Who's zooming who?

Originally published in Eye Weekly on August 12th, 2010. To go to the Eye Weekly please click here

OK, so the Zoomer crowd might not be exactly EYE WEEKLY’s target audience, but there were more than a few good reasons to check out a mayoral debate hosted by the Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP, yeah, I know) yesterday afternoon at Ryerson.

First of all, I half expect a group of upwardly mobile septuagenarians to be an exceptionally harsh audience, having lived long enough to have heard every possible line from every possible type of candidate—and not about to have their time wasted. Secondly, since Moses Znaimer’s crew is running the logistics, they’re bound to keep the discussion on point and on time. (The fact of this hunch became immediately apparent as moderator Susan Eng played a clip of last month’s shambolic CP24 debate as an example of how not to behave and then encouraged the audience to start clapping once the speech timer runs out on any candidate.) Third, and most importantly, the older you are, the more likely you are to vote, so the fact that around 70 per cent of those 65 and older are going to be casting ballots in October represents a significant group of whose opinion we should take stock.

Rob Ford kicked off the opening statements and it became quickly apparent that two-and-a-half minutes is an incredibly long time frame during which he must expand upon his one-note “too much waste at City Hall” platform. (This theme continued throughout the debate, as Ford redirected every question back to this one idea, even when Eng tried to elicit an answer as to how he will also maintain services.) Instead, be banged the indignant gong a few times, explaining why we need only 22 councillors and mentioning Kyle Rae’s retirement party at least once.

Joe Pantalone did a great job adapting to the audience and seemed to have a guaranteed vote-clincher with his promise to freeze property taxes for seniors who make $50,000 or less, and his suggestion that we appoint a seniors commissioner to make sure the city is age-friendly. Like Ford, however, Pantalone spent a bit too much time on the same point throughout the debate — that Toronto only gets eight per cent of all the tax dollars that Torontonians pays out. Consequently, he got repeatedly called out for blaming the provincial and federal governments for Toronto’s financial woes rather than taking account of what this current council has done.

Rocco Rossi was articulate and compassionate, using his charity work and time with the Heart and Stroke Foundation as a way to connect with the crowd. Oddly enough, I had very few notes about anything specific that he said, which may be an indication if why he’s still not made enough of an impact to rise up in the polls. Fortunately for Rossi, no one brought up the question of privatizing Toronto Hydro.

George Smitherman seemed to be in his element here, even though his opening statement glossed over the usual tag lines about eliminating waste and changing the culture at city hall, as he was able to boast the impressive-sounding portfolio of health-related initiatives he oversaw as Ontario’s Minister of Health (minus, of course, eHealth). Plus he scored huge points against his frontrunning rival by showing that Ford voted against the city’s sidewalk snow-removal program (which is essential to helping seniors and people with mobility issues get around) and that he has also been working hard against the city’s 311 information service, which, apparently, seniors are big users of. Ford tried to talk his way out of these collar-tuggers, but Smitherman read a copy of the actual motion to eliminate snow clearing that Ford put before council. Burn.