Four things we learned from Monday’s Toronto Star mayoral debate

Four things we learned from Monday’s Toronto Star mayoral debate

(Image: Ford: Christopher Drost; Tory: John Tory/Facebook; Chow: Olivia Chow/Facebook)

After dozens of mayoral debates, the gruelling campaign season is finally coming to a close as Monday’s election approaches. (CityNews’s October 23 debate is being billed as “the final showdown.”) Yesterday night, the candidates gathered at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management for one of their last major head-to-head clashes, in an event co-sponsored by the Martin Prosperity Institute and the Toronto Star. Things were generally high-minded (it was a Star debate, after all), but there was some shouting and crosstalk, and by closing statements the whole discussion had come a little unhinged. Here, four things we learned from all the heated banter.

1. “Tory” rhymes with “story”

Doug Ford’s path to victory leads directly over John Tory’s dead body—that much is obvious to anyone with an interest in this election. Since Ford can’t physically beat Tory into submission (stupid nanny-state red tape) he’s settled on an approach one notch lower on the scale of playground-style aggression: rhyming mockery.

“What’s the story, Mr. Tory?” has become a constant refrain during Ford’s publicity appearances. By our count, he used the rhyme six times during the debate. It’s his go-to way of casting Tory, a respected corporate director and former Ontario PC leader, as a shifty character with a hidden agenda.

2. Doug Ford’s stance on development is pretty much incoherent

“I’m pro-development,” Ford said in response to a question about public space, “but I’m only pro-development if it’s not in someone’s backyard.” He added that he believes density should be built on top of subway stations. It’s an appealing concept: new high-rises everywhere, except where they might bother people.

The idea falls apart under scrutiny, though. In Ford’s ideal Toronto, we guess, subways would be like high-speed shuttles between individual condo towers, each one surrounded by an expanse of low-rise housing that could never be redeveloped for fear of casting a shadow on someone’s patio. Ford’s outright lies tend to get all the press (the Star counted 23 of them last night alone), but Monday was a reminder that even his opinions often seem designed to mislead.

3. People will actually applaud tax increases

“No amount of cutting services or cutting taxes are going to give you the revenue that is needed,” Olivia Chow said at one point. “We need to say that if we want something we need to invest in it. If not, it’s nothing but a wish list.” The crowd—admittedly it was a left-leaning, Toronto Star–reading crowd—applauded loudly as soon as she’d finished speaking. So, maybe not every voter is preoccupied with keeping property taxes down at all costs? Has anyone told this to the campaign strategists?

4. Toronto may not actually be the greatest city in the world after all!?

The event’s closing statements were like a Colbert Report sketch come to life, as Tory and Ford debated one last vital issue: is Toronto a great city, or the greatest city?

“To say that we have a good city? That’s a shame,” Ford said. “We have the greatest city in the world. We have a prosperous city. We have a city that’s thriving right now.” This is an interesting stance for him to take, because he has always contended that Toronto was a shambles under former mayor David Miller. In the Fordiverse, Toronto has transformed itself from a shameful, bankrupt den of corruption into the absolute best place on earth in just under 48 months, and all thanks to new leadership.

Tory took it upon himself to respond. “It’s a good city,” he said. “It’s a really good city.” But not the greatest city, he added, because we still have problems with unemployment, with transit, with welcoming immigrants and so on. In four years, will Tory be the one claiming that Toronto has finally achieved a state of perfection?