Smitherman a winner at CARP debate as Ford sticks to his guns on cutting spending

Originally published on the BLOG.TO website on August 12th, 2010. To go to the BLOG.TO website please click here

On a hot Wednesday afternoon in an even hotter auditorium at Ryerson University, Toronto’s top five mayoral candidates discussed the seemingly not-so-hot topic of senior citizens. The debate was hosted by CARP, a non-partisan advocacy group for those over 45.

Seniors’ issues have taken a back seat so far in this campaign–compared to the relatively hot topics of transit and bike lanes–and they might seem like something of interest only to an older crowd.

But that’s far from the case. As Toronto’s baby boomer generation ages, young people will be increasingly responsible for taking care of them. The strain on social services will be a big challenge for all levels of government and taxpayers.

And not only are seniors a major public policy concern today, they’re also an important political concern for the candidates. People over 45 are the most likely demographic to vote.

The debate’s first segment was introduced by former mayor David Crombie in a pre-recorded video. The question: how are you going to help seniors?

George Smitherman proudly touted his plan to allow seniors free access to the TTC between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and reminded the audience of his involvement with Ontario’s Aging at Home Strategy as Ontario Health Minister.

Rob Ford used his mother as an example. “She comes up to me and says: Son, I cannot afford to live in this city,” Ford said. “She says: what’s going on here? I’m a senior; I’m on a fixed income, [and city councillors] are living the high life at my expense.”

“The gravy train has to come to an end and seniors need to come first,” he added.

Joe Pantalone promoted his recently announced plan to freeze property taxes for seniors earning $50,000 per year or less, and complained about the lack of federal government support for social services.

Rocco Rossi spoke about the need for senior’s homes to be more culturally sensitive to issues of language and diet, and Sarah Thomson about retro-fitting senior’s homes.

Smitherman was the first to go on attack. “Councillor Pantalone speaks about the federal and provincial levels of government, but if we look at their circumstances we can obviously see their ability to drop serious dough into the outreached hands of Torontonians is going to be very challenging.”

Then he went after Ford. “What worries me is that as councillor he voted to eliminate snow clearing of sidewalks, which is something very important to seniors, and he’s been working aggressively against the 311 service, which seniors more than anyone else are relying upon.”

Ford defended himself, explaining that the snow removal vote only affected dead-end streets.

But then Smitherman whipped out his notes and read from the actual council motion. “Councillor Ford moves that the item be amended by…eliminating city-wide sidewalk snow removal for savings of $13,414,000”

“The good news is that the vote was defeated 34-8. It certainly wasn’t the way [Ford] described it just now,” he added.