Toronto’s political crazy train kept on rolling during Doug Ford’s first mayoral debate Tuesday night as candidates traded barbs in front of a rowdy, and at times abusive, audience.
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The debate, billed as the public’s first real look at Doug Ford the mayoral candidate, revolved heavily around candidates’ controversial and vastly different plans for new public transit infrastructure. Both Ford and Olivia Chow presented billboard diagrams to illustrate their respective visions.
The two-hour faceoff was punctuated by several heated exchanges between Ford and front-runner candidate John Tory, who Ford criticized as an “elitist” career politician without any real experience at Toronto City Hall.
“I’ll tell you something, John, you’re a slick-talking politician,” Ford said after Tory answered a question on his plan for reducing poverty throughout the city. “You’re from a whole different world.”
The comment garnered a loud cheer from the largely pro-Ford audience at York Memorial Collegiate Institute, located on the border of Wards 11 and 12 near Eglinton Avenue and Black Creek Drive, an area of the city considered a political stronghold of the Ford family. Before the debate began, many audience members chanted “We want Doug!”
Ford continually pivoted to Tory’s inexperience in Toronto municipal politics throughout the night.
“No mayor has ever been elected without first sitting on council," Ford claimed (in fact, a handful have). "I know you’re used to having everything handed to you on a silver platter.… It’s always been handed to John Tory."
At one point, Ford asked Tory to identify the specific committee that "handles purchasing" at City Hall.
Tory was unable to answer, prompting Ford to mockingly laugh as he pulled out his cell phone and said, "You call the mayor and ask him."
Police remove audience member
Only minutes in, the moderator had to halt the debate for several minutes as police removed a spectator who was yelling at the candidates and refusing to sit down. At one point, various audience members could be seen screaming at each other until some semblance of order was restored in the gymnasium.
Police eventually warned former Ford aide David Price to stop heckling and sit down.
Until Tuesday’s debate, Ford was tight-lipped about his election platform since entering the race after Rob Ford was forced to withdraw due to ongoing chemotherapy treatment for a rare and aggressive cancer. The elder Ford had only hinted that it would mirror his younger brother and current mayor pro-subway agenda.
Both Tory and Chow on Tuesday avoided explicit references to Rob Ford's struggles with alcohol and drug addiction.
Perhaps the night’s most tense moment came after an audience-submitted question asking if each candidate would attend the city’s annual Pride parade. Both Rob and Doug Ford have been criticized in past years for leaving the city during Pride weekend to attend their family cottage in Muskoka, Ont.
While Ford asserted he has donated $3,500 to Pride organizers and said he'll "be a mayor to all of the people," he refused to answer whether he would actually attend the event were he elected.
Tory and Chow continued to press Ford for a direct answer.
"You can still change your mind in the next 30 seconds to say 'Yes, I will be there,' ” Tory said.
After the debate, Tory called Ford's failure to answer "very telling."
Ford's already 'co-mayor,' Tory says
Tory frequently attacked Ford’s voting and attendance at city hall, saying at one point that Ford has “effectively been co-mayor for four years” with his brother Rob but has failed to accomplish anything.
Ford, however, embraced the implication that he and his brother have co-operatively run the city in recent years.
"Four years ago folks you stood behind my brother and you voted for change, and together we did what we said we were going to do," he said.
"Together we stopped the gravy train and together we stopped the tax and spend ways at city hall," he said. "We got 99 per cent of our agenda through by building consensus."
Heated exchanges between Ford and Tory led to a difficult showing for Chow, who is currently polling a fair margin behind front-runner Tory.
At one point, Chow had to yell over the men as they bickered, criticizing their behaviour and saying they weren’t acting like “role models for children.”
The debate began with each candidate laying out three policies that differentiate them from their rivals. The candidates then answered questions collected from the audience and Torontonians on Twitter.
Tory and Chow both answered questions from media following the debate, while Ford took photos with some supporters and then left.
There are about 30 more debates scheduled before the Oct. 27 election.