Five things we learned from Newstalk 1010’s mayoral debate

Five things we learned from Newstalk 1010’s mayoral debate

(Image: Newstalk 1010/Screenshot)

With less than two weeks remaining before election day, Toronto’s frantic debate schedule shows no signs of slowing down. The majority of these events are hosted by various associations and community groups, but, on Wednesday, Newstalk 1010 held one of the season’s few media-hosted debates. Radio personality Ryan Doyle gave the candidates a better-than-average grilling, and—somewhat amazingly—police officers didn’t have to maintain order, and nobody offended any religious groups. Here, five things we learned from the proceedings.

1. Doug Ford still has a pretty flexible approach to the truth

The Ford brothers—and particularly Doug—have discovered a brilliant approach to getting away with falsehoods on the campaign trail: tell so many of them that nobody can possibly keep up. During Wednesday’s debate, Doug Ford said, among other things, that his opponents want to impose road tolls (if they do, they haven’t said so lately), that the city’s homeless shelters have plenty of vacancies (nope), that his brother’s administration created 56,000 jobs (also untrue), that he and his brother saved the city from fiscal doom (for the last time, no) and that Toronto now has the lowest taxes in North America (he later amended that to “most tax competitive,” which is at least somewhat true, according to one study).

2. Olivia Chow can make anything about poverty

Olivia Chow has been criticized for running a campaign that isn’t progressive enough to hold the attention of her left-leaning base, but in the past few weeks she has cranked up her anti-poverty rhetoric considerably. A question about healing police relations with the public elicited an answer about social services and after-school programs. At another point, she took a conversation about homeless shelters and redirected it to affordable housing, which is one of her major talking points. In response to a question about the one thing she can’t stand about Toronto, she said: “Poverty, of course.”

Having a simple, consistent message is key to winning an election, and someone at Chow HQ seems to realize it. She’s still lagging in the polls, though.

3. John Tory won’t be taking criticism of SmartTrack seriously until after the election, if ever

Another thing Chow has been very consistent about over the past few weeks is her criticism of SmartTrack, Tory’s transit proposal. Now backed by detailed SmartTrack takedowns in the Globe and the Star, she and Ford spent precious minutes at Wednesday’s debate tag-teaming Tory about the feasibility of his plan, especially the fact that it will likely require billions of dollars in extra funding because of unanticipated tunnelling requirements. Tory called the concerns “a tempest in a teapot.”

4. Nobody will admit the existence of Toronto’s bad neighbourhoods

The debate was distinguished by a number of oddball questions that had clearly been designed to throw the candidates off their scripts. For the most part, though, the ploy didn’t work. Here’s what the three debaters had to say when asked what Toronto neighbourhood they’d be afraid to walk through late at night.

Ford: “None.”

Chow: “None.”

Tory: “None.”

5. Doug Ford still has very little sense of irony

Doug Ford on how to handle interactions with the police: “It’s yes sir, no sir and thank you. You don’t get mouthy with police.” (Says the guy who got into a very public with fight with Toronto’s police chief.)

Doug Ford on whether he gives to panhandlers: “John [Tory] throws hundreds; I throw pennies.” (This comment was an attempt to paint Tory as an aristocrat, but Ford is the only candidate who has ever been documented handing out large bills to voters.)

And when asked whether he would accept the mayor’s $177,000 salary if elected, Ford said the question was unfair to Chow (the only major candidate who isn’t independently wealthy), despite the fact that he has frequently made a point of reminding voters, albeit without proof, that he donates his councillor pay.

The other candidates refrained from attacking Ford on any of these points, though Tory did briefly mention the $20-bill incident after the “I throw pennies” comment.