Toronto mayoral elections—losing legitimacy with every week

It’s been a long campaign. Nine months ago, Rob Ford, Olivia Chow, John Tory, David Soknacki, and Karen Stintz all registered to run for mayor of Toronto.

There is now one month until Election Day, and we mourn the loss of half those candidates. David Soknacki and Karen Stintz have both dropped out of the race, each succumbing to less-than-reliable public opinion polls that said they didn’t have the votes to win. In essence, they stopped trying. You can’t imagine how disappointed I was (read here). Then, we lost Rob Ford to cancer. In order to focus on his health, he dropped out of the mayoral race and registered as a candidate for city councillor in Ward 2.  His brother, Doug Ford, entered the mayoral race in his staid.

To recap: the top three candidates for mayor are now John Tory, Olivia Chow, and Doug Ford.

Ever since these ‘new’ set of candidates determined their leading stature, they’ve changed their campaign strategy. No longer is it a fight to get noticed or be heard—the candidates call a press conference, and boom…the media rushes over. They are no longer introducing themselves, no longer entertaining different ideas, and are no longer participating in meaningful discussion. It is all about the votes and maintaining the leads they have.

I’m going to use Tuesday’s debate as an example. This was the first time all of the leading candidates debated against each other.

And it was a disaster.

I was there liveblogging for the Ryersonian. As I entered York Memorial Collegiate Institute, I noticed a giant crowd and about a dozen police officers in uniform.  I pushed through and together with my colleague managed to wiggle in and snag a seat. It was a packed house, and we assumed that everyone was really excited to hear the candidates. Sadly, this was not the case.

For anyone attending the debate looking to engage with their candidates and judge their policies with an open mind, the debate was the epitome of a shit show.

The audience was full of candidate supporters screaming and yelling. You could hardly hear what the candidates had to say, and when you did, they were throwing around lies and cheap one-liners. They were constantly tip-toeing around the questions, reverting to their transit stump-speech at every opportunity. At one point it seemed really inappropriate, as the question was about how to prevent school fatalities and the deaths of young black men. When Tory talked about how his transit plan would help provide jobs and support for youth…I cringed.

The two-minute “debate” period after each question left much to be desired. Instead of talking about ideas and facts, the candidates used this opportunity to attack their opponent’s plans, records, or character.

Above everything else, this debate failed because most of the audience had already made up their mind about which candidate they were supporting, and the candidates were not interested in engaging with new people. This lack of effort by candidates has been a reoccurring trend over the last few weeks. John Tory has been cancelling appearances at many of his pre-planned debates, even saying that he may drop out of future debates if Doug Ford will not be present. When asked about this by the media,  Tory cites his record and the number of debates he has already participated in, saying that his time is valuable and that when Doug Ford doesn’t attend debates, it gives him an “immense advantage“. Ford is also being selective in the events he is attending, focusing on fundraisers and canvassing. Chow is trying, to the best of her abilities, to attend every pre-planned debate. However, if no other candidates attend, a lot of events will be cancelled or will turn into a Q&A with a single candidate.

I should mention that this happened at Ryerson during the “Big Transit” debate hosted by TTC Riders and the Ryerson Students’ Union.

Olivia Chow tackles the TTC Riders "debate" at Ryerson University solo.
Olivia Chow tackles the TTC Riders “debate” at Ryerson University.

Olivia Chow has been the one candidate who has kept all of her debate promises and has said she will not be cancelling her appearances.

Debates are a fundamental part of the democratic process. A lot of people haven’t made up their minds yet, and there are voters out there who just want to hear what each candidate has to say. By continuing to skip out on chances to debate in public forums, the candidates are saying that winning is more important than their platform.

The mayoral candidates have now decided that we don’t want need to talk to us, nor listen to us. They have become more concerned with their fundraisers and endorsements to speak with the people who they are supposed to represent.

I will end this debate with a suggestion. For those true democracy-lovers, for those who want to hear a genuine exchange of ideas, take a look at the other mayoral candidates out there. There are many who are not considered a “leading” candidate, but who are working hard to be heard. Ari Goldkind, for example, has been attending as many debates as he possibly can, even when he isn’t on the panel of candidates, and is quite active on social media.

These candidates may not be “in the running”, according to the polls, but at least they are willing to discuss ideas and listen to the people of Toronto. We deserve more than a few chance appearances and a punchline.

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