Ryerson students ask mayoral candidates about policy, law, and crime

Last night, Ryerson University hosted the second mayoral candidate debate—and it was glorious.

While the seemingly un-moderated debate on City TV Wednesday night left citizens frustrated and, let’s face it, just plain embarrassed, the forum hosted by the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University actually allowed each candidate to speak his or her mind. They were asked really tough questions by students and the moderator. Everyone answered respectfully and in their turn. I can only hope every debate that follows will be like this one.

From left to right: Rob Ford, David Soknacki, Karen Stintz, and John Tory.
From left to right: Rob Ford, David Soknacki, Karen Stintz, and John Tory

I arrived a little after 5:30 p.m. for the 6 p.m. debate just to scout the audience. It was mostly student-centric (for one law class it was mandatory to come and ask questions of the candidates), but there were quite a few members of the public. Most were anti-Ford. Most were pro-Stintz.

Ralph Lean, a business lawyer and professor at Ryerson University, moderated the event. He gave each candidate some tough love, constantly saying things like: “you will each hate me for these questions, but I don’t give a shit.” That was how great this debate was. There were no low-ball questions here.

Students asked candidates to outline where their numbers were coming from and what they would do to help graduates get employment. They asked what can be done short-term to help relieve TTC congestion. They even asked Mayor Ford about his inappropriate behaviour, in which he responded with: “I don’t condone hanging with drug dealers or crack cocaine. I do condone being best mayor this city has ever seen.”

And then there were the “Lean Questions”. The moderator asked Stintz why she accepted being chair of the TTC if she disagreed with the mayor’s politics. He asked Tory about his split personality—the politician and the intelligent lawyer. He asked Soknacki why he was even there when he was polling at just under two per cent. And he asked Ford about his ties to gang members.(Check out my Twitter feed for responses)

Here is a short review of how each candidate did.

Olivia Chow did not attend. She was at a fundraiser.

David Soknacki: Soknacki thrived in this new debate form. He answered questions comfortably and intelligently.  He was even able to crack a few jokes. I was particularly impressed with how honest he was. In response to policy-related questions he cited particular reports and projects. Even more impressive was when he publicly agreed with Rob Ford (about what issue I can’t even remember). It is rare that a candidate will agree with his biggest competitor in a public forum. But, sometimes his responses were bogged down by to much information and I’m not sure if people really followed along. But he seemed confident he will be here to stay: “People will be tired by October by politics of celebrity.”

Karen Stintz: Stintz went all out today. She surprised everyone by skipping the podium introduction and free-styling with her portable mic. She answered questions honestly and seemed comfortable with her knowledge of policy. In her closing statement she reminded us that this was more than just a popularity contest: “Don’t make this a referendum about Rob Ford, make it a referendum about this city.” However, with her constant references to the next generation, it came off like she was trying a bit too hard to impress the audience.

John Tory: Besides from a few one liners (“I believe in respect for the law”), Tory’s performance wasn’t very memorable. I remember being impressed with his response to a question about being a lawyer and how that doesn’t give you a particular advantage as mayor. But if what stood out the most was the fact that he actually wore a tie to this debate, then maybe it wasn’t his best night.

Incumbent Rob Ford remained composed throughout the evening. In spite of a lot of heckling, he maintained cool, collective, and on message. He answered one question about sports without using one of his typical stump speeches, which was surprising. At the same time, he didn’t really say anything new. It was all about saving the taxpayer from the gravy train, and of course, subways, subways, subways.

But Ford’s staff were not as composed. Doug Ford, who had been standing at the side of the room the whole debate, got angry with the hecklers. The mayor just told him to shush and said “It’s okay Lean, I’m used to this.” Meanwhile, his staff (whom I had been sitting directly behind), turned around with angry faces every time someone booed the Mayor or yelled out questions about alcohol and drugs. Someone — and it is not clear if this was someone from Ford’s campaign or his mayoral staff — pulled out his blackberry and started snapping photos of the audience, specifically the groups of hecklers.

I know. Not the best picture, but the guy moves fast! Before I took this photograph he had already subtly snapped three photographs of audience members over his shoulder. I was just lucky enough to have my camera ready.

Rumour has it this is Graeme McEachern, Mayor Ford’s receptionist — although this has not been confirmed. My Twitter feed erupted after this. People wanted to know why someone from Ford’s staff was taking photographs of them. Of course, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Four months ago, Ford’s driver took pictures of the public during a particularly rowdy city council meeting.

The debate didn’t last long after the hecklers started getting involved. Lean, unable to control the crowd, told each candidate to make their concluding remarks.

Who did I think “won” the first two debates?

Winner of City TV debate: John Tory. I disagree with Lean that Tory did poorly on Wednesday night. He seemed comfortable speaking in front of a camera and was the only candidate that didn’t seem enraged by the screaming matches. Rob Ford would come a close second in the debate I think, just because of his ability to speak loudly and deliver a clear message (even if most of it wasn’t true)

Winner of Ryerson debate: David Soknacki and Karen Stintz. Both candidates used this opportunity to get their policies out there and show that they had personality. They didn’t shy away from citing policies and numbers—and were doing so without any physical reports in hand. They saw this debate as an opportunity to say their bit without interruption by the loud Ford and Chow, or a condescending Tory. I was highly impressed with both of their performance.



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