Liveblog: Fact-Checking the First Televised Mayoral Debate
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Liveblog: Fact-Checking the First Televised Mayoral Debate

Follow along as we fact-check the claims made during the mayoral debate, and determine which ones hold up, and which ones don't pass the smell test.


For months, Rob Ford has insisted he wants to debate all comers in Toronto’s mayoral race. This evening, the mayor will get his wish, as the five leading candidates for mayor participate in their first debate from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Citytv and online. Mayoral contenders Ford, Olivia Chow, John Tory, Karen Stintz, and David Soknacki will each get a chance to discuss the three major subjects of the debate: taxes, transit, and leadership.

For candidates like Stintz and Soknacki, the debate will be an opportunity to raise their name recognition and be put on the same platform as the three other candidates, who poll at much more competitive levels. But it won’t be easy to gain a lot of traction in just one debate. Ford has consistently exceeded expectations at these events—he participated in over 100 debates in the 2010 campaign—as he tends to stick to his talking points and deliver them with conviction, which comes across well in the format. Tory will likely warn against an Olivia Chow or a Rob Ford mayoralty and say “livable, affordable, functional” a lot. And Chow will likely argue against choosing any of the “Ford lite” options, and claim that adopting his policies without his behaviour would still be a recipe for failure.

As we follow the debate, the Torontoist Truth Squad will be on-the-fly fact-checking the statements and claims made by the candidates in order to provide more context and establish what holds up. Statements that we judge to be outright wrong will get a FALSE rating, while half-truths and exaggerations will get a QUESTIONABLE rating.

Desmond Cole will be fact-checking Olivia Chow and David Soknacki, David Hains will be fact-checking John Tory and Karen Stintz, and Christopher Bird will be fact-checking Rob Ford.

Let the Hunger Games debate begin!

Before we begin the first televised debate of Campaign 2014, we can take a trip down memory lane to the debate on March 30, 2010. George Smitherman was the front-runner, and longshot candidate Rob Ford took credit for “cleaning up Rexdale” and wanted to bring back Julian Fantino. The more things change.

5:04: Chow claims that building an LRT to replace the Scarborough RT will save a billion dollars. Even in the most generous interpretation, this figure is overblown by about $100 million, as Daniel Dale pointed out in his March 17 fact-check of the claim. QUESTIONABLE

5:06: Stintz says she has a plan to fund the Downtown Relief Line, but it’s a stretch. Her plan to sell half of Toronto Hydro would raise only about $400 million and would also require a 0.87-per cent property tax revenue increase. The Downtown Relief Line would cost $7.4 billion. QUESTIONABLE

5:08: Ford has not saved the City a billion dollars. He has not built a subway. City council has not approved a subway for Finch. Ford does not have a proven track record of building subways. And the St. Clair streetcar line is not an LRT. Right out of the gate, Ford has blatantly lied five times in less than a minute. FALSE

5:12 Citytv is asking viewers to text in the name of the candidate they would most trust to run transit in the city, which will just end up being a competition for which campaign can stuff the ballot box most. Go, democracy, go!

5:20: Chow asks Ford about what he would say to people who rely on TTC services that have been cut. Ford immediately lies and says he hasn’t cut TTC service, which he voted for and got passed in 2011 when he cut numerous route services down. He claims he has “not cut one red cent” on transit, skipping the fact that the TTC budget allocation has not been raised along with the rate of inflation, which is effectively a cut. He also claims that a further transit fare hike will “not be necessary,” which is extremely unlikely, but everything else he said was FALSE.

5:21: Emma Teitel of Maclean’s magazine asks Tory a specific question about what he would do to improve bus service. He does not answer directly, saying that a plan will come later. He argues that we need to focus on all road congestion, and focus on traffic signalling and co-ordinating road construction. These efforts are already in the works at City Hall. QUESTIONABLE

5:24 Tory: “Mr. Ford is actually right that the funding of the TTC has gone up, not down.” Tory is right that gross TTC funding has increased, but on a per-rider basis, funding has gone down. In 2010, the ridership subsidy, which is the lowest in North America, was $0.92 per trip. It is now $0.79. QUESTIONABLE

So, the poll on Citytv says viewers rated Chow highest during the transit segment. It’s worth noting that Chow’s campaign team has also organized a debate-watching party.

5:31 Ford claims he has “cleaned up” Soknacki’s “mess,” which isn’t even remotely true considering the massive budget shortfall that’s in Toronto’s immediate future. Then he claims again that he’s found “efficiencies” and oh, lord, he’s just not going to stop, is he. FALSE

5:35: Stintz takes credit for the new streetcars and subways that the TTC has rolled out. But these were purchased under the previous administration, which she has also criticized for being fiscally irresponsible. QUESTIONABLE

5:36: Jimmy Kimmel provides some feedback about Citytv moderator Gord Martineau’s performance:

5:40: Soknacki keeps calling the tax increase council approved to fund the Bloor-Danforth subway extension “the biggest tax increase in the City’s history.” The transit portion of the tax increase amounted to 0.5 per cent this year, 0.5 per cent next year, and 0.6 per cent in 2016, for a total of 1.6 per cent. After property taxes were frozen for years under Mel Lastman, they rose between 3 to 5 per cent a year under David Miller. Now, Soknacki may be referring to the 30-year time period during which the transit tax will be collected. He is correct that the debt levied to pay for the Bloor-Danforth extension will limit the City’s debt ceiling, and thus, limit borrowing opportunities. But it’s a big stretch to call it the “biggest tax increase in the City’s history.” FALSE

5:41 In response to Soknacki’s question about money-saving votes that Ford failed to show up for, Ford again claims he has saved the taxpayers a billion dollars and that Joe Pennachetti says that’s correct—neither of which is true—and then he conflates cutting taxes with cutting spending again, because he’s Mister FALSE.

5:41 Jimmy Kimmel has more to say about Toronto’s mayoral debate.

5:42: Stintz defends the changes in her position when it comes to the island airport and Scarborough transit expansion. Stintz claims that her position on the airport is based on three principles, but it’s a deflection; she doesn’t explain why she was against jets then and is for them now. QUESTIONABLE

5:48 It’s worth mentioning that this entire debate format, which simply encourages candidates to shout at one another, is completely useless, and Citytv should feel embarrassed.

5:50: Tory repeats his line that he’s the only candidate who will take the city “not left, not right, but forwards,” because he is apparently either Kang or Kodos.

5:51 Ford lies again about the billion dollars and sheer fatigue is starting to set in, but this time he says he did what David Miller could not do; namely, save money through budget efficiencies. However, David Miller’s administration saved an amount of money in budget efficiencies comparable to what Ford’s has. FALSE

5:51 Rob Ford blah blah gravy train blah blah then claims he’s created 57,000 jobs in the last three years—(a) he doesn’t really create jobs directly as mayor, and (b) the unemployment rate has risen during his tenure as mayor. FALSE

5:55: Chow claims that water rates have gone up during Ford’s administration. While this is true (rates went up 9% this year, for example), water rates have been going up at an identical rate for years as part of the City’s Wet Weather Flow Master Plan. QUESTIONABLE

5:55: Ford, after attacking Tory for losing the provincial election for some reason, says he is a “businessman.” Ford, by his own admission, worked a very minimal number of hours at Deco Labels while he was a city councillor; if he ever was actively involved in Deco’s management on a day-to-day basis, he has not been so for over a decade now. FALSE

5:56: Ford claims that “we haven’t had one union strike.” Well, except for that librarian strike in 2012. FALSE

5:56: In case you’re wondering why this debate is at the weird 5–7 p.m. time slot, one Citytv source tells Torontoist it’s because of U.S. syndication—they won’t pre-empt shows like Cougar Town. Busy Phillips has those kinds of powers.

6:09: Ford’s question for Soknacki references him “increasing spending more than any other budget chief ever has,” which isn’t true, because Ford is referring to the gross budget, which includes the provincial and federal funding David Miller excelled at getting. FALSE

6:11: Answering a question on budgets from Ford, Soknacki does a decent job explaining to viewers where the budget has grown in recent years. He does glare somewhat alarmingly at his adversaries on stage when he gets fired up. Wonder how that is playing with the viewers.

6:11: Ford claims that garbage collection is saving “$80 million per year.” It’s saving $80 million over the life of the contract. FALSE

6:11: Stintz claims that she has always been clear about where she stands on revenue tools for transit, but this is not the case. As Tory points out, she supported selling 10 per cent of Hydro before modifying that to 50 per cent this past Monday. QUESTIONABLE

6:14: Ford, finally being asked about all that crack he smoked, goes back to his track record, says “I saved a billion dollars” YET AGAIN, then invites people to his campaign kickoff party. FALSE

6:19: Ford’s closing statement: proven track record of success, billion dollars, efficiencies, the CFO says a billion dollars, et cetera. FALSE Congratulations to Citytv for inventing a debate format so completely useless that it enables Ford to quite literally repeat the same three lies for a solid hour.

6:25: Citytv’s post-debate analysis is nothing short of awful. The first commentator makes the argument that Ford won the debate because he was a good communicator, essentially saying that the mayor’s overwhelming intransigence was really great. The second analyst adds that it was impressive how on top of the City’s files Ford was, like which transit lines were getting built. This is what happens when you get analysts who don’t follow City Hall.

6:40: In a post-debate scrum, Stintz is asked how she will deal with losing part of the dividend from selling half of Hydro. She claims that they might get a greater dividend with efficiencies from the private sector. The idea that efficiencies in a utility company could double net income to make up for selling half of the company is either disingenuous or ignorant. FALSE