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On The Agenda‘s Mayoral Debate, A Public Television Brawl For It All!

The candidates at today’s televised debate. Photo courtesy of the Globe and Mail.

For some reason, selected candidates for the mayoralty of Toronto are having a debate tonight on TVO. As he has done for two previous CP24 televised mayoral debates, Christopher Bird is watching for Torontoist, because you probably aren’t.

7:55 PM: Welcome to tonight’s debate. Can Steve Paikin get more honesty and candor out of the mayoral candidates than the entire staff of CP24? Answer: quite possibly! But he is only one man, against a five-headed juggernaut of twaddle. Can his sword of truth prevail? Does he have a sword of truth? Did TVO’s sword of truth budget run empty last month? We shall see.

8:00 PM: Steve Paikin hits you with Toronto trivia. Did you know we call the Mayor “your worship”? Well, now you do.
8:01 PM: Paikin introduces The Mild Bunch in alphabetical order and warns the candidate that there will be rules and that his son worked on Smitherman’s campaign, so, you know, disclosure. Tonight’s debate is about financial responsibility and leadership and nothing else.
8:03 PM: Rob Ford! David Miller says we are financially stable. Do you agree with that? Shockingly, Flounder does not agree with that because we have a major, major spending problem—taxes, fees, in the red, et cetera. Joe Pantalone says that David Miller is right and we’re mostly great and Rob Ford is exaggerating tax increases. Rocco Rossi and his soulless, empty, serial-killer eyes says no, and how dare David Miller demand more money from the province, and it’s all accounting tricks. Smitherman says no, and he will freeze everything: taxes, fees, hiring, all of it. Thomson says we have a deficit and she called for a freeze first so Smitherman is totally copying her.
8:07 PM: Flounder explains that his tax cuts are less than two percent of the city’s budget so they’re no big deal at all, and bashes the St. Clair TTC extension, which is like shooting babies in a barrel. Pantalone and Rossi point out that money is sort of desperately necessary but even they aren’t going to defend the St. Clair extension.
8:09 PM: Rossi (who, TVO advises us, is a “native Torontonian” and a “prominent businessman”) says that we need to get our house in order and that Rob Ford can fire the whole of city council and it won’t be enough money. Smitherman then takes over and points out that his tax cuts are affordable, then bashes David Miller. Thomson (also a “native Torontonian” and a “social entrepreneur”) says contract bidding is the key.
8:11 PM: Paikin asks Flounder if the taxes he wants to cut lose the city a billion in revenue over four years, where does he get that money? Flounder says he takes things “one year at a time” and then starts complaining about the Siemens TTC car purchase because that already happened and it means he doesn’t have to answer Paikin’s question. Rossi, desperate to appear as the Reasonable Rob Ford That Liberals Might Kinda Vote For, explains that Flounder is right and our fiscal portrait is bleak. Pantalone, in a begging voice, butts in. “But what kind of city will we live in?”
8:14 PM: Smitherman gets in a dig about “the world according to Joe Pantalone.” (Because George Smitherman has earned the right to mock other candidates? eHealth, George?)
8:15 PM: Paikin: “People want a leader with fiscal responsibility cred. For whatever reason, [Rob Ford] is that guy.” Subtle, Steve. Smitherman says, correctly, that Ford has three or four anecdotes that he says never-endingly. Flounder then decides to prove Smitherman wrong by pointing out for the millionth time that he doesn’t hire staff with city funds. Pantalone snarks about how Flounder has only one song and this is it, then asks what type of city we will live in again.
8:15 PM: Rossi says Flounder can’t lead a dog to a Beggin’ Strip, so even though he has the right ideas, he’s the wrong guy. Thomson says that Flounder is great and then pimps her platform as Flounderiffic. Paikin points out that she can’t control the private sector in the way that she claims. Thomson says, basically, “can too.”
8:20 PM: Paikin asks about eHealth in his debate which he said was just about fiscal responsibility and leadership. Smitherman bumbles through his answer. Paikin then asks Pantalone if his image as the old guard’s representative is hurting his campaign, which of course it is, so Pantalone says he’s proud of his and David Miller’s record and that he runs City Hall, which causes Flounder to snort derisively.
8:21 PM: Flounder (also a “native Torontonian”) says he has been the “mayor in waiting” for ten years then bitches about the Jarvis bike lanes and then brags about his constituent service and how he’ll go anywhere to help anybody even if they aren’t in his ward and you can call him any time and he’ll come over and rake your leaves if you can’t do that because he is all about helping people. Unless they are gay, because gays are icky.
8:24 PM: Thomson says something but who cares because Flounder wants to brag about his attendance record, like a really scary real-life conservative version of Lisa Simpson. Smitherman blathers about his experience in government and it is SO BORING. At least Flounder is interesting. No wonder Smitherman is losing: he’s a solid nugget of anti-charisma.
8:26 PM: Rossi and Smitherman attack each other because Rossi hates that Smitherman is a political hack and Smitherman hates that Rossi has no political experience and is also a career backroom politician. Rossi then namechecks John Tory, because if he drops enough conservative names maybe some of them will vote for him. Seriously, Rocco. It’s getting sad at this point. Nobody wants to go out with the desperate kid in the corner who tells everybody that he’s already booked a limo and a room for prom, you know?
8:27 PM: Flounder brags that he has both real-world experience and city council experience, unlike everybody else at the table. This after explaining five minutes ago that he works five hours a week at his family’s company.
8:29 PM: Leadership! Flounder says that he is a leader because of Woodbine and how people called him a “steadfast champion” and that his greatest weakness is that he is a fatty but other than that he is awesome. No, wait, his greatest weakness is that he is too awesome.
8:31 PM: Rossi’s greatest strength: a tradition of excellent performance. I.e., he reads off his resume, taking Paikin’s “job interview” metaphor entirely too literally. Rossi admits that his weakness is that he has no political experience “and I’ve never been arrested.” But that’s great. Paikin presses and Rossi says “I’m impatient with getting things done” in that way that makes you want to smack him.
8:32 PM: Smitherman also reads off his resume and says he has experience and that’s his strength. Smitherman says he’s impatient too and that’s his weakness, even if Paikin didn’t buy it when Rossi claimed it as a weakness. Paikin suggests that maybe Smitherman is talking about his temper, and Smitherman says “okey-doke.”
8:34 PM: Thomson’s strength is working with others for change in collaboration with change. Weakness: she works with the Tory sons. I’m not sure how this is a weakness. Maybe they’re really ugly?
8:35 PM: Somewhere in there Pantalone explained his strength and weakness but I missed it because I was busy typing, which really explains all of Pantalone’s campaign right there.
8:36 PM: Flounder goes back to his five-hours-a-week-experience to explain that Smitherman can’t be both the CEO and CFO of the city, and then brags about Woodbine Live again to prove that he’s a leader. Pantalone points out, basically, that Flounder is a giant schmuck and nobody likes him and one project doesn’t change that.
8:38 PM: Paikin wonders how Rossi can be mayor with no experience working with council. Rossi jumps right back into his usual song-and-dance about new blood. Every time he does this he sounds more like a carnival huckster talking about the benefits of leeching.
8:39 PM: Smitherman argues that working in provincial government gives him more experience working across the aisle and becomes, I believe, the fourth candidate tonight to namedrop John Tory.
8:41 PM: Thomson explains about change and… I really just tune out whenever she says “change” now, to be honest. You do too. Admit it.
8:42 PM: Flounder says he is a “red Tory,” fiscally conservative and socially liberal, which is the biggest lie he has ever said in his entire life. Then he explains that he thought the word “Oriental” was a compliment, and tells us all how hard Asians work and we ought to take a page out of their playbook. No. Really. He said that.
8:43 PM: This one time, in business camp, Rocco Rossi brought labour and management together, and then they all had an ice cream party and were best friends forever. That is why Rossi should be mayor.
8:44 PM: “George, what would be so bad if Rob Ford became Mayor?” Smitherman says, more or less, that Ford is a stupid bigot who has one idea and it’s not a great idea.
8:45 PM: Same question, but to Pantalone about Thomson. Pantalone thinks Thomson has a simplistic notion of what city government is.
8:46 PM: Thomson about Pantalone. Thomson says that Pantalone is too hidebound and wouldn’t have thought of Luminato or other things, like Luminato, because he’s too institutional, maaaaan.
8:46 PM: Ford about Smitherman. Ford drops the eHealth bomb and doesn’t stop attacking: Smitherman’s salary raise and wait times both get mentioned. Smitherman counters with his usual list of talking points.
8:48 PM: Rocco points out that he didn’t get a chance to do a “what’s so bad” bit, so Paikin feeds him Rob Ford again. Rossi says that he likes Flounder, but Flounder is too small-ball and doesn’t think big picture and doesn’t know how to present Toronto to the world.
8:50 PM: Paikin asks Flounder about one thing about Smitherman that he likes. Flounder: He wears nice suits. And he had to work to manage that. That’s Rob Ford in a nutshell, for you. He’ll build bridges!
8:51 PM: Smitherman likes Rossi’s “never-betterism.” Rossi likes Thomson’s pluck. Thomson likes Pantalone’s ability to speak Italian. (That sounds worse than it actually was: Thomson was clearly admiring the ability to speak more than one language in the way that all of us monophones do.) Pantalone likes Flounder’s focus and determination. See, Rob? That’s how you compliment somebody.
8:52 PM: Paikin goes back to give Flounder another chance to not be a petulant child, and Flounder completely refuses to do it. Rossi explains to him, like a parent to a toddler, that finding things to like and respect about other people is how you build political consensus.
8:54 PM: And that’s it. This was disappointing. I, personally, was hoping for a really wonkish, policy-heavy debate, because that’s what The Agenda does best. Instead, we got endless spewing of talking points, as Rossi and Thomson did their best to get the vote of the three Rob Ford voters who watch TVO by pretending they’re just like Ford, except nicer and better-smelling, and pointing out how many times they can say “John Tory.” (If you say it three times while looking in a mirror, he appears behind you and tells you how to fix the city’s budget!) Pantalone is simply too nice a human being to be a good campaigner at this level and his chances are essentially nil anyway. Smitherman actually tried to bring his A-game, but the problem with Smitherman is that he has to constantly play defense because of all his screwups.
That leaves Flounder, who presumably decided that since none of his voting bloc watches TVO he could just let loose and be himself, which from a certain perspective is fine because Rob Ford is an asshole, and the more people who know that, the better. I really want to find a more eloquent way to say that, but there simply isn’t one: he’s just an asshole, a vile self-important asshole with tremendously few redeeming qualities. A strong work ethic and dogged adherence to your political philosophy just don’t make you a decent human being and they sure as hell don’t make you capable of running a city.
Tonight he was in rare form, preening himself as he explained that both the provincial and federal Tories had tried to recruit him, sneering when Paikin suggested that maybe he could try to say something pleasant about George Smitherman not once but twice, putting on his I-don’t-get-it face when recalling why he had to apologize for “Orientals,” and then making it clear that he still doesn’t get it by explaining that he wasn’t being racist because he believes in a positive stereotype rather than a negative one.
But right now he’s the alpha dog. Rossi has no chance of winning because his entire campaign right now is his resume and sucking up to conservative voters who don’t want to vote for a Liberal backroomer. Pantalone has no chance of winning because he’s David Miller with all of the minuses and none of the pluses. Smitherman probably can’t win because, go figure, everybody still remembers last year’s giant scandal. Thomson probably can’t win either because she comes across as too inexperienced. And… that’s all we got, unless an eleventh-hour white knight jumps into the fray.
Rob Ford is an asshole, and if he wins he’ll likely be the worst mayor in Toronto’s history.
Get more municipal election coverage from Torontoist here.


  • http://undefined StagedAndConfused

    The most frightening part of this whole mess is that one of them will actually be the mayor… I’m at a loss trying to grasp which of them is the least inept out of the bunch.
    Is it too late to put Chris Bird on the ballot?

  • http://undefined Jason Bomers

    That was hilarious and so spot on… really, is this all we’ve got? Please, someone else run! Ford will make Toronto just awful.

  • http://undefined Andrew

    That last line should be printed on bumper stickers, billboards, and T-shirts. I’d wear one.

  • http://undefined lunarworks

    I know it’s cliché, but I have to say it: No matter who wins, we all lose.

  • Josh Hind

    It’s hard to find the energy to comment about Ford’s flaws. None of the people I read, am friends with (FB and in real life),follow or are followed by would ever vote for Ford. And I’ll bet anyone else commenting on this or any other urban affairs blog is in the same boat. I don’t know a single Ford supporter, so there’s no one to influence. So all we’re doing is preaching to the choir. What good can it/will it ever do? Despair is imminent…

  • mark.

    Bird, this is fuckin’ genius.

  • http://undefined Enigma

    We need to see more of the old Furious George!
    When Smitherman was a Minister he had heat and passion. He would attack, yell, kick, scream. He called his opponents ” terrorists. ” He was like a ball of fire! Unstoppable. Uncontrollable. A real wild card! And fearless.
    I suspect his aides are telling him to play it safe. Appear calm. Appear cool. But George would do well not to heed the word of his consultants. If anything he should take a strip out of Rob Ford’s book.
    Look at Ford. He shoots from the hip. He tells it like it is. And the more he plays this card, the higher he goes in the polls. It must freak out his handlers, but its working. Like it worked for New York City Mayor Ed Koch.
    As he has no particular vision or policy, Smitherman needs to re-brand himself as the George Smitherman we all knew and loved. Smitherman doesn’t need a vision or policy. He’s a liberal. And that enough for most people. He can come up with policy and visions after he’s elected.
    He needs to get back to his roots! Show some emotion. Cry. Scream. Swear! Lay down the law. This is how Smitherman will win this election. He has to be himself!
    Once Smitherman explodes on camera, watch him rise in the polls. And watch Ford run for the hills!

  • http://undefined Diego

    This is so brilliant I can’t even stand it.
    It is so unfortunate that Rob Ford will probably be our Mayor. I keep hoping for some giant scandal to surface that’ll change everything. Then I remember that like 4 of them already have and the mysterious Rob Ford supporters (like Josh Hind, I don’t seem to know of any real people…) seem to only find them more endearing.
    *sigh* At least it leads to hilarious Torontoist posts.

  • accozzaglia

    Christopher, you have been awarded as my hero for this entire mayoral season and for being reporter/writer of the month on Torontoist. You deserve the cookie, the medal, the accolades, and all the beer you want for one night. This was, as mark commented, brilliant. Just don’t let it get to your head, or you might lose your roll.
    Also, I cannot help myself for having posted this old Flounder nugget last night. It’s not really that big a deal, but there’s something just smug and cocky to have a vanity plate with your own name on it and parked right out front willy-nilly. I’d otherwise never have known where we were riding by that evening.
    Do you want your mayor to have a vanity plate with her or his own name on it? What does that really say about imaginative ideas for spending extra on a vanity plate?

  • TheRealJohnson

    This was great (your coverage, not the debate); especially since your last sentence so nicely sums up everyone’s sheer frustration with our options thus far.

  • accozzaglia

    OK. Then, uhm, get it while it still hasn’t been banned. Or something.
    (I know I’m going to get dinged for this by Zazzle. I am a naughty, nasty girl.)

  • thelemur

    I don’t know about the van, but I don’t think that’s his place. The address on the Florida arrest report still matches his current phone listing – a suburban cul-de-sac with no sidewalks.

  • David Newland

    Christopher Bird is the Rob Ford of journalism.

  • http://undefined Enigma

    To quote Truman Capote, Mr. Bird is more a typist than journalist.

  • accozzaglia

    That is to suggest that Rob Ford actually thinks creatively and abstractly. No dice.

  • accozzaglia

    Perhaps. It was on a Sunday evening, so maybe he was making a house call. It didn’t look like there was a reception going on.
    Without including its co-ordinates on flickr (something I deliberately omitted), I can tell you this was in mid-northern Etobicoke, not too far from the Humber, nearby a park, and very nearby where there weren’t any sidewalks at all (about a half dozen or so houses west of this one, if I properly recall).
    The chance this was his pad wasn’t 100 percent, but it was particularly high given the convergence of these variables.

  • David Newland

    No, it’s to suggest that Bird considers bluster and bluff qualities more important than substance or significance.

  • accozzaglia

    It is to articulate the collective frustration a great many Torontonians are feeling about this whole dog and pony show led by Ringleader Rob.
    I read the Christopher Bird debate commentaries not to review a debate transcript (that can be done elsewhere, I’m sure). I read them as a live op-ed piece which not only voices the frustration that many of us can’t express (and have it heard), but also as a light-hearted relief to an otherwise miserable municipal campaign season.
    This is a blog. Blogs do not foment dispassionate, “objective” (a Utopian, impossible concept) journalism. They are journalistic sidebars where people go to commiserate.

  • accozzaglia

    Actually, since you mentioned it, it prodded me to run a quick reverse address check on that place (since, again, I know the spot), and it is indeed Le Chez du Ford.
    For the record.

  • David Newland

    I have no problem with Bird, or anyone else being opinionated. It’s true that no one thinks Torontoist is dispassionate.
    But to call a candidate an asshole is to join him in the ranks of the uncouth; an act which removes any credibility from the critique.

  • accozzaglia

    It’s a blog. This is tame and civil language relative to several other major city blogs.
    If you want sanitized (even obfuscated) language, Rosie DiManno at The Star might be more to your liking.

  • David Newland

    You’re missing my point entirely, so I’ll make it one more time.
    Bird’s manner is just like Ford’s: blustery, uncouth, opinionated… and proudly so.
    How can you admire one and decry the other?

  • accozzaglia

    No, I heard your point. I understand what you argue but just don’t agree.
    Also, it’s not admiration. It’s applause. Admiration runs a little deeper. And hyperbole is not admiration.
    “Blustery” is not a word I’d use to describe Bird’s writing during this campaign or during the G20 weekend. “Blustery” is a word I’d use to describe Rob Ford. The other big difference? One clearly uses their brain and their mouth. The other just uses their mouth.

  • http://undefined rahrahraina

    Excellent coverage of the debate. Watching Ford struggling to be a decent human being was one of the most revealing moments in the campaign season so far.
    You forgot to mention what Smitherman got in at the end when Paiken asked him if he had any response for Ford not being able to come up with anything nice to say about him. He basically said that he knew TVO’s viewership was smart enough to draw their own conclusions from Ford’s comments and attitude.
    And there’s the sad problem, mentioned already in these comments– we are preaching to the choir. The Ford supporters aren’t watching these debates, aren’t reading these articles… and when they do, Ford’s asshole attitude only reinforces their opinions.

  • http://undefined torontothegreat

    It’s fine to be all those things if you are least intelligent. I’m pretty sure that’s what seperates Ford from Bird.

  • http://undefined Andrew

    Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not against Rob Ford because he’s uncouth. I’m against him because he’s a violent, dishonest, bigoted, alcoholic, stupid, fat asshole, who is a disgrace to himself and to the City of Toronto. Are you saying Christopher Bird is the same?

  • accozzaglia

    He’s also a disgrace to anyone who is in any way obese.

  • http://undefined thelemur

    What, the place you shot?

  • http://undefined thomas.owain

    On despair:
    I was upset about Ford, so looked into my local ward election and found the best anti-Ford candidate. I now help out a few hours a week, going door-to-door. The people working on her campaign are brilliant, funny, smart, the kind of people you want to meet in your neighbourhood. Door-to-door campaigning is hard but fun now I’ve got my confidence up.
    Two facts give me the extra push to get involved: (1) The mayor has only one vote on council. (2) The Ford lot are pushing a raft of candidates across Toronto, who will vote with Ford if elected.
    Really. It’s worth joining the dance – if the nasty man gets more people active in local politics, he’ll actually have done some good, even if it’s by prompting a Ford backfire. (Now that I think of it, “Ford Backfire” sounds like a useful phrase. Or at least a cool dance to learn. Or a crap car.)

  • http://undefined Michael

    Entertaining, but rather unhelpful.
    There is only one decent human being running for mayor in Toronto, and just like the mainstream media, you are completely dismissive of him. Joe Pantalone could be our only hope of maintaining a decent city, yet you couldn’t be bothered to type out a few sentences to provide your audience with his platform.
    I expected better of Torontoist.

  • Michael Brown

    I think the coverage here and also in today’s Star paint Rob Ford out to be the loser in last night’s debate. Paikin’s request of the candidates to pay a compliment to each other was brilliant. That Ford struggled with that question speaks volumes about the man. Moreover it underscores how difficult a man he will be to work with.

  • http://undefined Enigma

    Smitherman’s estranged brother runs for council, endorses Ford

  • http://undefined thelemur

    In other news:
    Rossi’s cousin Francis endorses Pantalone, advocating the status quo.
    Ford’s uncle Gerald endorses Thomson on the ‘City to Ford: Smarten Up’ platform.

  • http://undefined EricSmith

    Ford “works five hours a week at his family’s company.” My God, what a nuisance he must be.