Issues Worth Carping About

Originally published in the National Post on August 11th, 2010. To go to the National Post please click here

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Silver hair glinted under the lights of a Ryerson University auditorium yesterday as the 45-plus crowd gathered for a mayoral debate on “age friendly” issues. It was put on by CARP, which represents Canadians 45 and over. Among the issues discussed: How to make the city more accessible, more affordable and safer for seniors. Natalie Alcoba reports:

Age friendly city

While often veering off to talk about their respective platforms, the candidates did present a few senior-specific ideas. George Smitherman said he wants to give seniors free TTC from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and accelerate the TTC’s plan to make all subway stations accessible. Rob Ford advocated for town hall meetings to help educate seniors about abuse, but said the city has to rein in its own spending before it can invest in new programs. He wants to cut the land-transfer tax and the vehicle- registration tax. Rocco Rossi argued in favour of agencies such as Villa Colombo that tailor seniors’ programs to specific ethnicities. Joe Pantalone promised to freeze property taxes for seniors with a household income of $50,000 or less. Sarah Thomson told the story of how removing a city bench had affected her ailing father. “We have to remember the little things. We can’t take out the park benches just because there are some people sleeping on them now and then.”

To pledge or not

Mr. Smitherman, Mr. Rossi, Mr. Pantalone and Ms. Thomson clearly signed their names under a five-point pledge that outlined ways in which candidates promised to make Toronto an age friendly city. A fifth scribble was impossible to read, which left organizers scratching their heads. Did Mr. Ford sign the pledge? His campaign spokeswoman Adrienne Batra later said neither Mr. Ford, nor anyone on his team, signed the document. “Although there are very laudable goals within the pledge, they all cost money and Rob Ford isn’t about to write a blank cheque with taxpayers’ money,” she said. “Seniors want honest commitments that a mayor can come through on.”

Latest poll results

A separate poll released earlier in the day showed Mr. Ford widening the gap with his chief rival, pulling ahead to 37.6% support among decided voters. In a June poll by the same firm, Pollstra Research, he stood seven points back. Meanwhile, Mr. Smitherman has flatlined at 28.7 %, according to Pollstra.

The zingers

All the candidates took their shots at Mr. Ford, who has surged in the polls, but it was Mr. Smitherman who came the most prepared. At one point, he whipped out a white sheet of paper to read off a 2007 motion from his rival to eliminate sidewalk snow removal, on which seniors depend, in order to save $13.4-million. Mr. Ford said he was lobbied by residents who didn’t want dead end streets snow ploughed, but Mr. Smitherman pointed out the motion said city-wide.

The moderator

Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy for CARP, was arguably the sharpest person on the stage yesterday. She had sat through two hours of people talking over each other during a televised debate and resolved to make this exchange civilized. “I think they have good things to say, let them say it,” said Ms. Eng, who is former chairwoman of the Metro Toronto Police Services and a self- described “annoyed political junkie.” She kept the candidates on point, and once took issue with Mr. Pantalone as he criticized higher levels of government for not investing enough in Toronto. “That’s not going to help us, to blame the provincial government,” she interjected. “I really believe in people answering questions they are asked,” Ms. Eng said after the debate.

Who won?

According to the informal poll taken of the audience, Mr. Smitherman came out on top. Attendees were asked who they were planning to vote for before the debate, and then after it was over. Mr. Smitherman’s support jumped from 18% to 43%, Mr. Rossi went from 17% to 23%, and everyone else dropped. Mr. Ford went from 8% to 7%, Mr. Pantalone went from 9% to 6% and Ms. Thomson went from 7% to 3%. The number of undecided voters tumbled from 39% to 17%. There was also an Other box. The survey was completed by about 250 attendees, who are all CARP members.

© The National Post

Keywords: seniors, election