Fact-checking, analysis, and updates from the first major debate of the fall election season.
It’s the week after Labour Day, which means election season is officially kicking into overdrive. There are about 40 debates between now and election day (October 27th! Everyone vote!), and today’s promises to be one of the most far-ranging. We’ll be liveblogging throughout, so follow along as our would-be mayors make their case for your support.
1:40 PM: And with that, we are done. Debates continue at a rate of roughly one a day every day between now and October 27th.
1:39 PM: The single more important line in the closing statements comes from Chow: “We need a mayor who knows what life is like.” This is the key element that has been missing from all three challengers’ campaigns so far (including Chow’s): a sense that they are really connecting with voters on a visceral level, that they understand why voting rates are so low, why so many residents feel disenfranchised. This is the one point where Ford continues to do better: accurately or not (and as we have often argued, not at all) Ford makes people feel like he understands their experiences. His opponents don’t fare well on this score.
1:31 PM: And now we’re done with questions. One minute apiece for closing statements. John Tory begins his by repeating his “liveable, affordable, functional” slogan. The affordable part has to do with keeping taxes low. This idea that it’s taxes people cannot afford, not rent, food, clothing and education, is the mantra of the Ford administration. Given Tory’s apparent popularity of late, it seems Torontonians want a carry-over on messaging, but perhaps a new messenger. As the debate ends, Ford seems eager to exchange some pleasantries with Tory, perhaps about their fiery exchanges. Tory gives him a stoic handshake.
1:29 PM: John Tory asks what problem Rob Ford has with rail that runs in a separated corridor, referring to his SmartTrack plan. Of course, the same point could be put to Tory, who opposes a Scarborough LRT that would also run in a separated corridor.
1:27 PM: Olivia Chow gives a pretty strong answer to a question on transit funding by saying we need permanent money from all levels of government. But nearly no one applauds when she’s done. Crowd here seems reluctant to give her any props.
1:26 PM: We’ve moved on to transit. John Tory says he hates to keep talking about SmartTrack, which he clearly loves talking about. Ford says “I don’t understand what you don’t understand about subways.” Which is what just about every transit expert has said about Ford, at some point, more or less pointedly.
1:25 PM: Ford says he’s best to deal with youth unemployment, because he understands kids, presumably from his football coaching. Of course, this is the same football coaching job that he was fired from after an alleged litany of outrageous incidents.
1:22 PM: Soknacki, in response to a question about unemployment, says we need to “built real jobs for youth.” Politicians like to says they’ll “build” jobs or worse, “grow” them, like tomatoes. Not very convincing. Tory asks Rob Ford if he’s personally responsible for the building permits issued in Toronto. A good question. Yet Tory’s promise to bring jobs through personal leadership sounds just like Ford. Pot, meet kettle.
1:18 PM: Still on rent controls, no candidate is willing to say they will fight to strengthen them. Rental prices are out of control in Toronto. Chow’s interest in encouraging more private rental development may help along the line, but it’s tough to do and offers no immediate relief.
1:16 PM: In mayoral candidates who are actually answering the question that was asked, John Tory says he is opposed to further rent control measures, and Chow says she wants to spur the building of more new units via financial incentives for developers.
1:14 PM: In response to a question about rent control and making tenancy more financially accessible Ford says “nobody understands community housing better than Rob Ford.” Speaking about himself in the third person aside, he is now yelling (yelling) about a different subject entirely. TCH is not rent control for market-provided apartments. In his TCHC saviour pitch, Ford says that no one does more for their residents than he does. In council he voted to sell off affordable housing, and voted against asking the provincial and federal orders of government to contribute funding to the massive capital repair backlog.
1:14 PM: Ford says there is waste in the police budget, but not in frontline officers. Yet officers salaries and benefits make up more than 90% of the police budget. Unless someone is willing to reduce the number of frontline officers, significant savings will be very hard to find.
1:11 PM: Chow gets the first pre-recorded question from the audience about the “ballooning” police budget. Chow says she has a long-track record of dealing with the budget. She then cites some ideas Soknacki has been touting, including looking at altering the shifts police officers work. No matter who raises this, it’s well worth discussing.
1:05 PM: In response to a question from Chow, Tory says that he would resign from the board of Rogers to avoid conflicts. When asked if he would put his interest in Deco Labels in a blind trust he responds “Do you know what a silent partner is? That’s what I am.” Tory retorts quickly, “that would be a first. Everyone laughs, including Ford, who says, “that was a good one!” Tory has been quick with one-liners today, and the Board of Trade crowd has responded really well to them.
1:03 PM: Next question is about integrity. Olivia Chow says anyone who is mayor should put their businesses and financial assets in a blind trust. “No one but no one can buy the Fords,”the mayor says.” He then complains about the conflict of interest case that nearly cost him his job, and brags that he won his court case on the issue. Somewhere, Dennis Morris, Ford’s lawyer, is smiling. It’s true that it didn’t cost him his job, but the fundamental conflict remained—as per the City’s accountability officers, Ford should not have been fundraising on his official mayoral letterhead.
1:02 PM: To be fair to all candidates, the onus on mayoral contenders to say how they’ll create jobs is misleading — the city has limited abilities here.
1:02 PM: John Tory contradicts Ford’s claim that the city is booming by ably citing unemployment numbers. His answer for job growth, however, are to “sell, sell, sell” the city, build transit and to keep taxes low. Nothing really new or different from Ford’s approach in the last for years. He is the refined version of Rob Ford in this campaign. Soknacki, in the meantime, pulls out some spreadsheet math on jobs in the city, and he’s in his element.
12:57 PM: Soknacki says taxes need to be competitive, but not necessarily the lowest. He’s the only one on the stage who isn’t fighting for the title of tax-slayer. Refreshing.
12:55 PM: “You think half of the time that if you say something, it’s true,” Tory says to Ford after the latter says he’s fixing the Gardiner. Huge laughter and applause. But Ford and Tory begin screaming at each other. The moderator is losing control while those two are going at each other. One debate advantage for John Tory is that he speaks so quickly that it’s difficult for other candidates to get a chance to jump in.
12:54 PM: Ford says he will invest in the Gardiner with a billion dollars in each of the next 10 years. This number appears pulled from thin air.
12:52 PM: I come in behind those… damn streetcars every day,” Ford blurts out. The question was about the Gardiner Expressway.
12:50 PM: “Are you trying to say anything to get elected?” Chow asks Tory of his own contradictory statements on transit. In response, he holds up a paper copy of his transit plan, which is pretty hard to see from the stage. Shades of Stockwell Day using a prop in a federal debate. Awkward.
12:48 PM: Normally Rob Ford lets the attacks come to him, but in this debate he is taking to them to John Tory, and he appears unhinged.
12:48 PM: Soknacki on Tory’s tax increment financing scheme, to raise money for transit: “It’s fantasy money!” And he’s right. (TIFs are basically a tool for raising money by borrowing against future growth in tax revenues on the assumption that new infrastructure will increase land value and increase the tax base in future years.) Also, John Tory says SmartTrack can get done in seven years. A recent Metrolinx report says it will be 10 years.
12:46 PM: Olivia Chow calls the Downtown Relief Line “the number one priority for the TTC.” She wasn’t saying this at the beginning of the campaign. Tory points that out and gets some smattering of applause from the crowd.
12:44 PM: “The trouble with the answers so far is that it’s smoke and mirrors,” says Soknacki—right now development is not revenue neutral for the City. (In short, developers aren’t right now bearing the full cost of the infrastructure demands they create on water, sewage, transit, public spaces, and so on). “We need to significantly raise our development charges,” says Soknacki on density and development. He also mentions the need for inclusionary zoning to create more affordable housing. As he has been at debates, he sounds polished, prepared, and thorough.
12:43 PM: “Let me give you some facts,” Ford begins in response to a question about development and density in Toronto. More tittering and snickering. But the crowd laughs with Ford when he gestures at Chow, who’s standing on his right, and saying, “well, you should be on the left too…” Ford is much more belligerent in this debate that previous ones.
12:39 PM: Soknacki: “The transit fantasy plans our here are going to incur debt.” He too wants to hold the line on property taxes, but talks about finding savings in specific places like the police budget—though, the tens of millions his proposals would find there would make only a tiny dent in the amount any new transit would require.
12:38 PM: The mayor attacks John Tory for the second time this debate in what looks like a clear strategy. Based on the latest poll, Tory enjoys a 14 point lead over the mayor.
12:38 PM: There is a noticeable amount of laughter in the room whenever Ford speaks, and when he is referred to by his opponents and the moderator. Not sure he has the respect of everyone in this audience.
12:37 PM: John Tory promises to hold property taxes “to the rate of inflation or below” and gives a version of Rob Ford’s gravy speech that is much smoother and more business-friendly. He talks about making sure projects don’t go over budget, but says nothing about how he would do so.
12:36 PM: Rob Ford challenges John Tory on “not saving money” at Queen’s Park. Tory explains he was opposition leader. The crowd roars in laughter.
12:35 PM: John Tory says we need to change direction in Toronto, but takes a shot at Chow: I think we need a change of direction, but not back to the way things were before.” This is a reference to both former mayor David Miller, and to Chow. It appears that running against David Miller is as popular a strategy in 2014 as it was in 2010.
12:33 PM: Answering a question about the role of the mayor, Rob Ford rhetorically says, “Do you understand that people of all races and religions deserve equal treatment?” This is a mayor who has used a whole host of racial slurs about every imaginable group.
12:31 PM: Ford says “when the voters say jump, you ask how high,” focusing again on his populism. Like Soknacki, Tory also says “it begins with being able to work with others”—both are, of course, implicitly condemning Ford’s inability to retain his hold on council.
12:30 PM: Asked what their vision for a mayor is, Soknacki talks about bringing people together. Chow says a mayor should put “customer service as a top priority”—a rather Ford-like line.
12:28 PM: The Board of Trade has strongly criticized the mayor over the past year. In January, there was an awkward moment when Ford showed up to an event on leadership that they did not want him to attend. The board also called on him to resign in May.
12:26 PM: Wilding and the BoT are also promoting the slogan “Think twice, vote once” for this mayoral campaign? Is this a subtle criticism of the last four years under Ford?
12:24 PM: “To take Toronto from good to great,” says BoT president Carol Wilding, “we need credible plans.” Which is precisely the challenge at least two of the candidates face: both Rob Ford and John Tory have presented transit plans whose math has been called out for being somewhere between unrealistically optimistic and entirely delusional.
12:21 PM: This is also Olivia Chow’s first opportunity to show whether she’ll be rebooting her campaign for the fall. We’ve seen some signs of this already: she’s stopped using the word “taxpayer,” and introduced a new revenue-raising idea (adding a new band for the Land Transfer Tax for houses worth more than $2 million). Her performance today will be a good indication of whether she will tack more to the progressive campaign many expected to see from her in the first place.
12:17 PM: Eight months into the campaign, this is only Rob Ford’s seventh debate. This is in contrast to the over 100 debates he participated in 2010, and his fall 2013 comment that he would debate “anyone, anytime, anyplace.”
12:16 PM: The place is packed and the candidates are here. One gets the sense this is a John Tory type of crowd (corporate), and this is a big televised affair, so it’s a good chance for him to build on the Nanos poll that put him well ahead of Chow and Ford.