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