Toronto mayoral candidate Doug Ford pulled out of a lunchtime debate at the Empire Club today over concerns the admission costs made the event out of reach for "hardworking people."

"Debates should be open events that any member of the public can attend and ask questions," said Ford in a statement. "How many average, hardworking people can afford to take three hours away from work, to come downtown, and spend almost $100 having lunch?"

The debate was scheduled to include three front-running candidates, including John Tory and Olivia Chow. It would have been only the second debate where all three were present. Tickets were listed at $80 per person.

Chow vs. Tory

Chow and Tory sparred over transit, which continues to be the top issue in this race.

Chow pointed to funding questions in Tory's Smart Track plan, which calls for the construction of 53 kilometres of high-speed rail service that would run along existing GO Train corridors.

Chow said the plan's stated $8-billion cost excludes tunnelling costs and the time it would take to develop.

"You're asking people to wait at least 10 years before we see any transit improvement," she said.

Chow also said Tory's rail plan would go through neighbourhoods, displacing residents and businesses.

Tory fired back, saying Chow would have given up on building the Yonge subway in the 1950s, when engineers encountered solid rock.

Police budget issue

The sensitive issue of police budgets was raised, which helped Tory land at least one solid blow on Chow.

Tory stated he would not reduce the number of police officers, while Chow said she would not increase their numbers. Chow said she has the courage to say no to police requests for more money, saying it's about prudent spending.

But when Chow said she'd sit on the police services board, Tory pounced on the fact Chow was forced to resign from the police board in 2000 for criticizing police on live television.

Another heated exchange came over interviews each candidate did with CBC Radio's Matt Galloway on Metro Morning. The two candidates debated over what Galloway had said about each other's transit plans.

Aside from a few tense moments, the debate was a far cry from Tuesday night's affair, when Ford was there to quiz Tory on city hall committees.

Ford resumes attacks on 'elites'

Emerging from his door-to-door canvassing later in the day, Ford told reporters he would not be participating in any debates where there was an admission fee.

Doug Ford talking to 'common folk'

Doug Ford spoke to media after he spent the day canvassing. He told reporters he had been talking to 'common folk' who would not have been admitted to the Empire Club. (Steven D'Souza/CBC)

"I'm not going to go to an establishment that's exclusive," he said. "I'm here for the common folk."

Ford said he heard about the admission cost for the Empire Club luncheon in his campaign's morning briefings and vetoed participation in the debate. He said he had differences with the crowd at the club luncheon.

"I don't represent lobbyists, political insiders. That's John Tory's team," he said. "They want to get their hands in the taxpayers' pockets."

Elitism has been a theme of Ford's campaign. He has issued several attacks on his rival Tory for having his roles as CEO at Rogers and commissioner of the CFL handed to him on a "silver platter."


"We shouldn't be too surprised," said Chow, citing Ford's absences from crucial city hall votes as examples of Ford not showing up. "It's disrespectful."

Tory called Ford a "chicken" and mocked him for not showing up. "Colonel Sanders should be looking for him," said Tory, characterizing his rival as scared to debate.