The future of transit in Toronto was a hot topic during a rowdy mayoral debate in Scarborough on Tuesday, as Rob Ford faced more questions over his honesty in his first debate since returning from rehab for alcohol and drug abuse.
Five high-profile candidates exchanged barbs over each other’s transit plans, with Ford repeating his well-worn promise to build new subways across the city.
“I’m the subway mayor,” Ford told attendees, prompting both cheers and jeers. “Everybody knows it.”
The incumbent mayor, who recently returned to the city after a two-month stint in a treatment centre, took credit for an agreement between the city, Queen’s Park and the federal government to replace the aging Scarborough RT with a $3-billion subway extension.
He hammered fellow mayoral contender Olivia Chow on her plan to revive a $1.4-billion, seven-stop light-rail plan that the province had promised to fund in its entirety.
Ford slammed all of the other candidates on their willingness to go forward with plans to build LRT lines on Finch and Sheppard Avenues, proposals that the province committed to funding during David Miller’s mayoralty.
David Soknacki, a former councillor from Scarborough and Miller’s one-time budget chief, attacked Ford for his stance on transit.
“LRT is the best for Scarborough,” said Soknacki, who noted the subway plan comes with a 0.5 per cent property tax increase. “It’s not a fantasy plan.”
Ford's first debate since rehab
The Canadian Tamil Congress hosted Tuesday's debate, which was held at Global Kingdom Ministries, at 1250 Markham Rd. Five high-profile candidates took part, including Ford, Chow, Tory, Soknacki and former TTC chair Karen Stintz.
Ford was both applauded and booed as he took part in the Tuesday night debate, his first mayoral since returning to office after a two-month stint in rehab.
'I have proven in the last 14 years in government that I've watched every single one of your tax dollars.' -Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
Upon his return from treatment, the mayor admitted to alcohol and substance abuse problems, which he said he battled for years prior to becoming mayor. Ford had previously admitted to smoking crack while in office.
The controversial mayor arrived to duelling groups of demonstrators — one calling for his resignation, the other calling for him to have a second term in office.
Those competing voices followed the mayor inside, as the crowd taking in the debate voiced both support and antipathy for Ford.
"I have proven in the last 14 years in government that I've watched every single one of your tax dollars," said the mayor to a chorus of cheers and boos.
"I have created jobs, I have worked with youth, nobody's worked with youth closer than I have...folks, my record speaks for itself. It's a record of success, success, success."
Ever since returning from rehab, Ford has said he can't guarantee he won't relapse but asked supporters to trust him as he runs for another term.
He has also insisted that campaigning for the Oct. 27 municipal election won't compromise his recovery.
This is the fourth debate the mayor has participated in, but only the second debate in which the most prominent of his mayoral rivals will have been present.
In the first debate, which was before main contenders John Tory and Olivia Chow filed to run for mayor, Ford caused controversy when he announced he would not take part in any Pride events.
In the second debate, a televised affair that saw five candidates, including Tory and Chow, talking over each other, Ford's mayoral adversaries did not broach the subject of crack use.
The third debate — minus Chow, who said she had prior commitments and had concerns about the fairness of the moderator, conservative lawyer Ralph Lean — was more contentious. Tory referenced the mayor coming late to work and "continuing relationships with convicted criminals and gang types. The various people he has pledged to keep off our streets."
Help me 'fire' Rob Ford: Chow
Ford's role as mayor has been largely symbolic since November, when city council stripped him of most of his power following his admissions of alcohol abuse and drug use during "drunken stupors."
Those admissions came after months of denials and were followed by the surfacing of videos which appeared to show the mayor making offensive and profane comments.
The mayor has apologized to those hurt by his words and actions, saying he regretted some of his past choices but said he blamed no one but himself for his misconduct.
His political opponents, however, said Ford was clearly no longer fit for office.
"Since Rob Ford came back, we've seen the best and the worst of our city," said Chow, a former Toronto city councillor and NDP MP.
"Rob Ford isn't going to resign, so join me in firing him."
Tory, who lost to Miller in the 2003 mayoral election, similarly attacked Ford on his record and accused the mayor of having a “nagging allergy to the truth."
"We know what you were doing and it wasn't managing the taxpayers money," he told the mayor.