With 22 in Ward 20 race, Rogers TV debate could be ‘pretty funny’

Council candidate Sarah Thomson says large number may make getting message across difficult

Candidates for councillor in Trinity-Spadina — a whopping 22 of them — have their calendars marked for next Wednesday.

The Rogers TV Ward 20 all-candidates debate is set for Sept. 24 at 2:30 p.m., and with so many voices competing to be heard, the debate promises to be interesting.

“There’s going to be 22 people in [the debate],” Sarah Thomson said, laughing. “I think it’s going to be pretty funny.”

It’ll be very hard for anyone to say anything significant.

—Sarah Thomson

Thomson, who ran for mayor in 2010, is used to a crowded field of candidates. This election, she was again in the mayoral race before dropping out to run for councillor of Ward 20 last week.

“[In the race for mayor] usually they would have the top five [candidates],” she said. “This [debate’s] going to have all of them. It’ll be very hard for anyone to say anything significant.”

Covering the Annex, Chinatown, Kensington Market and the Entertainment District and the Queen’s Quay waterfront, Trinity-Spadina is home to a host of different voices.

In spite of this, recent municipal elections featured significantly fewer options on the ballot: voters chose from among five to eight candidates in each of the last three municipal elections.

This year, the list of candidates reached 27 before several would-be politicians withdrew, leaving the official count at 22 heading into the Oct. 27 election.

“There’s always more candidates when you don’t have an incumbent running,” said Tim Grant, chair of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association. “We had a very popular councillor who got elected federally, so lots of people are actually paying more attention than they normally would.”

That councillor, Adam Vaughan, was elected as a Liberal MP in the June 30 Trinity-Spadina by-election. Vaughan, an outspoken opponent of Mayor Rob Ford, was serving his second term at city hall before stepping down.

With nearly two dozen contenders vying to replace Vaughan, Grant, like many voters in the ward, is trying to get a handle on all the candidates’ positions on key issues.

“The confusion out there is great,” he said.

While Grant acknowledges the challenges of having 22 candidates in the race, he said he’s happy so many community issues are being discussed.

Nick Wright, a lawyer and first-time council candidate, has been in the race since January. He has already participated in one debate and said he’s excited to talk about the issues at the Rogers debate next week.

“It’s so important that people not only vote, but also learn about the candidates and get out to see them in action,” he said. “It’s one thing to understand what someone’s public image is, but to get out and actually get to know everyone face to face is just so important.”

Wright said he’s confident his key campaign planks of safer cycling, responsible development and better transit will resonate with Ward 20 voters.

Thomson said she’s thrilled by the large number of people actively participating in the civic dialogue, adding she hopes that interest in city issues will not end with the campaigns.

“I want to encourage [all the candidates] — after the election — [to] come out, volunteer,” she said, “learn what it’s all about, learn how many issues there are that really need passionate people to work on them.”