Olivia Chow found herself the target of most of the firepower in the first major debate of the Toronto mayoral race Monday.

The debate, hosted by the Daily Bread Food Bank and moderated by journalist Maggie John, focused on  affordability, food insecurity and poverty.

Chow, who has consistently been pegged as the front-runner by the polls so far, found herself lobbing back responses to a range of questions from her rivals in a portion of the debate where they were allowed to ask one another questions.

Toronto mayoral debate

“It’s actually concerning that you don’t understand why and how and where it’s coming from, the $1.5 billion hole in our budget, when you’re running for mayor of Toronto,” Ana Bailao fired.

“Don’t tell me that I don’t know how to read a budget for heaven’s sake,” Chow shot back. “If you actually talked to anyone I worked with at City Hall, (no matter) which party or which political side they’re on, they will tell you that Olivia Chow knows that budget really well.”

Brad Bradford asked several times how much she would raise taxes, alleging people are "terrified" of possible tax hikes Chow might bring in.

Olivia Chow

She retorted that “people are ‘terrified’ when they lose their homes. They’re terrified when they have to come to the food bank. That’s what they’re terrified about. They’re terrified when the bus never shows up.”

She added that massive tax hikes are "not my style" and said she is aware that many people in the city who own a home may be house poor and can't necessarily afford higher taxes.

Josh Matlow also took aim, suggesting her math “doesn’t add up” while Hunter said Chow’s plan should include more affordable housing units.

Chow also got in some hits of her own, asking Brad Bradford why he voted to hike TTC farers while also cutting service.

He garnered boo’s when he responded that “being in government is about making tough decisions.”

Chow also told Hunter that she believes in mixed income communities and that lumping everyone who needs a subsidy into one building is "called ghettos."

MORE: Click here to read highlights from the debate


One candidate who also took a couple of blows was one who wasn't there. Mark Sanders was invited but declined, saying he had a conflict with another event.

“There is a candidate who is not here today. It is unfortunate because if you are running for mayor of our city, you have to care about those who are hungry and those who do not have enough,” Mitzie Hunter said in her opening.

In his closing remarks, Josh Matlow said “the people who I really wish I could debate here tonight are not here,” calling out Saunders and Premier Doug Ford, who he said needs to start “stepping up” for the people of Toronto.

Saunders did attend another debate last week organized by a small business group on Queen Street West. Chow, Bailao and Matlow did not attend that debate.

High rent, TTC safety and homelessness were also strong themes in Monday’s debate.

The event was mostly cordial, but was interrupted at one point by an uninvited rogue candidate who rushed the stage. The backdrop was nearly pulled down in the scuffle with security, but nobody was injured and the debate resumed a few moments later.

Toronto debate disrupted