Photo of Tuesday night’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: Welcome to tonight’s debate. Tonight, five candidates will ostensibly debate, but not really. Tonight’s debate is the latest episode of the “Can The Other Four Candidates Get Rob Ford To Say Something Really Offensive” show, wherein… well, you know. Personally, we’d rather be watching the season premiere of Glee, which will probably feature people making more realistic assertions than will be found tonight. Also, those assertions will rhyme.
8:00 PM: Ben Mulroney is your host tonight. His very visage mocks the concept of meritocracy.
8:02 PM: Your moderator is Stephen LeDrew, bald and bowtied as always. The candidates are introduced.
8:03 PM: LeDrew’s first question: “Rob Ford, why are you so awesome?” Well, not exactly, but close enough.
8:04 PM: Smitherman bashes Rob Ford for being, you know, a bigot. Flounder laughs it off because he’s in the lead and can already imagine sitting in the special Mayor Chair. Does Toronto have a Mayor Chair? We should.
8:05 PM: Pantalone bashes Flounder for voting against Meals on Wheels. FEEL THE PANTALOMENTUM!
8:06 PM: Rocco Rossi is still in his patented “I’m like Rob Ford but not a total idiot” mode, then hypes the gun registry (of all things). Rossi is currently spending god knows how much money to come in fourth place, so really, he cannot criticize Ford for anything.
8:07 PM: Sarah Thomson said something while I was updating but really, who cares? Flounder again goes to his patented I Can Say Three Things well. Land transfer tax! Vehicle tax! Kyle Rae’s retirement party gravy train! Smitherman says, again, that Ford’s cuts haven’t been accounted for, so Ford starts complaining about the Bombardier deal for TTC streetcars. Smitherman says, straight up, that Ford is a parrot repeating the same phrases over and over again and demands an answer as to Ford’s budget.
8:08 PM: Bowtie makes a show of being the moderator, which is why he never makes Flounder answer a question. Pantalone then explains that Ford and Smitherman are the same thing because they both want to cut or freeze taxes. Smitherman bombs Pantalone for the garbage strike.
8:11 PM: Oh Jesus Christ Ben Mulroney has an applause-o-meter.
8:12 PM: Tom Hayes is in Flounder country, where somebody says that Ford is an “everyday kind of guy,” which says terrible things about the human race. Flounder is the most trustworthy candidate, which I suppose is fair because you know he’ll really try to do everything he promises.
8:17 PM: Ben Mulroney says this election is about the economy when the single most important issue in the poll, according to voters, is transportation.
8:20 PM: Pantalone pulls out some charts to point out that Toronto, the sixth largest government in the country, is also doing quite well. Then he bashes Rossi for the tunnel idea, which is easy because it was very, very stupid.
8:21 PM: Rossi says Ford can’t plan, but he says it as nicely as humanly possible because he respects and loves Flounder like a brother.
8:22 PM: Flounder complains about councillor office costs again and about previous cost overruns, then pimps Sarah Thomson agreeing with him about tax reductions, because that’s what happens when you kiss your opponent’s ass.
8:23 PM: Thomson digs into Flounder, pointing out that he’s never had to apply for a job in his life and he’s a “common man” like Ben Mulroney is and that he doesn’t have a plan and Flounder just won’t stop giggling. Smitherman tags in again with the “where’s your plan” attack, and Flounder just sits there, grinning.
8:25 PM: Ford goes right back to anecdotes. He opposes tearing down the Gardiner. He opposes Jarvis bike lanes. He opposes everything that costs money ever!
8:26 PM: Rossi goes right back to being Flounder’s Mini-Me for a moment, saying how he has good points, then points out that all of those good points don’t actually add up to savings or a plan.
8:27 PM: Pantalone basically calls Flounder a liar. Flounder starts rattling off taxes again because that is literally the only pitch he’s got. Smitherman then calls Flounder a liar for Ford’s attacks on eHealth, and Flounder complains that Smitherman’s attacking his father.
8:29 PM: Thomson says “Settle down, boys,” and gets her only moment of relevance for the night. Rossi then complains that the real problem is a lack of civility, because when you are in fourth place the best thing to do is start complaining about people’s manners. Rossi starts repeating his schtick about how Ford is a wonderful dedicated human being who just happens to have bad numbers.
8:32 PM: Flounder’s plan! Stop hiring people and let attrition do the job to save money! Contract out garbage! Contract out police station cleaning!
8:33 PM: And now it’s time for Sarah Thomson’s Parade of Well-Meaning Platitudes. This week’s theme: she cares! And is not Flounder. Well, it’s something.
8:34 PM: Smitherman gets into his spending freeze schtick, so Pantalone starts pointing at his charts again like a left-wing Italian version of Ross Perot. Smitherman references the Board of Trade’s finding that Toronto has a structural deficit. Pantalone responds by pointing out that the Board, a decade ago, wanted property taxes to skyrocket.
8:37 PM: Smitherman and Pantalone fight for an age over the Board of Trade’s findings and whether Toronto has a structural deficit, and finally Rocco Rossi jumps in, having found a reason to not be civil and gentlemanly, because it’s not glorious Flounder he’s criticizing this time. Joe Pantalone, in the absurdist moment of the night, declares that although David Miller is his baby, he “didn’t get pregnant.” Which… what?
8:40 PM: Someone in a Scarborough café complains about the vehicle registration fee because he doesn’t even drive downtown and presumably because he doesn’t understand the concept of “opportunity cost.” Then somebody else explains that Adam Giambrone had a sex scandal so she’s very suspicious. I know that asking random people in a café questions about municipal policy probably won’t typically get you quality answers, but… yeesh.
8:44 PM: And now the return of “favorite” debate segment “Ask Me,” which is their usual “candidates ask each other questions” bit. Thomson asks Flounder why he said “we don’t have room for immigrants” and what his Toronto motto will be. It is “Open For Business.” Flounder whines when Thomson interrupts him and tries to make it seem like he didn’t say Toronto can’t handle more immigrants, then says Toronto can’t handle more immigrants.
8:48 PM: Pantalone asks Rossi about the “magical underground expressway” and if he still believes in it, making a reference to Jane Jacobs rolling over in her grave. Rossi says that congestion is terrible and drivers need help so maybe let’s look into giant tunnels, huh? Let’s at least consider the very stupid idea! After all, there have been great advances in very stupid technology! And that’s why Toronto sucks according to Rossi: we don’t consider really stupid ideas enough!
8:52 PM: Smitherman to Pantalone: round two on the Board of Trade and structural debt. What is Pantalone’s strategy for next year to handle operational debt? Pantalone, after a lot of talk going nowhere, says that we need efficiency and also efficiency. Smitherman attacks him for the garbage strike again, then complains about Pantalone’s charts “mocking” provincial and federal government, which… yeah.
8:56 PM: Rossi to Smitherman: Flounder won’t explain where he’ll make up his difference on cuts. Will you? Smitherman says he’ll present his budget framework on the 27th, and so there. Rossi says then Smitherman should cut Flounder some slack. Poor Flounder! Everybody’s picking on him!
8:59 PM: Ford to Thomson: you’re working with Smitherman! I seen you, whispering in Smitherman’s ear! Is there a conspiracy to stop Mayor Flounder? Thomson says no, and Flounder says yes! No! Yes! No! Yes! She’s Smitherman’s sister! She’s Smitherman’s daughter!
9:02 PM: Smitherman bashes Flounder for the immigrant bit again because, well, wouldn’t you?
9:05 PM: Back from commercial, and now the audience will ask the candidates questions. And… oh good it’s the Scarborough café again. Pantalone! Miller has said he’ll revamp and expand the Scarborough RT. Will you? Pantalone says yes, bashes McGuinty for defunding Transit City, then says that somehow it will get done. Eventually.
9:08 PM: Kinsey from Regent Park asks: Regent Park isn’t safe and is falling apart. What will you do if you get elected, Flounder? Flounder of course says you can call him and he’ll personally come out with a housing officer, which is great (no, really, you can say a lot about Rob Ford, but his record of community service is outstanding) but not exactly a long-term plan. Then he promises that he’ll keep doing it when he’s mayor, which… uh huh.
9:11 PM: Rocco Rossi! The internet wants to know where you stand in the War on Fun! Rossi loves fun and is strongly pro-fun, and wants the entertainment district to not be the only place where people can have fun.
9:13 PM: Scarborough wants to know: Sarah Thomson! What would you do to improve job prospects for recent graduates? Thomson wants a viable transit system, to make license application simple, and to lower business taxes, which is not exactly what the person was looking for, but that’s about as concrete as Thomson gets when she isn’t suggesting we should privatize libraries.
9:16 PM: A business professor bashes Flounder a bit before asking Smitherman: what’s your vision for Toronto? Smitherman wants Toronto to feel powerful again and to create jobs.
9:19 PM: Now comes the time to discuss transportation! i.e., “have each candidate spout their transit plan.” Smitherman wants “the smart part” of Transit City plus some “bits” of subway, and speeding up road construction. Pantalone is for Transit City all the way and points out that everybody else wants a new plan, which means more delays. Thomson wants subways: a downtown relief line, an airport link, and then Bowtie cuts her off because, come on, she’s not gonna win. Rossi calls the TTC a “transit museum,” says that we need a less political board of directors, then promises to sell city assets to build transit. Flounder wants subways, complains about the St. Clair extension and free Metropasses, then starts talking about councillor perks, and Bowtie says “enough is enough,” but he’s not cutting Flounder off because Flounder is yet again not answering the question; he’s cutting Flounder off because it’s commercial time.
9:29 PM: CP24 does a bit where people on the street don’t know any of the candidates! IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE IT’S DEPRESSING
9:30 PM: Final thoughts! Thomson: Flounder sucks, platitude platitude platitude. Rossi: City Hall isn’t connected to people, so it’s time for a newbie to connect to people! Pantalone: Most people like Toronto how it is, and I am the candidate of “how it is,” and Flounder sucks. Smitherman: City Hall needs to be better and we can be better, but do you really want an asshole in charge of the city? No? Then vote me. Flounder: Tax cuts gravy train wasteful spending councillor perks. (I literally wrote that before he started speaking and it was completely accurate.)
So, was there anything to this debate? Mostly not. Flounder was as you would expect: the same horrible human being as always, although now with a truly shocking level of smugness in an “I’ve already won the election” way, no matter how often he says he hasn’t won it yet. He’s ahead because he’s got a simple, straightforward message, which appeals to people who want to believe that governance is simple and straightforward. Of course, if it were simple and straightforward, Rob Ford wouldn’t have to run for mayor to have a shot in hell of being effective in city government.
As for the others? Thomson and Rossi should just give up now. Neither one has a hope of winning. Thomson is vague. She has been vague all campaign, and “I’m kind of nice and mean well” has never gotten a lot of votes. On the plus side, at least she isn’t becoming a total joke: Rocco Rossi is running possibly the worst campaign in Toronto’s entire history at this point, and may very well get fewer votes than Kevin Clarke at the rate he’s going, because he doesn’t seem interested in doing anything other than tossing off one-liners and promoting stupid ideas.
Pantalone has better numbers because everybody who was hoping that a non-bad progressive candidate would show up has given up and settled, but tonight’s performance was terrible. There are valid criticisms of the Miller regime, many of them, and Pantalone’s refusal to engage on that level means he’s never going to get the progressives to come out; he’s just pandering to the audience that doesn’t want to feel like it’s being pandered to, and worse, he’s being obvious about it.
That leaves Smitherman, who for the first time all campaign actually acted like he wanted to win. Despite the idiotic level of these debates, Smitherman actually came across as someone with a little substance and communicated his two major points, which are that Flounder is a worthless human being who can’t run the city, and that he can. This was the first debate where Smitherman felt like the leader he’s supposed to be.
Rob Ford will probably still win the election. But if Smitherman can keep up like he did tonight, he’s got an outside shot.
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