Ford hammered for immigration remark during debate

Toronto should be a “refugee-free” zone, mayoral hopeful Rob Ford said in a televised debate Tuesday.

Ford, along with other top contenders Joe Pantalone, Rocco Rossi, George Smitherman and Sarah Thomson, squared off during CP24’s fifth Your Vote: The Race for Mayor debate Aug. 17.

“We can’t even deal with the 2.5 million people in this city,” Ford said. “I think it’s more important that we take care of the people (we have) now before we start bringing in more.”

Though some in the audience seemed to agree and applauded Ford, he was criticized by his opponents.

“If we have that attitude, this city will be some small, provincial town and not the amazing city that it is.” said Pantalone, who added Ford should withdraw his comments because he “hoped that he did not really mean them”.

Thomson expressed concern at the lack of concrete ideas from the candidates on how to deal with immigration issues.

“This has turned into an attack on Rob Ford,” Thomson said. “I think we really have to focus on how we are going to bring these million people into the GTA.”

The debate got off to a slow start, with more time devoted to the significance of the Masonic Temple, where the debate took place, and Ben Mulroney’s absence than to political issues.

Things picked up when the topic of a mayoral pay increase came up. All five of the leading candidates for the job agreed a raise should not be given.

But that’s as far as any agreement went. Except for disagreeing with Ford, that is.

The candidates almost unanimously disagreed with Ford’s stance on abolishing the city’s fair-wage policy, which he called the “unfair-wage policy”.

John Tory, a contender for the mayor’s chair in 2003, was at the debate to challenge the candidates to provide five measurable goals they would strive for if elected.

Smitherman’s answer was short on detail.

“My campaign platform will specifically focus on efforts that can be measurable to make the city safer, to get people home faster, to reduce the rate of unemployment in the city of Toronto and to meet financial targets.” he said.

Rossi’s response to Tory was similarly vague and Ford, like Smitherman, didn’t get into specifics.

“I’m going to abolish (the) car registration tax,” he said. “I’m going to abolish land transfer tax. I’m going to reduce city council by half (and) hire one hundred more police officers. … I’m going to abolish the fair-wage policy.”

Pantalone and Thomson were not given the chance to respond.

Other debate issues also included the TTC, sole-source contracts, privatization and the possible sale of Toronto Hydro.