Long-shot Mayoral Candidates Debate at Hart House
Potholes filled in and stamped with the KFC logo. Taxing vehicles based on their size and horsepower. A jobs program that focuses on filling the bare walls of City Hall with resplendent mosaics.
These are just some of the ideas put forward at the Fringe Mayoral Candidates Debate, presented by the SMC Political Debates Club, at Hart House last Thursday.
Registration to run for mayor is open to all citizens of Toronto who pay a $200 dollar fee. Despite recent media coverage that has focused largely on the three frontrunners, there are more than 65 people running for the office of chief magistrate. The SMC moderator stated that they set-out to have an open forum debate, and every candidate they could find a way to contact was invited. Ten showed up.
There were six candidates in the first round, and four in the second, and as many candidates as audience members.
Asked why they are running, each first round candidate had a different reason. For Chai Kalevar, his campaign was about “personal responsibility to the planet”. The weight and horsepower vehicle tax is his central idea. For Jim Ruel, his campaign is about “education before legislation”, and is part of a process to get people informed about how city hall works. Klim Khomenko wants to offer a different perspective. Matthew Crack is running in able to institute what he calls “open-source democracy”, which allows citizens to vote online on specific municipal issues. Hïmy Syed is running to reform the office of mayor. Morgan Baskin stated that she is running to win the election.
Transit became the central issue of the first debate. Mr. Syed noted that while each major candidate is proposing their own transit lines, and even bringing maps out in debates, actually deciding where transit goes should actually be left to planning experts. “The mayor’s job is simply to find the funding,” he stated. Chai Kalevar seconded this, and added cheekily that, “if [he is] elected, [he will] appoint any of [the frontrunners] as my TTC commissioner, if they are still interested.”
Ms. Baskin argued that whatever transit route is decided, the mayor must work to implement immediate solutions to “make the next five to ten years bearable while we wait for rail to be built.” Mr. Crack suggested the idea of paying for road repairs by covering filled-in potholes with corporate advertisements. Other candidates suggested tolls on the highways leading in to the city, two-hour TTC transfers, and building more bike lanes.
The debate offered a number of behind-the-scenes details about the city that have not come up in the debates between the frontrunners. Mr. Ruel pointed out that mayoral candidates are allowed to spend $1,369,610.55 on their own campaigns, which makes the race favour the wealthy. Mr. Syed discussed how TTC Andy Byford has had to lobby to allow the TTC to keep its operating surplus, and not have to give that money over to the city, which doesn’t necessarily spend the money on transit. Mr. Syed also expressed concern that the City of Toronto Act is about to expire next year, with uncertain implications.
Seeing the widespread agreement among the candidates, the moderator complimented the panel, and stated that this was the most collegial debate he has moderated. The candidates expressed unanimous admiration over the recent announcement by the Wynne government to allow municipality’s to choose their own voting systems. In particular, ranked ballot measures have been proposed and popularized recently, and if implemented in Toronto, could change the dynamics of the mayoral race, and turn long-shot candidates into serious contenders.
The second round of the debate was unfortunately marred by loud construction noises coming from outside, and the candidates forced to speak up over it. At times it was impossible to hear. The second round included candidate Erwin Z Sniedzins, who when asked by the audience if the Z on his shirt referred to Zorro, stated that ”every city needs a hero” and spoke about his trip to Mount Everest and his 50 billion dollar plan for the city. D!ONNE Renée, who spells her first name in all capitals and introduced herself as “the only candidate with an exclamation point in their name,” mentioned that her Facebook page had been shut down because it scared the establishment. She also noted how this open forum debate promotes democracy, which is built on free expression, which in turn supports mental health throughout the city. And Mohammad Okhovat suggested the most outlandish idea of the debate when he commented that since Venice is sinking, he would lobby to build a “New Venice” in Toronto harbour to attract tourists.
Even though few have heard of these candidates, all eligible voters will find all their names on the ballot come October 27. Advance voting is now open.