Today's the day that election lawn signs and billboards are allowed in this race for Mayor of the City of Toronto. But even without that, you can feel this thing beginning to heat up.
Last night I attended the Toronto Environmental Alliance Debate. Hall, Miller and Tory were all there, and this debate was different in tone than any of the others that I've seen.
It began with Hall's opening statement. In damage control, she focused entirely on the island airport issue. At one point she told us she had "an announcement to make". This got our attention. She said she didn't support any more "development" on the airport site -- no jets, no expanding the runways, no lifting the legal cap on flights. However, as far as I could tell, this was not a new position for her and was identical to her stance previously. The same stance that won her support from the CAW for "supporting the Island Airport expansion" and therefore "[paving] the way for a large order of turboprops". She got bashed by both Tory and Miller for this.
The drama and tension continued. This was a real debate, where candidates had an opportunity to rebut and criticize each other's arguments. With just the three top contenders there, the debate flowed much better. There wasn't "downtime", as every statement was very relevant to the issues at hand and to the close race among the three.
Barbara Hall acquitted herself moderately well in the debate, which means better than usual. She took heat on the airport issue, for sure. But she did get some hits in on Tory, and she did sometimes win broad applause from the audience. However, I noticed a clear pattern in the response to most of her statements. From my vantage point in the balcony I could see that after each of her remarks there was just a small group of people applauding -- and they were doing so in a vigorous and (apparently) coordinated fashion. Usually, the only people clapping were in the back two rows, plus one special person up in the balcony. The one in the balcony was classic -- after anything her candidate said, she would clap as loud and as fast as humanly possible. Sometimes she'd forget. Barbara Hall would stop speaking and there would be a pause. Then, all of a sudden, this woman would remember her job and start clapping triple-time.
John Tory and his team were happy with his performance. He was attacked and heckled a bit over his stance on incineration -- especially during a phase when both Hall and Miller were attacking him over where he would put his incinerator and whether or not the local residents in the neighbourhood would have a say -- but generally he held his own. In my opinion, he showed (and explicitly said) that he does respect environmental issues and that he has some knowledge of them. On the way out of the debate I heard him make a comment that amounted to, "well, I think I know who finished third, and it wasn't me." I think he felt like he walked into a potentially-hostile environment and made it out in good shape.
David Miller was the house favourite. When it was his turn for an opening statement he received a warm round of applause before he even said a word. Through the night he gave good answers that were generally well-received by the audience. He didn't get into much serious trouble from either of the other two candidates, and at the end of the debate he likely had the support of a majority of the room.
DISCLOSURE: After a serious decision-making process, I joined the Miller-for-mayor campaign a couple weeks ago. However, all comments on this website are my own, and do not necessarily represent the views of David Miller or his campaign.