HIGHLIGHTS: Toronto mayoral candidates square off in debate co-hosted by Toronto Star, United Way, TMU
Published Wednesday, May 31, 2023 7:37AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 31, 2023 9:43PM EDT
The leading candidates in the Toronto mayoral race are squaring off in a debate hosted by United Way Greater Toronto, The Toronto Star and Toronto Metropolitan University.
We’ll be bringing you live updates here as the candidates face off.
The debate has now ended. Thanks for following along!
Final question of the evening: “What makes you the kind of leader we need now? How are you going to lead and be responsive and accountable to the residents of Toronto?”Hunter starts and says, “whether it’s large or small, at the centre of my decision is what is best for people.”
Bradford says he hasn’t been on council long enough to be responsible for the problems, but he has been around long enough to see how things work.
Chow says under her watch, Doug Ford will not run the city the way the previous council allowed him to.
“When Doug Ford said he is for the people, we will make sure he listens to the voices of the people,” she says.
Saunders says he’s had 38 years of service, not just with a “pencil and paper.” He says he’s put his life on the line and the city needs the right leader.
Matlow says he and his family are “deeply immersed” in the life of the city and he has led the charge on important issues at city hall.
He says he likes Chow, but the city needs a more contemporary leader, especially to deal with Doug Ford, who he calls a “bully.”
Bailao says you can have someone who allows Doug Ford to run the city or another who will act like the official opposition, referring to Saunders and Chow, respectively. She says he’s someone who has worked with other levels of government and can do it again to get things done.
Next question is about affordability: “If you were elected as the next mayor of Toronto, how are you going to address the affordability crisis in our beautiful city?”Bradford goes first and says the city should reduce red tape for building purpose-built rentals.
Chow says under her plan, she will build 25,000 rent-controlled houses “so that someone that is just graduating from university has a chance to start their life.”Saunders says his plan is to cut back red tale and create and environment for builders to build.
Matlow says there are many things that need to be done, including building more homes on city property and helping seniors to age in place in their homes.
Bailao says that action on housing and transit are key.
Hunter says she says a comprehensive housing plan that would be key to affordability.
Chow puts a question to Bradford. She takes aim at him for not getting more done on housing and asks him why he deserves a promotion.
He says he got more done in five months as chair of the housing committee than was done in the past five years.
Bradford now gets a chance to ask Chow a question and asks her about taxes. He asks what the maximum percentage is she will raise taxes.
Chow hits back that if he wants to talk about numbers, how much more will the fare increase he voted for cost people?
She says that while she was on the budget committee, she was known to be good at budgeting.
Bradford responds that she was known to be good at skyrocketing taxes.
He says she would bring in a 20 per cent increase and she retorts that he’s “making things up.”
Matlow is up next and Keenan says playfully that Matlow can ask any candidate a question, and it doesn’t even have to be the same question. He gets a round of laughs and applause.
Matlow puts a question to Saunders: “Rather than just say you’re going to cut and you know, find the gravy train all that kind of stuff, can you please tell us exactly what you’re going to cut and how much and how it’s going to affect people.”
Saunders responds that the city needs “to be accountable for every dollar first.”
Matlow responds that he sounds like Doug Ford.
Saunders responds: “When we talk about fiscal accountability, we wake up in the morning and we hear that we are purchasing crack pipes and meth pipes, I don’t think that that is something that we need to have as a priority.”
He says “we’ve normalized indignity for people that are out on the streets.”
Hunter, up now, asks Chow the same question for a third time.
She says there are inflation estimates at the moment she could use.
Chow responds that her program is costed.
Hunter hits back that Chow’s response is a “nom-answer.”
“You’re not being straight with the people of Toronto and you know, I don’t know if there’s something there that you don’t want to tell them,” Hunter says.
She says her plan is costed as well.
Saunders up next and asks the same question to Chow. “The old way of doing things that has failed us for a decade is to pick a number,” Chow says.
She says people who have squash courts in their homes can afford to pay a bit more, referring to her plan to implement a luxury homes tax.
Saunders retorts he doesn’t know how many people have squash courts in their homes, but most people want to know how much their taxes will go up.
Chow reiterates she has promised a “modest” property tax increase.
We’re moving into a “face-off” section where candidates can ask each other questions.
Bailao goes first with a question to Chow, saying she’s provided no clarity on property taxes. “How much property taxes should Torontonians be ready to pay under your watch?
Chow says asking for the percentage first is not the right way to go about things. She says it’s not fair to “just pick a number” without knowing the inflation rate next year and how much money might come from other governments. She also takes a swipe at Bailao, saying she never got housing built.
Bailao comes back and says Chow needs to tell people what the ceiling is. Chow replies she’s already said she believes in a “modest tax increase.”
Bailao hits back: “Modest for you might not be modest for a lot of people in this city.”
Candidates are now answering a question about what they would do to improve things for those with mental illness and those who are unhoused.
Bradford says more housing must be a key part of the answer.
Bailao says there’s Nothing more foundational to a person than a home.” She says she would put $5 million into shelters and another $5 million for rent assistance. She mentions an increase in domestic abuse since the pandemic.
She also says the federal government needs to do more to support refugees in the city.
Saunders says he would create a “mayor’s wellness circle” to bring all city agencies together to deal with mental illness and homelessness.
Hunter says homelessness is a “crisis” within the city. She says she would add 400 shelter beds add more supportive housing units to transition people to permanent homes.
She says mental health is a provincial responsibility, but the city must still do what it can “to help people who are hurting.”
Matlow says he’s learned the “real answer to homelessness is a home,” and people can better deal with the challenges they face when they have a home. He says the shelter system is not a safe indoor space for people. He says his plan is costed.
Chow says her dad has serious mental health issues and likely would have ended up on the street if she had not been able to intervene. She says the city needs an ant-eviction plan and a 24/7 respite centre for one who is evicted.
Chow says the city needs 1,000 units in rent supplement, with wrap-around services.
Next question is about how each candidate would partner with frontline services.
Chow says she would invest in core funding, not just project-based funding so that those on the front lines can spend more time doing their work and less filling out applications.
Bradford says he would remove roadblocks and make sure that the not-for-profit sector has access to community space in the communities where they’re operating.
Bailao says the services need community hubs for their work and she would provide financial help with pre-construction plans for their projects.
Saunders says most unhoused people have medical issues. He says he would work with non-profits whenever possible to help restore dignity to people.
Hunter says she would make sure that key agencies are funded and supported.
Matlow says youth hubs, grants for the arts and culture sector and more spaces at schools and libraries are part of his plan and would help the non-profit sector do their work. He says he’s “incredibly concerned” about the dire situation of food banks.
Next question is: What is your plan to make the public transit system more reliable and accessible?
Matlow says multiple actions are needed, including getting rid of “those stupid cuts,” referring to recent service cuts.
Chow asks for a show of hands for how many people took TTC to the debate and asks if those audience members were worried they’d be late. She gets a round of laughs in the affirmative. She says she would also reverse cuts to get people back on the system.
Bradford says the city needs more money from other governments and the system needs to be made safer so that people feel comfortable using it. He says he would start with platform-edge doors in stations.
Bailao says the system needs more special constables, wifi everywhere and greater reliability.
Saunders says he has the best safety plan for the TTC because he was police chief. There are some laughs from the audience. He says the city needs to build out transit infrastructure better so that the system is prepared for the thousands of newcomers expected to arrive in the coming years.
Hunter says she would be a champion of subways in Scarborough, and make the TTC free for seniors and Wheel-Trans users, and make sure it starts by 5:30 a.m. six days a week.
Housing affordability is up next.
Keenan asks: How do you propose to protect the existing supply of affordable rentals, while also increasing the supply, protecting tenants and making living in the city possible for renters?
Hunter says she has a plan to build more housing.
Matlow says he has a plan too and he will not “sit idly by” while Doug Ford builds in the Green belt.
Chow says she will help tenants own their apartment builders.
Bradford says multi-tenant housing and multiplex housing are part of the solution and more bureaucracy should not be part of the solution. He says the city should have a “culture of yes” when it comes to cutting red tape to build more housing.
Bailao takes a dig at Bradford, thanking him for finishing the work she started on housing. She says she has a plan to build 57,000 units of purpose-built rentals.
Saunders says “everybody here is responsible for what’s happened.”
He says the most important thing is to “cut red tape” so that more homes can be built.
The first question is what has emerged for you as the single most pressing challenge facing the city.
Saunders up first. He says the number one issue he’s heard about is public safety.
“People will talk randomly about the fact that they will not use the subway because they are concerned about the safety,” he says.
Hunter says affordability is the top issue she hears about.
“People are concerned that those who grew up here may not even be able to afford to live in the city that they love,” Hunter says.
Matlow says he hears from residents from every corner of the city that “they want a city that is safe, that is affordable and livable. He says there is a sense of decline.
Chow says she’s spoken wth mothers who have lost their children to gun violence and they “want to build hope in their neighbourhoods.”
She says the city is seeing cracks “not just on city streets, but in the social safety net.”
Bradford says people are tired of waiting for city services and improvements and he says it come back to the “endless deferral, debate and delay” at city hall.
Bailao says affordability is the top issue she hears about and says the city is facing a $1.5 billion deficit that will either have to be solved through taxes or service cuts.
The debate is now underway!
Moderator Edward Keenan getting things started, introducing the candidates, who will have a minute each to respond to questions. Candidates will also have an opportunity to ask each other questions.
It’s a packed audience at the Ted Rogers School of Management for this debate.
Ana Bailão, Brad Bradford, Olivia Chow, Mitzie Hunter, Josh Matlow and Mark Saunders are taking part.