Toronto mayor’s debate: A primer

Get ready for the first Toronto mayor’s debate. Then watch the action at Macleans.ca on Wednesday night.

(CityTV)

Candidates, from right, John Tory, Karen Stintz, Rob Ford, Olivia Chow and David Soknacki. (CityTV)

Five of the top Toronto mayoral candidates will face off for their first debate, hosted by City Television anchor Gord Martineau, on Wed., March 26, between 5 p.m.-7 p.m. EST. The debate will also stream live here at Macleans.ca.

Candidates will be asked to speak on transit, finances and their leadership skills. Here’s an overview of the five candidates, and what we might to expect to hear from them, in alphabetical order:

Representing the left, Olivia Chow is the most recent big-name candidate to join the race. Chow has a long history in Toronto politics as a NDP MP for the downtown riding of Trinity-Spadina, and as a Toronto city councillor and school board trustee before that. She’s probably got much of the left-leaning downtown vote already locked up. Her biggest challenge is, undoubtedly, winning over the hearts (and votes) of some of the more suburban wards, votes she’ll likely need to become mayor. Expect to hear about her campaign to scrap a planned subway line in the eastern suburb of Scarborough, in favour of using light rail. This is a cheaper option with more stops, one that city council initially favoured, before overturning it to approve a three-stop subway option. In a city where above-ground transit has somehow become associated with the left, and subways with the right, being pro light rail is a position that Chow will likely find herself defending during Wednesday’s debate. As the sole lefty in a right-learning field, she’ll also have to defend her fiscal record.

Representing the right, and the anti-gravy train movement, is Toronto’s beleaguered incumbent mayor Rob Ford. Despite having admitted to crack-cocaine use and being in the middle of a Toronto police drug investigation, one in which revelations continue to emerge, Ford maintains an impressive approval rating of 43 per cent (as of February). Ford will spend the debate painting himself as an everyman, while accusing the other candidates of being elitist spendthrifts who don’t respect the average, hard-working taxpayer. Also: he’ll talk about subways, subways, subways. While Ford’s drug admission and erratic behaviour may seem to make his re-election unlikely, he’ll be hoping for a repeat of his surprise come-from-behind victory in the 2010 election. However, his 2010 campaign manager Nick Kouvalis has defected to the John Tory camp. This time around, Ford will have his hot-tempered brother and campaign manager, Coun. Doug Ford, to help him prepare for this debate, and to guide him through the campaign.

David Soknacki is the best known of the lesser-known mayoral candidates. Soknacki is the founder of a successful food manufacturing company in the Toronto area and worked as a city councillor from 1994-2006, first as a councillor for Scarborough, back when it was a separate city, and then for Toronto when the municipalities amalgamated. Soknacki bills himself as a right-leaning candidate who is both fiscally responsible and just plain responsible. He knows his way around a municipal budget, having served as budget chief for three years under former Toronto mayor David Miller and he says he wants councillors to be less partisan and work together. Like Chow, he favours reverting to a light-rail transit option to get out to Scarborough, meaning he’ll likely seek jabs with Ford and Stintz over their transit records during this first debate. Soknacki’s biggest challenge in this debate, and beyond, will be getting voters to recognize him, and his policies, come voting day.

Like Ford, current Toronto Coun. Karen Stintz, who also chairs the city’s transit commission, would like to portray herself as the financially savvy every-woman. To kick off her campaign she tweeted: “I am like you. I have a mortgage, kids, one car, and soccer games. Lets make it better.” Stintz is a fiscal conservative and was once considered an ally to Mayor Ford but, like many Ford allies, she is now firmly in the anti-Ford camp. Stintz’s time as chair of the Toronto Transit Commission means she knows the file, but is also vulnerable to attacks over an expensive system that doesn’t meet the needs of taxpayers. She favours subways, subways, subways, and vows to build them without tax increases. On Monday, Stintz announced a plan to sell a majority stake (51 per cent) in Toronto Hydro for an estimated $500 million to start financing a new subway project to provide relief on overcrowded downtown lines. (The so-called downtown relief line would cost an estimated $7 billion.) Expect to hear Stintz champion this plan, and others criticize it, during the debate.

John Tory is making his return to politics after leading the Ontario PCs in the provincial election in 2007 (an election they lost). Since then, he’s been a talk-radio host, chaired a provincial committee to redevelop Ontario Place (a huge swath of provincially owned waterfront property in downtown Toronto) and he currently sits on the Rogers board (the parent company of Maclean’s). Today, Tory is well organized, well connected, well funded and is considered a strong right-leaning candidate in a field crowded with right-leaning candidates. As the perceived front runner on the right, he’ll have to fend off attacks from the other three right-leaning candidates, and from Chow on the left. Ford, in particular, will likely accuse Tory of being being an out-of-touch political elite. Tory is pushing an aggressive transit platform to ease traffic congestion, but has yet to offer funding solutions. His longer-term challenge will be shoring up enough right-leaning votes to avoid a vote-splitting situation that could leave Chow the victor.

This is the first of what will be many debates to come. Toronto residents don’t head to the polls for another seven months. Voting day is October 27, 2014.

Correction, March 26, 2014: A previous version of this article misstated the year of the 2007 Ontario provincial election.




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