This article discusses an all-candidates debate hosted by Toronto Taxpayers Coalition.
The first all-candidates debate in Etobicoke-Lakeshore talked taxes, youth employment, health care, transit and leaves of absence from Toronto City Council.
Conservative candidate Doug Holyday is on leave from his post as deputy mayor to run in the Aug. 1 provincial byelection. Similarly, Liberal candidate Peter Milczyn is also on leave as Etobicoke-Lakeshore councillor for the duration of the summer byelection campaign. Both men have said they will forego their city pay until after the vote.
When it was suggested he and Milczyn not seek higher office at Queen’s Park, an angry Holyday took direct aim at a recent Toronto Star column, and its columnist seated in the debate’s audience, that called him a hypocrite for running for MPP without stepping down from council.
Years ago, Holyday authored a motion that Toronto councillors with political ambitions for higher office be compelled to serve at least half their council term. There is 16 months remaining in Toronto City Council’s current term.
“That article was wrong. There was nothing premeditated about what I’ve done,” Holyday charged, questioning the Star’s credibility. “That motion said if you’re going to run for city office, you agree to serve half the term, and I have served half my term. There is nothing hypocritical about it at all.”
Holyday told the packed Royal Canadian Legion hall adjacent to Long Branch GO Station he is running to tackle Ontario’s $283 billion debt, arguing since he took Toronto council office in 1998 the city’s financial health went from “bad to worse to desperate. It happened because people are not controlling spending. They think there is an endless amount of money.
“I see exactly the same thing at Queen’s Park. Who is going to pay? Our children and our grandchildren. It’s far too much to pay off and there is no plan to stop it, no plan to pay it off. The province can’t afford public transit. Somebody has got to get the house in order down there and it’s not going to be (the Liberals),” Holyday said to loud applause from the audience.
Milczyn countered the Kathleen Wynne Liberal provincial government has dedicated $160 million to the province’s share of the gas tax to fund transit in Toronto: “Is that enough? No. But there is a plan to spend $30 billion in the next 20 years, not just in Toronto, but in the region.”
Milczyn also spoke of his fiscal responsibility at council, noting he helped draft two alternate budgets against the “reckless spending of David Miller,” one of which almost passed a Toronto council vote.
Mayor Rob Ford quietly slipped into the debate some time after it began and stood at the side of the room to support his longtime friend and deputy mayor Holyday.
The civilized debate took on the atmosphere of sideshow when Kevin Clarke of the People’s Political Party stormed into the hall 90 minutes late, yelling loudly. “The man is here, baby,” Clarke said before moderator John Tory ordered him to sit down.
The other candidates — Holyday, Milczyn, the NDP’s P.C. Choo, the Green Party’s Angela Salewsky and Hans Kunov of the Libertarian Party — appeared shocked.
Clarke’s repeated outbursts and attacks against Holyday and Milczyn drew consternation from the audience, who repeatedly yelled at him to be quiet. Tory threatened Clarke more than once with removal from the meeting unless he exercised decorum and spoke with respect.
“We don’t want no crackhead mentality on council,” Clarke yelled at one point. “What time is this meeting over?” Holyday replied.
Choo took aim at the Ontario McGuinty Liberal government: “The (cancelled) gas plants are the latest in a series of scandals plaguing this administration: the eHealth scandal, the Orange scandal, the gas plant cancellation scandal.”
Milczyn answered Choo’s charge against the minority Liberal government’s decision to scrap and relocate two gas plants, one of which bordered Etobicoke in Mississauga, a week before the 2011 provincial election at a cost of $585 million.
“Without a doubt, the power plants were not well thought out. We’ve apologized for that,” Milczyn said to the crowds’ groans.
Milczyn, TTC vice-chair and chair of Toronto council’s planning and growth committee, advocated for greater use of so-called P3s or public-private partnerships as a means to save costs on the construction of large provincial infrastructure and building projects.
Candidates talked health care, debt, transit, youth employment, and MPPs’ independence to vote outside their party.
Salewsky suggested the provincial government could save as much as $1 billion by merging the city’s public and Catholic school boards.
Kunov, a University of Toronto professor, argued for increased OHIP funding and elimination of the minimum wage.
Matthew McGuire, president of volunteer-run Toronto Taxpayers Coalition which organized the debate, said the coalition is eager to see large voter turnout at the polls on Aug. 1. Historically, far fewer voters head to the polls during byelections.
“A lot has changed since the 2011 general election,” he said. “The economic climate has changed. Often, byelections are seen as referendums on the sitting government. We think it should also be a referendum for voters. We want to see big voter turnout. Voter turnout is notoriously low in byelections.”
A Forum Research poll this week showed a tight race in the lakefront riding held for the past decade by the Liberals, represented by recently retired cabinet minister Laurel Broten.
Milczyn is in a pitched battle against Holyday.
Etobicoke’s last mayor before amalgamation, Holyday is vying to become the first provincial Tory elected within Toronto since 1999.
Milczyn led with 45 per cent, but Holyday was close behind with 39 per cent. Choo was at 11 per cent while Salewsky was at six per cent.
The company used automated voice-response phone calls to survey 334 Etobicoke-Lakeshore residents on Monday and Tuesday.
Results are considered accurate to within six percentage points, 19 times out of 20.