Last week, through the miracles of cowardice and attrition, we finally got to see what an all-substance, no-showmanship debate would look like.
While Olivia Chow, John Tory, David Soknacki, Rob Ford, and Karen Stintz were all initially confirmed to participate in Thursday's Heritage Toronto-hosted event at the St. James Cathedral Centre, Ford withdrew a few days beforehand and Stintz dropped out of the race altogether that morning.
It was odd to attend a debate not nearly preceded by a fistfight. And without Stintz to stand up and pace around TED Talk-style, we were left with something approximating what a forum on the subject should be: a dull wrangling of the finer points of planning policy, with the candidates tested on their understanding of and vision for heritage in all its forms. No mention of a "transportation czar," no claims to have already completed a subway that is years away from beginning construction.
Here are the highlights of an evening that was relentlessly pleasant despite the head of Heritage Toronto briefly forgetting Soknacki's name in her introductions:
Chow: I live and breathe the heritage of this city. And I wrote a book recently called My Journey, and it's as much about the heritage of Toronto as it is about me. The plays, the sights, and the sounds. The time that Jack Layton and I, where he would dress up as William Lyon Mackenzie and do walking tours of the Necropolis, which is the oldest cemetery in this city.
Best modern love
Tory: Heritage isn't just about what's 150 years old, but it may well be what's 50 years old. And I had lessons in learning this, too, when I was doing the report for the Ontario government on Ontario Place, we had a lot of views with respect to the preservation of the Cinesphere. And you'll all have views on that, some pro and some con. But I came to understand that for a lot of people that was an iconic feature of the city that was only 44 years old but had become a part of our heritage during that period of time. And I agreed with that position in the report that we wrote, saying it should be preserved, as opposed to those who said just tear it all down and kind of start over again.
Best hip to be square
Soknacki: I've put forward a parks platform. It's on my website, which is now most unfortunately called sok2014.com. Uh, but you're welcome to take a look at it. [The url] wasn't my idea.
Best pandering to the Greatest Generation
Chow: I also witnessed a storytelling effort in a neighbourhood, where the residents came together, and not only did they preserve the buildings, but they also told stories of people that used to live there, or live there and before they're getting quite old. To be able to capture the stories of the people that lived there in the 40s and the 50s, how they met, what kind of corner stores there were. And it is just beautiful, it creates a real sense of community. And it teaches the young people what it means to tell our stories. So it's not just about preserving the buildings. It actually knits the neighbourhood together in a way that is absolutely fabulous. I witnessed it in some of the areas. We can do it all across the city.
Best admitting you don't know the answer and hoping people will appreciate your candour
Tory: I'll be honest, I'm not aware enough in detail to give a credible answer on the practises of other places that I would adopt. I will say I'm sure there are places that adopt a more proactive approach [to preservation] than we do. ... I'm not knowledgable enough with what goes on in other cities to able to say I'd pluck two things from my vast storehouse of knowledge in other cities and their heritage policies.
Best statement about heritage that also sums up so many other things
Chow: It is about planning and designing. And not just letting things happen.
Best say "ought" again to me, baby, oh yeah
Soknacki, explaining why a proposed local appeal body wouldn't necessarily be preferable to the Ontario Municipal Board: I want to go back to the earlier question posed: "Surely we can have a local appeals body." Well, the answer is yes, we can. But I think the more important question here, particularly for our discussion is: ought we to do that? Because when you take a look at it, it's not that we can have carte blanche on what we as a city ought to do. In fact, the terms of that local appeals body is incredibly constrained. ... So if you have no different result, then, to my point, let's revel in one of the few examples we have of being able to upload something back where it ought to belong.
Best subtweet not in tweet form
Mayoral candidate Ari Goldkind in an interview afterward, explaining why he wasn't allowed to take part: So we contacted [Heritage Toronto executive director Karen] Carter many weeks ago and received no response - well before Karen Stintz dropped out - just suggesting to her that I think I have a lot to offer to the debate and there seems to be a growing perception that maybe my voice should be heard. We heard nothing back. Finally today we pursued it again and said, "We would love to hear back from you." And we were told, because all of the questions were given out weeks in advance and the answers were scripted, I wouldn't be welcome to pop in at the last minute. We then responded that I would be pleased. I'd be happy to do my homework; I'd be pleased to go unscripted. And we were told, "No, you're not welcome to attend." And then...there is a certain other candidate who attracts quite a lot of attention for the wrong reasons and the perception is if they let me debate, then they're going to have to deal with that person's camp. It makes me sad. It makes me frustrated, because I think the people of Toronto deserve to have an adult conversation.