A shouting match erupted ahead of last night's Toronto debate for mayoral candidates, with Mayor Rob Ford alleging bias by organizers, who said they had to restrict the number of staffers that candidates could bring inside because of space constraints.
The conflict arose as Ford tried to enter the venue — a church in East York — on Monday, accompanied by his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, his driver and his press secretary.
Candidates were told they would be allowed to take only one staffer inside.
'Stanley Cup winners don't hand back the Stanley Cup.' - Rob Ford, Toronto mayor
"You know what? See you later guys ... you guys can have your own debate," Rob Ford said at one point.
The Fords also alleged the debate was biased because one organizer — who did not take part in or mediate the debate — has stated support for candidate John Tory. Also, one of the members of the media panel is a host at the same station where Tory hosted a radio show before entering the race.
Organizers eventually made an exception and allowed Ford to enter along with his brother and two staffers. The debate itself, which was hosted by the Parkview Hill Community Association, was a tame affair. The candidates tackled issues such as transit, youth unemployment and the culture at Toronto City Hall.
All of Ford's main opponents for mayor — former MP Olivia Chow, Coun. Karen Stintz, former councillor David Soknacki and former provincial Progressive Conservative leader Tory — took part.
When asked about the fracas that preceded the debate, Tory suggested the Fords were trying to deflect a recent newspaper story reporting alleged links between the two brothers and a private printing company that was seeking to do business with the city.
"I think this is just part of the overall circus the Fords bring to town any time there's a story out about them they don't want to talk about," said Tory, who said the debate was handled professionally.
Ford stickhandles question
Rob Ford used a hockey analogy during the debate to describe his desire to win another term as mayor.
"Stanley Cup winners don't hand back the Stanley Cup," Ford said when asked a hypothetical question as to whether he could consider stepping aside for another like-minded candidate with greater support on council.
"We're in first place, our team is on top — if anyone should step out of the race, it's these people on the left," Ford said, gesturing to the four other candidates.
At the end of the debate, he used another sports analogy, inviting those listening to "join the team" this fall.
"We're going to win this election on Oct. 27," said Ford.
In the last half of the debate, the candidates were asked how they would "bring professionalism back to Toronto’s government," if elected as mayor.
Tory got the first crack at the question.
"You act like a professional," said Tory, who added a certain tone needs to be set — something he says Ford has failed to do.
"He's set the wrong example, he's conducted himself in a way that was absolutely the opposite to what's needed to get people to work together as previous mayors have done."
Stintz, who was next up, took a dig at Tory's prior gig as host of an afternoon radio talk show.
"City hall, it's not a talk show, John, it's not a talk show," Stintz said.
"And it's not a gong show, it's not."
Council needs to 'come together,' Chow says
The veteran councillor went on to say that council had performed well, despite some of the stresses it has faced in the past year.
"We stepped up to the challenge, we did what we had to do and we kept this remarkable city running," she said.
Ford said it's all about leading by example, a statement that prompted laughter from members of the audience.
"You're elected to do something and you do exactly that," Ford said.
Chow said council needs to "come together and do the job that needs to be done" at city hall.
Soknacki said there was a need "to enforce the rules that we have," and put teeth in the rules, which would in the long term lead to a more productive and civil council.