Last night’s mayoral debate was one that voters should actually have watched

Last night’s mayoral debate was one that voters should actually have watched

After approximately as many debates as there are grains of sand at Sugar Beach, Toronto voters could be forgiven for running as fast as they can from any more of them (at this point, though, we’d wager the candidates would run even faster if they could). But yesterday’s debate on the topic of the environment, hosted by the Toronto Environmental Alliance and St. Simon the Apostle Church, was worth seeing. Below, the highlights.

Rob Ford, Sarah Thomson and Joe Pantalone started off the debate, while George Smitherman arrived late and Ford left early. The candidates were barely able to get through the first question before Ford—who sounded either worn out from the campaign slog or like he’d been given a powerful sedative—had to leave, but he managed to give an answer without referring to a gravy train, which was appreciated in this corner. (He said city buildings need to turn off their lights at night, which is a good idea for about a million reasons.)

With the discussion winnowed down to just three participants, something odd happened—we saw one of the better debates in this campaign that wasn’t moderated by Steve Paikin. The candidates talked substance; there were large stretches of discussion of composting versus landfill, city and provincial finances, and the nature of leadership. Not all of it was new, but it was a welcome departure from the talking-point lockdown that we’ve seen in past debates.

Of course, departures from talking points aren’t always great: the crowd hissed at Pantalone when, in response to Thomson telling him to “calm down,” he snapped, “Don’t patronize me, Ms. Thomson. Just because you’re a woman doesn’t give you the right to patronize me.” If this reads pretty badly, that’s because it sounded even worse in person.

We’d call the night for Smitherman, who seemed energized and in command of his facts and managed to stay away from topics like gender and maturity. But he was only going up against half his usual number of opponents. Plus, we’re not quite ready to set the bar so low that “didn’t call my opponent the Queen of the Harpies” makes a win.