody hypocritical because other candidates supported community housing in a Jewish neighbourhood and the Jewish community didn’t want it, so clearly that means Smitherman and Pantalone hate Jews and diversity, and then starts attacking Smitherman for eHealth, because somehow that is also hypocritical.
8:33 PM: Mister Bowtie wants to keep talking about the Tamils, and challenges Flounder to defend his position. Flounder says basically that running a city is so hard and therefore we can’t let in more people because it’s too hard to let them in. Rossi sensibly points out that immigration isn’t a tap you can turn on and off. Smitherman suggests that population growth correlates to economic growth.
8:36 PM: Audience member wants immigrants to be treated like human beings. Rossi suggests that Flounder visit the Tamil Chamber of Commerce to see how many Tamil-owned businesses are in Toronto, and also the Persians and Chinese and Insert Immigrant Community Here, and see how much money they make from all those businesses which Flounder claims we cannot afford. Flounder is just getting savaged here.
8:41 PM: Audience members have specific questions for specific candidates in their segment they named “At The Mike,” because CP24 has to name everything. Audience member: “Pantalone! Will you commit to affordable housing?” Pantalone says he’s totally committed. Boy, I wonder if that audience member was a plant? No, I don’t. Pantalone also talks up our homeless policy, saying that it is the only thing New York envies us.
8:42 PM: Audience member: “Thomson! How will you increase arts funding?” Thomson says she loves the arts and wants to boost art funding per capita because they create cultural experiences, create community cohesion, and act as economic stimulus. Not a plant!
8:44 PM: Audience member and self-described activist: “Ford! Do you have a strategy for dealing with mental health issues?” Flounder says that they have to get the crazies off the streets, because crazy people in front of businesses make things less profitable, so get them to rehab centres, the likes of which Flounder is unwilling to pay for but whatever. Audience has a vote on whether they agree with Flounder, and CP24 describes the result as a “split decision.”
8:48 PM: Audience member: “Smitherman! How will you deal with youth poverty?” Smitherman argues for education, which isn’t actually anything the city does. Audience member complains that Toronto doesn’t promote club culture; Smitherman responds that including clubs in the general food and entertainment culture push is worth considering so that Montreal doesn’t look hipper than us.
8:50 PM: Audience member: “Rossi! Once you move homeless and troubled people from community homes to their own dwellings, they have more problems dealing with day-to-day life. How does the city help with that?” Rossi says something about how non-profits have to get more support from the city because the non-profits work more cheaply, and then slams Flounder again for being an idiot because mental health issues are more difficult than “get them off the streets.”
8:52 PM: Audience member and definitely not a candidate John Tory wants each candidate to make four or five specific measurable targets they’d try to hit as mayor, like he did when he ran for mayor and lost. Smitherman: boasts about wait times for surgeries, which he helped reduce as Health Minister, and then says he’ll have measurable targets on all sorts of things any day now but boy will he have them.
8:55 PM: Rossi complains that we should have voted for Tory in 2003 and that we need somebody new in office, which has nothing to do with anything Tory said.
8:56 PM: Rob Ford: Abolish car registration tax, abolish land transfer tax, reduce city council by half, hire one hundred more cops, abolish the fair wage policy. Flounder doesn’t really understand the difference between “measurable targets” and just regular old promises, but he loves to talk about his hobbyhorses and Mister Bowtie promises that we’ll talk more about fair wage policy.
9:00 PM: Apparently someone at CP24 decided there wasn’t any point in having Pantalone or Thomson try to duck John Tory’s challenge, so let’s talk about fair wage policy. Flounder whines that the policy is crazy talk. Audience vote! And it’s about 50-50 disagreeing with Ford, with all four candidates disagreeing with him again. Rossi points out that Etobicoke’s garbage collection, which is privatized, is still unionized but manages to be cost-effective because they work hard, and if we make unions work hard then we’ll save money. Pantalone says that a race to the bottom is a bad idea because we shouldn’t have child labour and a race-to-the-bottom economy, which is Flounder’s idea of a perfect world (his words, not mine), and that workers getting paid “fair wages” spend their fair wages in Toronto. Thomson says that Flounder misses the issue, because the problem is management, not wages, and then answers John Tory’s question in the same way that Ford did, by making campaign promises and then pretending they are measurable targets. Smitherman again attacks Ford for not having specific cuts in mind.
9:06 PM: Flounder reaches under the table and brings out a big sheaf of paper and starts acting like a giant twat, screaming about how Toronto sole-sources money on lots of things and we need to spend less money. Smitherman responds, again, by asking what Ford will cut to make up the billion dollars in lost revenue from his proposed fee abolishments. Ford explains he’s not going to tear down the Gardiner and there’s three hundred million right there! Which is not a billion, but hey, what’s seven hundred million dollars between friends.
9:10 PM: Audience member turns the discussion to transit and privatization. Pantalone doesn’t like privatization. Smitherman thinks that partial privatization of the TTC, particularly in respect to cleaning, is a possibility, and that we should further electrify our whole system. Thomson agrees with electrification, says that privatization is basically a fantasy right now, and that open bidding is something that could help the TTC. Rossi: privatization is awesome, and there are dozens of examples of it working out, like Etobicoke’s garbage collection and Wheel Trans. Flounder: supports our TTC workers even though privatization is otherwise awesome.
9:16 PM: The return of Ben Mulroney’s top hat (wherein candidates randomly ask other candidates directed questions), because God forbid we not be reminded that Ben Mulroney exists. “He’s here in spirit.” His ghoulish, ghoulish spirit. We are told this is one of the audience’s “favorite parts of the debate,” which—no.
9:19 PM: Pantalone to Rossi: Toronto Hydro provides an overall dividend to the city and lets Toronto manage its environmental energy policy better. Why sell it? Rossi calls Pantalone old-fashioned, then says that Winnipeg is low-tax now because they sold Winnipeg Hydro and then complains about Toronto water rates, none of which answers Pantalone’s question.
9:22 PM: Flounder to Pantalone: Do you approve City Council’s decision to sole-source the tugs contract? Pantalone basically calls Flounder a giant douche and thinks that given the legal requirements it was the best deal Toronto could get.
9:23 PM: Rossi to Flounder: Your record of constituent service is great, but outside of Woodbine Live you’ve got no long-term vision, and even the Toronto Sun says that Suzan Hall was more in charge of that than you. Flounder gets mad (shocking) and then says that Hall had nothing to do with Woodbine Live and he did all the meetings and the Sun doesn’t know dick.
9:25 PM: Thomson to Smitherman: I have twenty-four years of business experience and eHealth sucks and you suck. What do you say to that, sir? Smitherman complains that Thomson mischaracterizes local health integration networks, that the existing infrastructure was redundant and expensive, and that eHealth did kind of suck and he takes responsibility.
9:27 PM: Smitherman to Thomson: Subway expansion versus LRT: Have you run the numbers? Thomson says fourteen billion dollars for her extensions to York University, Sheppard East, and the airport subway line, paid for by tolls. This felt like Smitherman giving Thomson a chance to pimp a part of her platform he likes.
9:33 PM: Final thoughts! Joe Pantalone wants Toronto to be age-friendly so senior citizens can live in their homes. Flounder is a family man who will abolish lots of things and he has a great attendance record. Rossi is not the usual sort of candidate and therefore is a better choice than the usual sort of candidate, and also he has a great resume. Thomson is a businesswoman and wants the city to spend less and engage with the public more. Smitherman… says something. Not sure what, really. He wasn’t very specific.
9:38 PM: So what can we conclude from this debate? Firstly, although there was some political bullshittery going on, there was actually quite a bit of substance to this debate, mostly because of the discussion about the Tamil refugee issue and fair wage policy. In both areas, Ford came across as a blustering know-nothing, and most of the rest of the night didn’t help him much either. So did he lose?
Not really. Because here’s the thing: Ford has positioned himself smartly as the candidate versus the other four people. Rossi, Thomson, Smitherman and Pantalone occupy the centre-right to the centre-left (in that order), and all of them are smart enough to do the job in non-disastrous ways. Unfortunately, since doing the job in a non-disastrous way requires them to answer a lot of things the same way, there’s a lot of same-old same-old. Ford is a stupid jackass, but being a stupid jackass unfortunately works out for him, because he’s the pick of everybody who wants to vote for his stupid jackass policies, and the rest of Toronto has to pick from four different people. If Ford wins this election—and he might—it’s going to be because the non-Ford vote will be split four ways. With that sort of split, Ford can win the mayorship with maybe a quarter of the vote, tops.
If one of Rossi/Smitherman/Pantalone/Thomson doesn’t start to pull away from the pack soon, Ford will win. And the pack is really the only reason why.