Smitherman big winner with seniors

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

If the fall election was left up to an auditorium of senior citizens, George Smitherman would be the next mayor of Toronto.

On Wednesday, the seniors association CARP hosted the five leading candidates at a debate focused on issues faced by the city’s older population.

The crowd of about 300 — mostly CARP members — was asked to identify who they would vote for before and after the debate.

Smitherman was the big winner: His numbers jumped from 18 percent to 43 percent, probably by picking up large numbers of initially undecided voters. Rocco Rossi also fared well, increasing his proportion of support from 17 percent to 23 percent.

The loser was deputy mayor Joe Pantalone, who just two days ago became the first candidate to release a comprehensive seniors’ policy that, among other things, promised to freeze property taxes for older residents. Pantalone’s support declined from 9 percent to 6 percent.

“I think Mr. Smitherman demonstrated a maturity. He had a no-nonsense approach. He got into detail and addressed the questions as asked. Some of them did that not as well,” said Susan Eng, CARP’s vice president of advocacy.

Statistics show that 70 per cent of seniors get out to vote, which suggests roughly one-quarter of those who vote in this fall’s election will be 65 or older, Eng said. “Given today, this is good news for George Smitherman.”

Each candidate was asked to explain how he or she would build a more age-friendly city.

Sarah Thomson talked about not ignoring the details, such as how a park bench can provide an elderly person a spot to rest.

Rob Ford criticized the “gravy train” at city hall.

Rossi spoke about mobility issues faced by seniors, which can lead to isolation.

Smitherman promised to provide free TTC access to seniors during off-peak times, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

He also trumpeted his senior-friendly accomplishments as health minister, highlighting the $1.1 billion Aging at Home program. That probably scored him points with the crowd, said Eng. “This was a policy that mattered to him, that he spearheaded while in government.”

Afterward, each candidate was asked to sign a pledge promising to promote an age-friendly city. A member of Ford’s staff indicated to CARP staff he would not be signing over a point that requested lowering the maximum speed limit.

The Etobicoke councillor, who has been leading in polls, left right after the debate and took no media questions. Ford’s support fell from 8 percent to 7 percent, while Thomson’s numbers plummeted from 7 percent to 3 percent.

© The Toronto Star

Keywords: seniors, election