Latest chapter in mayoral debate wars: seniors attack!

Latest chapter in mayoral debate wars: seniors attack!

The five front-running candidates for mayor at last night's seniors' issues debate (Image: John Michael McGrath) 

The latest in the never-ending series of mayoral debates got surprisingly feisty: in a packed, sweltering auditorium at Ryerson University, the familiar five candidates sparred on issues relevant—and sometimes not so relevant—to seniors. Moderator Susan Eng kept a surprisingly tight leash on the candidates and wasn’t afraid to interrupt candidates if they tried to answer a question with a litany of talking points. When the dust settled, the surprisingly respectful debate—somebody even praised David Miller—left a clear winner: George Smitherman managed to convince the lion’s share of undecided voters that he was their guy.

By this point, political junkies will have a decent idea of the broad strokes of what the candidates argued. Joe Pantalone argued for the umpteenth time that we need to build Transit City, but here framed as a seniors’ issue. Sarah Thomson believes the city can be more senior-friendly if it’s prettier—oh, and did we mention she loves subways?  George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi sparred over who could be the better anti-Ford. And Rob Ford really, really hates waste in municipal government, gravy trains and baloney.

The debate started with an odd instruction to the audience: in order to keep the candidates to their allotted time, applaud to shut them up. It worked pretty well, but the first few times it gave the bizarre impression that the audience was passionate about every candidate. The fact that the candidates were also projected on the big screen behind them gave the opening statements a Third Rock From the Sun feel—complete with Big Giant Head floating above the audience. (Yes, there’s a Shatner joke for all occasions.) John Tory’s enormous mug even turned up to ask which of the candidates would “step up.”

There were also some surprisingly personal moments at the debate as the candidates talked about their families. Thomson noted she was the fifth child in her family, “And mom sometimes said I was kind of an accident.” Smitherman said he appreciates what the built form of the city means, because “I’m pushing a stroller around now.” Rossi got choked up near the end of the debate talking about his mom’s struggle to integrate into Canadian society until a United Way worker enrolled her in some ESL lessons.

At the end of the debate, the audience was asked to fill out ballots indicating whom they supported before the debate and after. Smitherman and Rossi were the only candidates to come out looking better than they did before, Smitherman most of all. Before the debate, only 18 per cent of the audience was ready to vote for him. After the debate, the figure was a whopping 43 per cent—winning over one out of every four voters in the room isn’t a bad day at all.