John Tory used a mayoral debate hosted by the Toronto Region Board of Trade Thursday to tout the benefits of his SmartTrack proposal while Rob Ford repeatedly called the rapid transit plan “backtrack” and preached that “subways are the way to go.”

The debate at the Hilton on Richmond Street was attended by all four main mayoral candidates but quickly devolved into a back-and-forth between Ford and Tory as the two frontrunners traded barbs on everything from transit to professional integrity.

“John, I just want to stop your backtrack thing for a while and talk about my subways for a second and how I am going to pay for them,” Ford said, cutting off Tory from answering a question about transit funding. “I know that the provincial government when I am re-elected will work with me (on transit) and I have a very good relationship with the prime minister. I have nine funding options and your plan only has one.”

“Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me,” Tory replied. “I will be able to get money because I will have a decent relationship with the provincial and federal governments while you have burned those relationships just like you have burned your relationships with city council.”

During the 90-minute debate Ford slammed Tory on his plan to utilize GO Transit infrastructure to provide 53 kilometres in new light rail transit and repeatedly asked the former radio host whether or not he would build a subway along Finch Avenue, as Ford has promised, or go ahead with a planned LRT.

In response Tory quipped that Ford’s subway plan is a “fantasy plan,” while Chow accused both Ford and Tory of “saying no to immediate improvement” and Soknacki cautioned all three candidates against promising transit the city can’t afford.

“It was mentioned a little while ago about fantasy transit plans and let me tell you the fantasy transit plans up here are going to incur debt and that is going to put the burden on all of us as taxpayers,” Soknacki said.

Ford attacked for comments on youth unemployment

Though the bulk of the debate was dominated with talk of subways, LRTs and gridlock, the candidates also talked about affordable housing and the rising youth unemployment rate.

When asked what he would do to get young people working Ford said that “you do not fix what is not broke,” prompting Tory to remind the mayor that the youth unemployment rate in Toronto is higher than the national average.

“I am not sure the 10 per cent of people who are unemployed or the 20 per cent among young people would share your view that the city is booming," Tory said. “You said you created 56,000 jobs but there are 83,000 people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are out of school, out of work and not in a training program.”

Meanwhile, Chow used a question about integrity to ask Ford whether he would put his holdings in Deco Labels in a “blind trust” in light of a number of serious allegations concerning the lobbying of city officials on behalf of Deco clients.

“No one, but no one, can buy the Fords,” Ford said. “Deco Labels has not benefited one iota from any of these misnomers that are spread around.”

Mayor’s track record put under microscope

Throughout the debate Ford attempted to position himself as a candidate with a track record of getting things done, however his time as mayor was repeatedly called into question by Tory and to a lesser extent Chow and Soknacki.

At one point Ford attempted to fight back, pressing Tory for specific examples of money he saved taxpayers when he was leader of the Progressive Conservative party, but Tory simply quipped "I was the opposition leader, Rob" and moved on.

Tory then jumped on Ford when he suggested that repairs to the Gardiner Expressway were “done."

“You think just because you say something that means it is true," he said. "You say the Gardiner is fixed just like that, presto. You say the Scarborough subway is done. No it is not."

Tough crowd?

A sold-out crowd of about 600 people attended the debate and many of them were heard laughing as Ford answered questions about professional integrity and his record.

“That’s an elitist crowd,” Ford said afterwards. “They can laugh all they want. I have a proven track record of success.”

As for his performance, Ford said he did his best to answer the questions honestly.

“I give straight answers. Some people may not like them but I give the straight answers. He (Tory) wouldn’t answer questions. He is a ditherer. I asked him what he planned to do on Eglinton Avenue and he starred at me. You have to have a plan. He doesn’t have a plan."

“His plan isn’t even a plan. It is more of a fantasy and it is never going to happen,” Tory said of Ford’s subway plan following the debate. “He does not have the relationships to actually make any plan of his work. That’s why we should all be very concerned about Rob Ford being there (city hall) for the next four years.”

The debate was the third held this week, though Ford skipped out on the previous two to do some door-to-door canvassing.

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