Toronto’s two major mayoral candidates debated a host of issues in a lunchtime debate at the National Club on Wednesday, including improving transit and advancing diversity.
The tone between the John Tory and Olivia Chow was non-confrontational, as the two candidates did not engage in direct exchanges but rather individually laid out their plans for the city.
The event was hosted by the Churchill Society for the Advancement of Parliamentary Democracy.
John Tory opened with Mayor Rob Ford in mind.
“I think all of us will be having some thoughts and some prayers for Mayor Ford and his family this afternoon on the day when we’re going to find out more about his health issues,” Tory told the crowd.
“I just think that as we sit here debating the future of our city, I think he would have very much relished being here with us.”
Doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital are expected to provide an update on Ford’s health condition at 5 p.m. Ford was admitted to hospital last week after being diagnosed with an abdominal tour. The Toronto Sun reported that the mayor also had a lung biopsy on Monday.
Tory then pitched for a more unified and streamlined city hall that works well with each other and other levels of government.
“If you look at the question of the dysfunction, I think a lot of it arises out of what is seen by people as a failure on the part of city council to work together, and that starts with leadership but it goes down through the city council as well,” Tory said.
“We see the failure to work as well as we could with one another, including the public service,” said Tory, adding that city hall needs to “work better.”
Tory also addressed voter turnout in his opening remarks, saying that it “has never been what it should be given the issues.”
In her opening remarks, Chow said she is not like Ford or Tory.
“This campaign reminds me of that old Sesame Street song — one of these things is not like the others. I am not like the other two guys in the campaign. Mr. Ford and Mr. Tory have one view of the city,” Chow said, adding that they pick some neighbourhoods to succeed.
“As mayor, I will take action. I know I am not the loudest or the smoothest talker up here. I prefer to let my actions speak for themselves.”
Below are some of the issues the two candidates discussed.
Chow said she will raise the land-transfer tax on homes valued over $2 million and use the funds already dedicated to LRTs to fund her transit plans.
Tory said he will ask provincial and federal governments to each fund one-third of his SmartTrack transit plan, and cover the city’s portion with tax increment financing.
Chow’s plan to boost Toronto’s economic opportunities includes making Toronto the main trading hub for the Chinese currency in North America.
Tory said the mayor’s job is to “be the principal sales person and ambassador for the city.”
“We’ve engaged in a bit too much back-patting. We’ve done well,” Tory said but added the city could do better to help newcomers and increasing diversity. He also touted his experience with DiverseCity – a leadership incubator — saying tools like talent banks and targets are needed.
He said when “you elect a mayor you are not electing someone who can just wave a magic wand and make something happen.”
Chow suggested pairing newcomers with Toronto entrepreneurs to help newcomers set up businesses and help Toronto-based businesses increase their ability to export.
Tory said “it is going to be necessary for some challenging discussions” with the new chief, the police board, and the union. He also said there is room for improvement in the civilian oversight of police.
He added the chief needs to be sensitive to needs of the community.
Chow spoke out against carding – a controversial practice deemed to be racial profiling by some critics. She also spoke extensively about the need for the police
to change how they deal with people in mental health crisis, saying she wants to retrain officers to de-escalate and talk before using force and to employ social work teams to work with police.
Chow touted her prior experience at city hall as councillor.
“I know the ropes, I know the structure, I know the staff.,” said Chow, adding that a common purpose inspires work.
Tory said city hall needs a breath of fresh air, and repeated his point about a mayor needing to work well with others.