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5 mayoral candidates debate affordability in Toronto

Left to right: Toronto mayoral candidates Ana Bailão, Brad Bradford, Josh Matlow, Mitzie Hunter and Olivia Chow take part in a debate, which was held at the Daily Bread Food Bank in Etobicoke on May 15, 2023. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Left to right: Toronto mayoral candidates Ana Bailão, Brad Bradford, Josh Matlow, Mitzie Hunter and Olivia Chow take part in a debate, which was held at the Daily Bread Food Bank in Etobicoke on May 15, 2023. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Five candidates for Toronto mayor talked about affordability in a Monday night debate hosted by the Daily Bread Food Bank.

The candidates were Ana Bailão, Brad Bradford, Olivia Chow, Mitzie Hunter and Josh Matlow. The theme of the debate was "From Surviving to Thriving: Tackling Toronto's Affordability Crisis." The debate, which took about two hours and was livestreamed, was held in Etobicoke.

At one point during audience questions, a heckler got on stage and interrupted the debate by yelling. As he was led away, he grabbed a back black curtain and nearly pulled it down. Police escorted him out.

Candidates were asked three questions about how they would tackle food insecurity, which municipal tools they would use to build housing and ensure rental housing is affordable, and how they would make the TTC affordable, safe and reliable. The candidates were given the questions in advance.

WATCH | The five mayoral candidates on stage Monday gave these opening statements about why they want the job: 

More than 200 people watched the debate in person.

Six candidates who are highest in the polls were invited to debate but Mark Saunders declined, according to the food bank. A total of 102 candidates are registered to run in the June 26 byelection to replace former mayor John Tory.

Neil Hetherington, the food bank's CEO, said the city is facing an "unprecedented" affordability crisis, with food bank use reaching record levels in March. He said it had nearly 270,000 client visits in March alone.

"Every day I see Torontonians having to rely on food charity," he said.

Nav Rahi/CBC
Nav Rahi/CBC

On food insecurity, all of the candidates said they would support the work of food banks. Chow, Matlow and Hunter, in particular, said they would promote community gardens.

"If you are running for mayor of this city, you have to care about those who are hungry," Hunter told the debate.

On housing, all of the candidates said they have plans to build affordable housing. Matlow said he would push for rent control in all new units that are being built in properties, would go after fraudulent landlords and would increase fines on landlords for property standards violations.

Bradford said there is no doubt that Toronto has a housing crisis.

"My plan is to increase the supply of housing of all types, unlock more opportunities for more housing," he said. "We need someone to focus on the process and unlock housing. As an urban planner, that is the world I come from. We need to get shovels in the ground."

On the TTC, Bailão, Chow, Hunter and Matlow said they would reverse TTC cuts. Bradford noted that two-thirds of operating costs come from the fare box.

Nav Rahi/CBC
Nav Rahi/CBC

When candidates had a chance to ask a question of a candidate of their choosing, Bailão, Bradford, Hunter and Matlow all asked Chow a question. Bradford asked Chow how much she plans to raise property taxes. She responded by saying she knows many Toronto residents cannot afford a large tax increase.

Bailão said it was concerning to her that Chow doesn't understand how the city developed a $1.5 billion budget shortfall. She said while Chow has been building the NDP, the other candidates who are councillors have been building the city.

Each candidate was given time for opening and closing remarks. Audience members, who were allowed to ask questions at the end of the debate, asked about social programs, shelters, and homelessness.

When asked about homelessness, Matlow said: "The best way to address homelessness is to ensure people have homes."

For her part, Bailão said she developed the Dufferin Grove pilot project, which was a humane way to help people in encampments.

After the event, Bailão said the security incident was unfortunate but added: "Everybody has a right to protest." She, however, said she believes in peaceful protest.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

In their closing remarks, the candidates urged the voters to consider their platforms.

  • Chow: "I got your back. I understand the crisis. I understand the desperation. For far too long, tenants have been told to wait. Seniors waiting for affordable housing have been told to wait. Homeless folks have been told to wait to get into some kind of affordable units. Families waiting for affordable childcare have been told to wait. Enough already. The time to act is now. Join me because together we can make change. We create a city that is affordable, caring, safer, where we all can come together and feel we belong. Let's do it now."

  • Bailão: "On June 26, Toronto has a choice. They can choose opposition. They can choose somebody that will work only against the other orders of government. They can choose somebody that will make their lives less affordable. They can choose somebody that really doesn't know how to build housing. Or they can have a better way. On day one, I will be ready to work with council. I will be ready to fix services and build housing. I will be ready to stand up, to collaborate with other orders of government, to deliver for our city. I want to make sure that the feeling that I got when I was 15 and arrived at this country, that feeling of opportunity that we had a city that worked, that we bring it back. I will bring it back."

  • Bradford: "I am running to be a strong mayor of action at city hall. I worked in the civil service as an urban planner. I saw all the divisional silos. I saw the lack of accountability. I saw the pervasive attitude that whatever doesn't get done today will get done tomorrow. And I ran for council to make a difference. Since I have been there, I have seen the type of endless debate, deferral, delay that has not addressed those key issues about affordability. There are a lot of politicians here who spend all their time on Twitter, consumed in the echo chamber of the Twitter conversation, and instead of listening to real Torontonians in real life about the issues that matter most to them. What are those issues? Affordability... Community safety... Getting around the city... We need real solutions to the real problems. Career politicians are not the answer."

  • Matlow: "I've been listening to communities right across our city in every corner. And while there are unique differences that we should celebrate and learn from, we have so many common priorities. Whether it be safety, whether it be affordability, whether it be livability. What that means is addressing the decline in services that has been allowed to happen for so long. Unlike some others, I've not been going along to get along at city hall just to get a committee appointment or a junket or whatever they go for. When I believe something is right and true and honest and costed and helpful, I champion it and I support it. But when something is wrong or dishonest, we have to challenge it and we have to speak up. I feel the same way about (Ontario Premier) Doug Ford. If Doug Ford does something good for Toronto, as your mayor, I will go work with him and achieve results. But when he sells off our Greenbelt, when he privatizes our waterfront, when he makes life less affordable in Toronto, I will stand a take for Toronto."

  • Hunter: "This is an important debate. Everything is not going well in our city. Listen, if you think it's just fine in Toronto, then you should vote for someone else. If you think that everything is just A-okay, then vote for someone else. I see you. I hear you. And that is why we need to take Toronto on a different track, right? You know it. I know it. For the city that we love, it means that we have to do things differently so that we get different results, the results that we deserve. I'm focused on making sure that we have a city that works for everyone everywhere in the city... Take a look at my plan. It will unlock city lands — 77 per cent more affordable housing. We need to fix the six and make sure that we have a Toronto that works for everyone. Join me in this effort."

Debate organizers include the food bank, Agincourt Community Services Association, Feed Scarborough, LAMP Community Health Centre, Second Harvest and Women's Habitat.