Toronto

Candidates talk transit, policing in Black Community Mayoral Debate

John Tory, Jennifer Keesmaat, Saron Gebresellassi and Knia Singh faced off in the Black Community Mayoral Debate in Scarborough Monday night.

Event is one of several high-profile mayoral debates of the 2018 municipal election

Saron Gebresellassi, John Tory, Jennifer Keesmaat, and Knia Singh, left to right, faced off in Monday night's Black Community Mayoral Debate in Scarborough. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC; Chris Young/Canadian Press; CBC; kniasingh.ca)

John Tory, Jennifer Keesmaat, Saron Gebresellassi and Knia Singh faced off in the Black Community Mayoral Debate in Scarborough Monday night tackling a number of issues, including policing and transit.

The event is one of several high-profile mayoral debates of the 2018 municipal election — a campaign that has already been rocked by the province's sudden decision to slash the size of Toronto city council.

In leading up to the debate, event organizers said the candidates would speak about issues particularly important to Toronto's black community, including economic development, safety and transportation.

Keesmaat, Tory talk transit

In the debate, Keesmaat criticized Tory's SmartTrack program, saying the city is "so, so far behind" on transit, and touted her own plan. 

"My plan is a transit network plan to every corner of this city," she said. "It's about ensuring that every neighbourhood, has excellent access to high-frequency transit." 

Tory rebutted by defending the city's progress on transit by highlighting some of the support his plan received on the federal and provincial levels. 

"If I got $9 billion from the other two governments, of which we had none when I became mayor, to finance a transit plan, they must think it's a real plan," Tory retorted, also noting the Finch West LRT and the LRT to Malvern. 

Singh spoke about his support for express buses in the north end of the city that would help move large amounts of people. (Lauren Pelley/CBC)

"Those projects are moving forward and they have got substantial funding support from other governments because they know that plan is real and it's happening."

Singh said he would like to see express buses that would help move large amounts of people in the north end of the city. 

"What we have to realize is in the northeast end of the city, and the northwest end of the city, there are high populations, especially in the Malvern area that are growing," he said. 

"What the TTC needs to do is provide express bus service from those northeast and northwest ends to the nearest subway."

Gebresellassi on gun violence

On gun violence, Gebresellassi said the answers are clear and noted her previous efforts calling for a community-based strategy to eradicate firearms. 

"We know exactly what the answer is to permanently put gun violence to the dustbins of history in the city of Toronto," she said. 

"We need a community-based strategy, and we need to have young people actually working in the city of Toronto, and we don't need more policing."

The four mayoral candidates all spoke about their policing plans. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

Gebresellassi also called for the the immediate reversal of the decision to hire 200 more police officers, which she said would have "a destructive impact on our community," and asked the other candidates for support. 

Tory said instead that he is a believer in the neighbourhood policing program, adding that he also believes the city needs to invest in kids and families in affected neighbourhoods. 

Keesmaat said she doesn't support "arbitrary cuts or arbitrary increasing to staffing levels," but added that her platform includes having community policing plans for all the city's 140 neighbourhoods in place within her first two years in office. 

The Black Community Mayoral Debate was organized by Operation Black Vote Canada and was moderated by former JAZZ.FM host Garvia Bailey.

Organizers announced Sunday night that the event was at capacity and that registration had been closed.

There are 35 people running to be Toronto's next mayor. Election day is Oct. 22.

With files from John Rieti