Debate in high needs needs ‘hood draws tough questions
Five Toronto mayoral candidates face off on their city vision
(Written July 26 for Town Crier newspaper.)
His opposition to plans to redevelop of Lawrence Heights put mayoral candidate Rob Ford in the hot seat at a recent debate held in the neighbourhood.
At the July 23 debate, one resident accused Ford of carrying a virtual axe to “kill things” as his campaign symbol.
Ford was one of only three councillors who voted against the Lawrence Heights plan July 6 at city council.
Ford responded by saying he didn’t support the plan to replace 1,208 rent-geared-to income units to the area and add around 5,000 private homes because he’d heard opposition from among the 4,000 people who he said signed a petition against the project. But he did support helping residents with access to affordable housing.
“When I drove along Lawrence, every single private apartment that I drove by said bachelor, one bedroom, two bedroom for rent,” said Ford. “We can subsidize your income or rent and put you into private buildings.”
Ford said the city has a $3-billion debt and can’t afford to keep building social housing, then tearing it down and redeveloping it.
George Smitherman, who has been neck-and-neck with Ford in the polls, attacked Ford as a “purveyor of doom and gloom”.
“This councillor sees everything through the narrow lens of a penny,” said Smitherman, who was Toronto-Centre MPP when the revitalization of Regent Park was approved.
Other questions tackled by mayoralty candidates at the debate focused on what one resident deemed police brutality in the area.
Candidate Joe Pantalone gave a general response about dealing with violence.
“We need to train our society to have more peaceful means.”
Pantalone did admit the G20 situation with police was “a bit out of control” and said hopefully two reviews on police action taken during the summit will garner some answers.
Candidate Rocco Achampong, a lawyer by trade, took a strong stance regarding the issue of confrontations between public and police.
He said he spoke to a cop in England, where the majority of officers don’t carry guns, and asked them why they aren’t armed.
“A police officer told me, ‘Because we believe you do not fight violence with violence’,” Achampong said to huge applause. “I would also be calling for the mayor to have the power to fire the police chief (under extreme circumstances.”
Lawrence Heights is one of 13 priority neighbourhoods in Toronto targeted for additional funding as it has high needs that have been underserved compared to other communities.
One young man asked if the candidates would continue to spend money on the community, which includes a number of social housing properties.
“We have to maintain the funding for Toronto Community Housing,” Ford said. “We have to find money that’s being wasted now to reallocate some of the funding where it’s necessary.”
Ford also invited residents to call him if they are having any problems with their living conditions, be it a broken toilet or cockroaches, which garnered applause.
Several candidates also took the opportunity to go on the attack with Ford, calling on him to give back half of his $99,000 council salary. They claim his work in the family business Deco-Labels makes him only a part-time councillor.
Ford retorted that he has the second-best record at city hall, with a 98- percent attendance during city council votes.
One young resident asked if it was time to have some younger leadership on council.
Pantalone, who was first elected in 1980, said Toronto has the country’s sixth largest government and it needs an experienced hand at the helm.
“You have to work your way up,” Pantalone said. “That’s why you run for council first.”
Neither businesswoman Thomson or lawyer Achampong have been elected as a councillor prior to running for mayor.
Thomson ended the night by asking those in attendance, “What is your vision for Toronto?”
The evening debate was moderated by Toronto Community Housing chair David Mitchell. Candidate Rocco Rossi was invited but was unable to attend.