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Brian Cauley


Why Rob Ford Won the First Mayoral Debate and Toronto Lost

Posted: 03/28/2014 6:21 pm

Last night was the first Mayoral Debate for the 2014 City of Toronto election and it was a hot mess. The whole thing came across as a yelling match between the candidates and an embarrassment to the city. It was hard to understand their platforms (if any) and easy to see that all 5 of these potential Mayors are frustrated. I blame the format of the debate above all else.

City TV, hosts of the televised and live-streamed debate, conducted the whole thing in the following format: one minute for each candidate to answer a question, followed by three minutes of open-floor where everyone could talk at once, followed by a one-on-one question between two candidates. Each candidate got to ask a total of one question to another candidate -- leaving most candidates ignored. The candidates had to speak on Transit, Finances and Leadership before giving their closing remarks. With a format like this, candidates faced little fear of follow-up questions. Three minutes of open-floor also means we, the audience, will hear little in actual statements and lots in pure noise in chaos. Candidates were essentially able to say whatever they wanted, on one of the three topics, in their initial one-minute of speaking time, without a lot of direct dialogue or accountability.

So, how do you tell a winner? It's hard to say, as I'm not sure what constitutes a "winner" in the case of this debate. Usually a demonstration of:

  • cost-effective plans with foresight,
  • a clear platform,
  • concern for the citizens and their living conditions,
  • and generally trustworthiness and truth

All are great criteria for determining a winner. But not so in last night's debate. Last night I watched as some candidates tried to use reason and logic to explain their proposals, but they ran out of time before getting to their message. I watched some candidates stretch the truth to attack each other, but that turned in to yelling. I watched people dodge many questions from other candidates, speaking on their terms rather than answering. And I watched Rob Ford say the same three things over-and-over (and quite loudly). With a debate set up like a school-yard sandbox, the loudest most repetitive voice gets heard.

Unfortunately, we heard three things from Rob Ford and not a whole lot else. When there's a democratic conversation and only one voice gets represented, everyone looses. In this case, Toronto lost.

In the future, I hope that these debates are presented in a format that has only one person speaking at a time, demands accountability, and still uses viewer polling (I really liked being able to vote on my smartphone). You can believe whatever you like, and I hope what you believe in is the truth. When it comes to politicking, the truth can be hard to uncover. Even worse, many voters don't often stick around for the truth or don't pay enough attention to multiple information sources to ascertain some semblance of the truth.

People hear what they want to believe and don't always question what they hear. They watch a debate on TV and they hear three things, and if those three things sound pretty awesome, they move on.

If you do want to salvage some actual truth from last night, check out the fact-check that Torontoist did on all 5 candidates' claims.


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  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is hoisted into the air by his Don Bosco Eagles team after winning the Metro Bowl quarter-final at Birchmount Park in Toronto, Thursday Nov. 15, 2012. A civil trial hearing in which the mayor is accused of libel against a restaurant owner went on without him. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Drost

  • Mayor Rob Ford celebrates hoists the Ross McDonald trophy with his team the Don Bosco Eagles in Toronto, Ont. Thursday, November 8, 2012. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

  • Actors Will Ferrell (left) and Zack Galifianakis (centre) receive stickers from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford at the Hockey Hall of Fame as they promote their new movie "The Campaign" in Toronto on Monday, July 30, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

  • Actors Will Ferrell (left) and Zack Galifianakis (centre) receive stickers from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford at the Hockey Hall of Fame as they promote their new movie "The Campaign" in Toronto on Monday, July 30, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (centre) dances with participants ahead of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival in Toronto on Saturday July 30, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

  • Two hours of speeches and entertainment helped to kick off the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto on July 12, 2011. Mayor Rob Ford showed up about half way through, posed for some photographs, made a speech, presented a scroll, cut a cake, posed for more pictures on his way back inside, and even danced for a few notes with a costumed participant. Canadian Press

  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, right, looks on as he is about to receive the Pan American games flag at Omnilife Stadium during the closing ceremonies of the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011. Toronto will host the games in 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

  • Mayor Rob Ford was on hand in the alley way behind 1278 St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto on April 7, 2011 to re-iterate his plans to clean up the graffiti in Toronto. After doing some power washing with a diluted solvent the mayor said it was difficult to remove the graffiti but they would get it done, brick by brick. He was covered in "water" and paint chips when he was done the power washing. (Photo by Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

  • Toronto, Dec. 16/2010 - Mayor Rob Ford, wearing the Chain of Office necklace, reacts during a chat with 2010-2014 Councillors Doug Holyday (L) and Councillor Frances Nunziata while waiting for their first official group photo at City Hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Besides the absence of a couple of councillors the shoot went off with no problems. Canadian Press

  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford jumps on stage dressed as a Cannon Doll during a performance of the Nutcracker in Toronto on Saturday, December 10, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Pawel Dwulit

  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (left) and city councillor Michelle Berardinetti (right) smile on stage during a performance of the Nutcracker in Toronto on Saturday, December 10, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Pawel Dwulit

  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (center) smiles as he officially opens the refurbished Sunnydale rink with Toronto Maple Leafs' coach Ron Wilson (right) and other dignitaries who were on hand as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs who practiced on the outdoor rink in Toronto on Wednesday, January 4, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Pawel Dwulit

  • Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford as he was on hand for the grand opening of his new Trump International Hotel & Tower in Toronto, Ont. Thursday, April 16/2012. Canadian Press

  • As part of an exhibition at the CNE, Toronto-based artist Olenka Kleban has made a butter sculpture of Toronto's mayor.

  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford watches from the sidelines near the Argos bench during a CFL football game between the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders in Calgary on Saturday, August 18, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal

  • Mayor Rob Ford speaks with a private security guards at Nathan Philips Square in Toronto during an event held on Sept. 21, 2012 to recognize the hockey players of Team Canada 1972 before their Canada's Walk of Fame induction, as a group, on Saturday. Mayor Rob Ford read a proclamation that was presented to each player, and Paul Henderson, who scored the winning goal, presented the Mayor with a hockey sweater. Henderson's original hockey jersey from 1972 was on display behind glass for the event. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

  • Rob Ford is interviewed by the media at the Toronto Congress Center in Etobicoke after his election as Toronto Mayor Monday night, October 25, 2010, Toronto, Canada. The Canadian Press/Michael Hudson

  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford arrives to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs participate in an outdoor practice at Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto Wednesday, December 22, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

  • Rob Ford is seen reading while driving in this photo from Twitter.

  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford posing in City Hall with the City of Toronto sigh. Canadian Press

  • Rob Ford poses with neo-Nazi Jon Latvis. Ford's office has explained Toronto's mayor was unaware of the man's beliefs when the image was captured.

  • Toronto Mayor-elect Rob Ford, centre, raises his arms with his wife Renata, right, and mother Diane, left, as he speaks to supporters in Toronto on Monday, October 25, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette


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