Toronto’s first mayoral debate of the election campaign got off to a bit of a rocky start when a controversial candidate who was not registered to attend the event showed up on stage demanding to be included.

Ex-Rebel Media writer turned mayoral candidate Faith Goldy showed up to the event, claiming that she had a petition signed by thousands of people calling for her inclusion.

Goldy’s presence at the debate elicited jeers from the crowd and prompted the moderator, TIFF's Vice President of Advancement Maxine Bailey, to call security to remove her from the room.

Sue Edworthy, a spokesperson for Artsvote Toronto, the group responsible for organizing the debate, said candidates were invited to fill out a survey about their position on arts and culture in the city in order to determine who should be invited.

“We also looked at whether there was a platform and track record for supporting arts and culture in Toronto. That’s how we determined which candidates to invite,” she added.

When asked if Goldy filled out the survey, Edworthy responded, "To the best of our knowledge, she did not fill out the survey."

John Tory, former chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat, as well as Saron Gebresellassi, Gautam Nath, and Sarah Climenhaga, were among those selected to participate in the debate, which focused on the role of arts and culture in Toronto.

However Keesmaat repeatedly diverted the discussion to transit and housing in an effort to attack Tory on housing affordability and his SmartTrack plan, which she referred to as a “mirage.”

“An essential part of the arts is about inclusion, it’s about equity and we know that one of the ways we deliver this in this city is through transit and I would like Mr. Tory to be held to account for his Smart Track plan, which is dead, buried and we know that this conservative government is going to put a daisy on it,” she said.

“We need to understand why he is not delivering exactly what we need to deliver in a city where people can get from everywhere to everywhere.”

Tory fired back, accusing Keesmaat of flip-flopping on her support for his transit plan.

“You supported SmartTrack until you were running for mayor and then all of a sudden you didn’t, it is on the record. But now back to our regularly scheduled programming on the arts,” Tory said.

Keesmaat also criticized Tory’s handling of the lock-out of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees at Exhibition Place, which impacted this year’s Canadian National Exhibition.

“We need leadership. We need to bring every party to the table. This is where you stand up as the mayor of a city and you say labour matters. Labour delivers and builds this city and delivers the arts in this city,” Keesmaat said.

“As the mayor you stand up and you engage in solving the problems that this city faces.”

Tory defended his response to the labour dispute, saying that a mayor can’t force the two sides to reach consensus.

“You have to show leadership, everybody said that, when it comes to these kinds of things but you have to do it in a way that makes sure that the interests of people in the labour movement (are represented),” he said.

“Leadership means having people at the table. The mayor can’t stand up and impose labour agreements on any union that works with the city in getting the job done for our people. What I have been doing is making sure that they have gone back several times, unfortunately not yet successfully, to the bargaining table. I will continue to do that.”

Campaigning resumes in 25-ward system

The debate comes just days after candidates in the municipal election finally received some degree of clarity following a lengthy legal battle where the city unsuccessfully challenged Premier Doug Ford’s plan to slash the size of city council from the planned 47 wards to 25.

After weeks of uncertainty about how many wards would be included in the election, the city is now proceeding with a 25-ward system.

Both Tory and Keesmaat have spoken out against Ford’s decision to cut the size of council in the middle of an election campaign and have condemned his willingness to use Section 33, a controversial provision of the Charter, to force his legislation through.