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2007 09 21
Toronto Missing from Ontario Leaders Debate
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Many political pundits consider the first all candidates debate a watershed in the provincial election, particularly in an election year such as this which has been, shall we say, uninspiring. If you missed it, and don’t want to rely solely on the deluge of political spin which Ontarians are about to be besieged by, you can watch it here.

Within minutes, moderator Steve Paikin was faced with the formidable task of talking over all three candidates simultaneously to regain order and stick to the debate schedule. This isn’t unusual - the only thing more difficult than trying to get a straight answer out of a politician is getting her/him to shut up when giving said circuitous answer. There were a few other interactions which were expected as well, such as the tenuous alliances between parties which show up during such debates. The Liberals (Dalton McGuinty) and Progressive Conservatives (John Tory) focused on Bob Rae’s less than perfect record as former Ontario Premier in order to discredit the NDP (Howard Hampton). The Liberals and the NDP focused on former Ontario Premier Mike Harris’ massive public sector cuts and downloading to municipalities in order to discredit the PCs. And of course, the NDP and the PCs focused on McGuinty’s string of broken election promises in order to discredit the Liberals. All in all though, the debate was remarkably free of mud slinging. This is remarkable considering that McGuinty, at every possible opportunity, mentioned that he was raised in a large family who taught him to keep his word.

The surprises in this debate were more in what was not said. Was Toronto mentioned? Naturally – but not as much as expected. It even seemed at times that the candidates were deliberately staying clear of the word ‘Toronto’. When answering questions regarding plans to encourage increased transit use and decrease crime rates in Toronto, there was no choice but for Toronto to be explicitly addressed. Although I defer to my transit hero Steve Munro’s thoughts on transit in tonight’s debate here, I will say that the much touted Greater Toronto Transportation Authority was not mentioned once. So much for a provincially mandated regional transportation solution.

But for other questions there was either a total lack of, or very scanty mention of Toronto. The fourth question in the debate: Are municipalities in financial trouble because of provincial downloading or do they blame the Province simply to hide their own financial incapability? Maybe it was just too hot of a potato to touch in light of today’s proposed 20% property tax hike to deal with the budget shortfall, but it was sheer cowardice not to address Toronto with respect to this issue. Hampton did mention that property taxes are being used to pay for things which the province should be paying for, but no mention of Toronto. The same applies for another question regarding poverty as the most important issue facing Ontarians. Of course many municipalities face poverty issues, but surely no one can argue that the sheer scale of poverty and homelessness in Toronto dwarfs that of other municipalities, excluding some First Nations communities.

And the most shocking? Neither Toronto nor the GTA was mentioned or even hinted at when a question was posed about whether Ontario is still the leading jurisdiction in Canada. OK, we all know that in a Provincial debate in Ontario, politicians cannot be seen to be pandering to Toronto at the risk of alienating not only the rest of the GTA but suburban, rural and Northern Ontario. But really…..it has been said over and over again that if Ontario is the economic engine of Canada, Toronto (or the GTA as a whole) is the economic engine of Ontario. While this attitude raises many a rural Ontarian back, this defensiveness is patently unnecessary. Many seem to interpret such statements as saying that the GTA is the ONLY economic region in Ontario. Not true. But is it the biggest and most important economic region in Ontario? The answer has to be yes. And does Toronto and the GTA support and even provide strong economic activity throughout the rest of Ontario? Again, the answer has to be yes.

Two other surprises were in store. First, unless I missed it, the issue of Mixed Proportional Representation (MMP) was not mentioned once. I can certainly understand Tory and even McGuinty not raising the issue (which would be hardly beneficial to their cause) but surely Howard Hampton (whose NDP could potentially strongly benefit from this reform) could have found a way to bring it in. It is appalling that Ontarians finally have the chance to have their say on an electoral reform issue which could actually make a real difference in our democracy (i.e.: bring us closer to an actual democracy as many other industrialized countries have done), yet have it virtually ‘blacked out’ from a televised province-wide debate. The media has been regularly spilling ink lately on how little people know about the issue, as opposed to actually educating and informing people about it. Learn more here.

Finally, I was thrilled to hear that tonight’s debate was, for the very first time, being simulcast in Cantonese. Did I hear this at the debate itself? Nope – I heard it on the CBC prior to the debate. This is an important step to political inclusiveness, and the candidates would have been well advised to bring this key event into their comments this evening. I can only hope that this will be the start of simulcasts in other languages. We can hardly crow about the GTA’s diversity while at the same time largely excluding those who speak different languages from the political process.

Liza Badaloo supports MMP and encourages voters to educate themselves on this issue.

Image courtesy of the CBC.

[email this story] Posted by Liza Badaloo on 09/21 at 01:34 AM

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