John Tory touts his record while his rivals paint a picture of a city that's struggling

Tory, Gil Penalosa, Chloe Brown, Sarah Climenhaga and Jack Yan squared off in the debate, which was organized by the seniors' group CARP and broad by Zoomer.

Debate is just 1 of 2 that Tory will take part in ahead of Oct. 24 vote

Five mayoral candidates who hope to lead the next city council squared off at a debate organized by the seniors' group CARP on Thursday afternoon. From left, Jack Yan, Sarah Climenhaga, John Tory, Gil Penalosa. Chloe Brown, also at the debate is not pictured. The debate was hosted by Zoomer radio’s Libby Znaimer. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

John Tory finished the first major mayoral debate Thursday by saying he's "hopeful" about Toronto's future, while his rivals spent most of the hour's time attacking its faults and attributing them to Tory's eight years in office. 

Tory, Gil Penalosa, Chloe Brown, Sarah Climenhaga and Jack Yan squared off in the debate, which was organized by the seniors' group CARP and broadcasted by Zoomer.

Tory started his pitch to voters by stating he's running for re-election because the city continues to need experienced leadership. The economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is underway, he said, and he's working to ensure the city comes back stronger.

"I'm proud of my record of working with the provincial and federal government to make things happen," he said. 

Tory highlighted his housing plan and said he wants to keep his transit planning in the city on track. "We just can't go back there, we've been there before," he said of attempts to change the city's transit plan.

But Tory faced sharp criticism from his rivals, some of which got personal at points of the debate. 

Gil Penalosa, an urbanist and founder of 8 80 Cities, said he has more experience than Tory in urban planning and policy. He criticized the mayor for only taking part in two debates ahead of the Oct. 24 vote. The city has become less affordable under Tory's watch, he said.

"We need a change," Penalosa said. "Let's end Mr. Tory's divisiveness … together we can create a Toronto for everyone."

WATCH: Candidates spar over city's infrastructure woes:

Why is Toronto so run down?

6 months ago
Duration 6:15
Toronto mayoral candidates pressed for repair plans Moderator Libby Znaimer asks candidates John Tory, Gil Penalosa, Chloe Brown and Sarah Climenhaga what they would do to address the city's crumbling roads and ammenities during the first major debate of the municipal election campaign on Thursday

Chloe Brown, a federal policy analyst, said she's running to "restore democracy for the working class." She said those people are being left behind by candidates on both sides of the political spectrum. 

She attacked Tory as an establishment candidate who is not representing the people — calling the mayor, Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford alike: "dynasty boys." 

"It's time to get power back into the hands of capable people," she said.

Yan said Toronto is "sick" and described crime as "sky-rocketing," while housing is in short supply and homelessness is increasing. He said the city must re-evaluate its spending on what he called ineffective social programs. 

"Toronto needs a mayor … who will find a cure for this illness," he said. 

Environmentalist Sarah Climenhaga, who at times was left appealing for calm and positivity in the debate, said Toronto needs to strengthen a broad base of its services, particularly when it comes to the transit and library systems. It also needs to do better work to consult with city residents on those issues, she said. 

Climenhaga said the city needs to directly consult with seniors on ways to help with affordability, for example, noting everyone has a different view on what makes the city affordable to them.

"We need to bring them in and let them have a voice," she said adding that if she is elected she would make TTC fares free for seniors.

"We can have high quality (TTC) service and free fares for seniors," she said.

How do you measure affordability?

On housing, Tory emphasized that said there needs to be more duplexes and triplexes — the so-called missing middle — to create more housing options. Affordability is top of mind for seniors, and must be a priority for whoever is elected mayor, he said.

Tory said all of the candidates should focus on what a mayor can do, including what the city can afford to pay for.

"We need to make sure people can afford to stay in their homes by keeping taxes low," he said.

Toronto mayoral candidate Chloe Brown is pictured during the CARP mayoral debate, hosted by Zoomer radio’s Libby Znaimer. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Brown, speaking in front of an audience focused on seniors' issues, said the city should be spending more to help people age at home. Home care, preventative care, and recreation should all be provided to seniors close to their home, she said, but it will take political will to make those changes, rather than relying on retirement or long-term care homes.

"It's a culture change," she said. 

Penalosa agreed with Brown, adding that said the vast majority seniors in the city want to age in place (something supported by a question posed by a CARP official earlier in the debate). Penalosa said providing more housing that allows seniors to access all the services they need within walking distance is his goal. 

"If we have that we will substantially improve people's quality of life," he said.

Issues with city services

On city services, Penalosa said he thinks workers are demoralized and changes need to made at the top of the city's bureaucracy and on council to set a new tone. 

"Anyone who goes to work for the city, they want to change the world," he said. "There isn't the leadership at the top."

Tory conceded he's not satisfied with the level of services offered by the city — echoing comments he made last month when CBC Toronto broke the news the city is shelving $41 million worth of road work this year — but said addressing some issues, like a lack of winterized washrooms, takes time.

"I think we have to place a greater priority on these things," he said. "We can do better and we will do better."

Brown criticized the mayor for letting city residents come to him to report problems instead of being more proactive.

Advance voting already underway

The debate is one of two that Tory, who is seeking a third term as mayor, has agreed to participate in during the campaign.

The second is set to be hosted by the Toronto Region Board of Trade on Oct. 17 at 2 p.m. ET.

Today's debate took place while some Torontonians are already casting ballots. Advance voting remains an option until tomorrow at 7 p.m. ET.

Toronto's election is set for Oct. 24.

In total, there are 31 people running for mayor — comprising by far the longest list on your ballot. They are:

  • Blake Acton
  • Avraham Arrobas
  • Darren Atkinson
  • Chloe-Marie Brown
  • Drew Buckingham
  • Elvira Caputolan
  • Kevin Clarke
  • Sarah Climenhaga
  • Phillip D'Cruze
  • Cory Deville
  • Alexey Efimovskikh
  • Isabella Gamk
  • Arjun Gupta
  • Peter Handjis
  • Robert Hatton
  • Monowar Hossain
  • Soaad Hossain
  • Khadijah Jamal
  • Kris Langenfeld
  • John Letonja
  • Tony Luk
  • Ferin Malek
  • Gil Penalosa
  • Stephen Punwasi
  • D!ONNE Renée
  • Kyle Schwartz
  • Knia Singh
  • Sandeep Srivastava
  • John Tory
  • Reginald Tull
  • Jack Yan


Shawn Jeffords is CBC Toronto's Municipal Affairs Reporter. He has previously covered Queen's Park for The Canadian Press. You can reach him by emailing

With files from John Rieti


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