This article discusses an all-candidates debate hosted by Toronto Taxpayers Coalition.
I was expecting a bare-knuckled, knock-em down, drag ‘em out rumble, fists flying and blood on the floor.
What I found was a courtly dance, with two neatly dressed gentlemen warily tiptoeing around each other, fearful of stepping on the other’s toes.
The venue was a Legion Hall on Lakeshore Blvd. W. The all-candidates meeting in Etobicoke-Lakeshore was packed with partisan supporters from the three main parties — and the debate was tepid at best.
I expected PC candidate Doug Holyday, a popular and high profile local councillor, to have his foot on the throat of fellow councillor Peter Milczyn, holding him and the Liberal party he’s running for, accountable for the waste, mismanagement, bungles and fiascos that have become the hallmark of their government.
And while the issue of the $600 million the government blew scrapping two gas-fired generating plants in Oakville and Mississauga came up, it didn’t become the central debate.
“Without a doubt, the power plants were not well planned out and we have apologized for that,” Milczyn said, as a few boos rumbled through the hall.
Holyday appeared to be counting on his reputation as the honest broker to win him points with voters.
“Over my career, I’ve been recognized for my fiscal responsibility,” he told the crowd.
He did manage to zip off one zinger, after NDP candidate P.C. Choo had slammed the Liberals for their mismanagement. If the Liberals are so bad, “Why did Andrea Horwath prop them up,” asked Holyday.
In style — and in some substance — Holyday and Milczyn are cut from the same buttoned-down cloth.
Holyday, 70, was the last Etobicoke mayor before the city was swallowed up by the amalgamated city of Toronto.
Milczyn, 48, is a long-time councillor, the son of Polish immigrants.
New Democrat P.C. Choo, a former school trustee who has served on University of Toronto’s governing council, came to this country from Malaysia.
He tried to score points by raising the issue of youth employment, then blamed it on the federal foreign workers’ program, which fell flat at a provincial slugfest.
Polls show Milczyn with a lead, at 45%, Holyday at 39%, Choo at 11% and Green Party candidate Angela Salewsky at 6%.
Byelection polling is notoriously unreliable, however. Low voter turnout often skews the vote. It’s tough for pollsters to identify the people who will actually show up at the polls.
And voter participation in the five byelections called by Premier Kathleen Wynne for Aug. 1 could prove to be key.
Moderated by the venerable John Tory, Thursday’s debate was not without its lighter moments.
At one point, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford drifted in and crossed behind the candidates on the podium.
“Hi, Mayor,” said a bemused Holyday.
Perennial candidate and frequent agitator Kevin Clarke arrived late and told the crowd he’d hire Tory.
“You can’t afford me,” shot back the Newstalk1010 host.
What this byelection will likely come down to is the battle of election machinery.
Like most all-candidates meetings, this one was stacked with partisans, brought in to cheerlead for their man.
Milczyn had a rowdy cheering section, as did Holyday.
Oddly, an old motion by Holyday about forcing councillors to quit to run for other levels of government got some attention. You can hardly compare Holyday — or even Milczyn, for that matter — two dedicated and hardworking councillors with a politician who runs for office, then immediately runs for another level of government, which was what Holyday was talking about back then.
What it betrayed, though, was the ability of the Liberals to spin attention away from their own scandal-plagued government and on to the Tory candidate.
This byelection shouldn’t be a petty who-said-what spat about what Holyday may or may not have said in 2004.
It should be about holding former premier Dalton McGuinty and his successor look-alike Kathleen Wynne to account.
This should be a referendum on $575 million to scrap two gas plants. Voters should be passing judgment on what they think of senior McGuinty staffers quitting — and deleting their e-mails, so there’s no apparent record of what they did.
This should be about the fiasco at Ornge, where millions of dollars were wasted on a vast web of companies and where the CEO pulled in a $1.4 million salary while hiring his ski instructor gal pal.
Trust and accountability — and competence — are what these votes should be about.
We’re not having a general election because the NDP said, “Yes” to Wynne.
That means voters in these five byelections can speak for all of us.
And they can say, “No” to more scandals.
With cynicism rampant about politicians, the issues in Etobicoke Lakeshore — one of the so-called “seat-saver” ridings the Liberals targeted when they cancelled the Mississauga gas plant during the 2011 election — are trust and accountability.
I asked each of the candidates for the three main parties, “Why should we trust you?”
Doug Holyday (PC):
“I have a long history in municipal politics and I have a record,” he said. “People can look at my record and my behaviour and my accomplishments in municipal politics are well documented. If the people elect me, they can expect more of the same.”
Peter Milczyn (Liberal):
“I think I have a very good track record,” he said. “I have demonstrated that I am fiscally responsible. I have also demonstrated that I roll up my sleeves and get involved in the community to try to find solutions and work with people collaboratively.”
How can he convince voters to trust the Liberals after all their scandals?
“There is a change in leadership, there’s a new premier,” he said. “There will be new faces in the Liberal caucus.”
P.C. Choo (NDP):
“I kept my promises when I was a school trustee. I bring a different perspective,” he said. “The Liberals and PCs are Tweedledee and Tweedledum of politics. Under Andrea Horwath’s leadership we have delivered results for the people.”
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