Local residents looking forward to the Tuesday night mayoral debate at Leaside Gardens Memorial Arena came expecting to see frontrunner John Tory and Olivia Chow pitch their platforms. A late confirmation from Doug Ford changed everything.
The other leading candidate, who replaced his brother Rob Ford on the ballot in September when the incumbent mayor was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, was considered a no-show by the organizing Leaside Property Owners Association as late as Tuesday morning. But he confirmed his participation in the afternoon, then showed up with a large and raucous contingent of Ford Nation, who filled most of the front seats.
There was no clear winner of the debate itself. Candidates tackled the expected issues, such as traffic and development planning, as well as the odd unexpected question, like a letter from a Grade 5 student asking how each of them would make a good role model.
Ford had made a splash earlier in the day when a Forum Research poll showed him having all but closed the once-gaping gap on Tory, leaving Chow a distant third. While his late acceptance made the night in Leaside a true debate, with all three major candidates present, organizers say they did not expect Ford would be bringing an entourage of more than 50 supporters to the standing room only event that saw upward of 400 turn out.
Organizer Pat Prentice, disappointed to find the LPOA “turning away people who are our neighbours because there wasn’t enough room for them to fit in,” described the situation as being “invaded.”
The Ford Nation attendees cheered Ford and jeered Tory, often requiring moderator Brian Athey to sternly instruct the boisterous crowd not to interject.
While Leaside is largely considered Tory turf, not all of the Ford support came from outside the area.
Karen Hubert, who lives five minutes from Leaside Gardens, says she is drawn to the Ford brothers because “they’re real people.”
“They make time for everybody,” she said. “I’ve talked to Rob. He’s an excellent guy.”
Hubert approached Ford after the debate to tell him about an experimental cancer treatment she received in Montreal following her own brain cancer diagnosis. She asked Doug to tell Rob that there are alternative treatments that can help.
“I was telling him about something that works for me — [that] slows down the cancer,” she said afterward. “I’m proof: I’ve lived for seven extra years and I was given seven months to live.”
Torontonians head to the polls to vote for a new mayor and council on Oct. 27.