National Newswatch

TORONTO — Leading candidates in Toronto's mayoral race hurled accusations and engaged in heated exchanges during a debate Tuesday as they looked to stand apart from the field before the first ballots are cast later this week. 

The hour-and-a-half event hosted by the CBC came as advance voting is set to begin Thursday and run until June 13, ahead of mayoral byelection day on June 26.

Taking part in Tuesday's debate were former NDP parliamentarian Olivia Chow, city councillor Josh Matlow, ex-police chief Mark Saunders, former deputy mayor Ana Bailão, and former Liberal provincial education minister Mitzie Hunter.

Coun. Brad Bradford did not attend after welcoming the birth of his second daughter Monday afternoon. 

The daytime debate saw crossfire between candidates who had previously aimed many of their attacks in earlier debates at front-runner Chow. 

Hunter referenced rising levels of homelessness and a lack of city-backed affordable housing units when she claimed a mayoralty under Bailão, former mayor John Tory's housing point-person, would lead to "more of the same."

"I just don't think that's what they need right now," Hunter said. "They need real change and a real plan." 

In response, Bailão claimed Hunter, the former chief administrative officer for Toronto Community Housing, left the city-subsidized affordable housing provider in crisis. 

"I don't have to learn on the job. I know how city hall works. I have the support of colleagues. I know how to get the job done," Bailão said. 

The latest Forum Research poll indicates Chow continues to grow her lead with support from around 38 per cent of decided voters. The poll of more than 1,000 Toronto residents released Sunday suggests Saunders and Matlow are in the second and third spots, while Bailão and Hunter trail with support in the upper single digits. 

Chow and Saunders sparred over the budget later in the debate, with Saunders asking Chow how she would work with a police service he claimed she did not like. 

Chow said she was grateful for police, but she referenced calls for more resources to be invested in mental health, housing and social supports as part of a public safety response. 

Saunders, meanwhile, faced questions about why he had not presented a costed budget plan and whether he would cut services. 

"I look at the budget first and then I prioritize where the money's going," he said. 

In response to a yes or no question about whether the city should act as a builder of affordable housing, Saunders was the lone "no" answer, saying the city's job was to make the approvals process easier to navigate. Bailão did not offer a direct yes or no answer, saying the city needed builders, non-profits and other orders of government "at the table" to develop various types of housing supply.

Matlow, Chow and Hunter all agreed there should be a public builder of affordable housing, rather than leaving it solely to the private sector. 

"But to say there's going to be one silver bullet or one solution isn't right and to make up numbers isn't fair," Matlow said. "And the reality is there's a large number of things that we need to do to address housing affordability because people cannot live in the city." 

Fiery debate segments were broken up by some light-hearted questions from the moderators, who at one point asked the candidates to pick some of their favourite spots in the city. 

Chow's favourite music venue was The Phoenix, Matlow's favourite patio was the Black Bull, Saunders's favourite beach was Sugar Beach, Hunter's favourite tourist attraction was the Art Gallery of Ontario and Bailão's favourite festival was Do West Fest. 

The CBC said it determined which of the 102 mayoral candidates would be included in the debate based on available polling data and criteria such as whether candidates have a robust platform addressing key issues and community involvement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2023.

Jordan Omstead, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press
Click here for more political news headlines
🔔 We're about to launch our newsletter! Make sure you don't miss a beat. Sign up for our newsletter