A mayoral debate in East York got heated Monday night before it even began, with Mayor Rob Ford’s camp accusing organizers of bias.

The debate was organized by the Parkview Hills Community Association and took place in a church basement. Leading mayoral candidates Olivia Chow, John Tory, Rob Ford, Karen Stintz and David Soknacki took part. Organizers had said that each candidate could only bring one member of his or her team.

However that sparked outrage by the mayor’s brother and campaign manager, Doug Ford, who accused community association president Justin Van Dette, a known John Tory supporter, of bias.

“He wants to be biased. You’ve come out publicly as part of the John Tory campaign,” Doug Ford yelled at Van Dette outside the venue as a crowd of Ford Nation supporters tried to enter. “He won’t leave, we won’t leave – it’s simple.”

However Van Dette denied he was biased in organizing the event and said attendance at the event was limited because of the capacity in the church basement.

“This is a community association debate. The rules were set up by a debate committee,” Van Dette told CP24. “There is a media panel that is running the debate with the questions. This is a debate and this is an opportunity for the community to attend.”

Tory also denied the event was set up to favour him in any way, dismissing the criticism as being part of the ‘Ford circus.’

Once the debate itself got underway, the candidates discussed a variety of topics, including transit, garbage collection and policing.

In one exchange, Coun. Karen Stintz slammed Tory for not prioritizing a downtown relief line.

“If you were able to get $2 billion, you are going to use it to spend money outside of East York instead of building a downtown relief line, is that true?” Stintz asked Tory.

However Tory defended his transit plan, saying building transit in any one part of the city will benefit the city as a whole.

“This is exactly the problem. This is one city,” Tory said. “If we build Smart Track – 53 kilometres, 22 stations across the whole city, it’s going to benefit the whole city, including East York.”

When asked if he might consider stepping down at another point in the debate, Ford slammed his opponents as spendthrifts who can’t be trusted with the public purse.

“Stanley cup winners don’t hand back the Stanley cup. We’re on top. Our team’s on top,” Ford said. “The only person anyone can trust with their hard-earned tax dollars is Rob Ford.”

Another mayoral debate hosted by seniors’ advocacy group CARP is scheduled to take place in two weeks time.

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