Between today and the October 27th election, take a guess how many Toronto mayoral debates there are that feature the five major candidates? Did you guess a very high ten debates? Well you’re wrong. There are an astronomically high 39 public debates featuring the circus cast of Rob Ford, Olivia Chow, John Tory, David Socknaki and Karen Stintz.
You heard right. 39 debates. On thirty nine different occasions over the next three months, the five polling candidates—who spend more time insulting each other than sleeping—are going to go head to head to head to head to head. Last night’s debate was less of a preview and more of an exact replica of what every single one of the next 39 debates will look like. The candidates dryly discussed transit and garbage, Rob Ford referred to himself in the third person and everyone tried to fit in as many subtle (and really not subtle) insults about their competitors as possible.
The real question is, why on earth would they all agree to that many debates?
Let’s go candidate by candidate. First, John Tory. Only Chow is polling ahead of him—with Ford close behind somehow—but impressively few people actually think Tory is going to win. That’s why he needs the debates. He’s fighting against two people who have name recognition, though neither for being an especially outstanding candidate for mayor. How do you beat people with name recognition? By getting your name out there. So Tory has agreed to all one hundred billion debates in order to make sure people remember how to spell his name on the ballot (even though you just have to tick the box).
What about Olivia Chow? What’s her excuse? She’s fighting stigmas. Chow needs to convince voters in a city that is not pre-dominantly left wing that she can represent them despite a former association with the left-most coalition of the NDP. She also needs to consistently cement her message as the progressive candidate. Yes, she is trying to do both of those things at the same time. The most important reason she will show up to over 30 debates is because John Tory will. He’s so close to her in the polls that she simply cannot afford to give him any ground. The circular logic is so frustrating. Tory is going to catch up to Chow’s name recognition, which forces Chow to go and get more recognition. This is why people hate politics.
Next, Soknacki and Stintz. We can lump together both because they have the same reason and because their combined polling numbers still barely constitute a fly buzzing in the collective ears of the three major candidates. A really annoying fly. They’ll show up to the debates because they have nothing to lose. They couldn’t be much further behind if they purposely sabotaged their own campaign. If they magically upstaged the major candidates at a debate, they might make enough of a surge in the polls to gain a few volunteers and start a snowball effect of impossible election turnaround power.
That leaves only the legendary Rob Ford. He has less reason than anyone to go to all 39 debates. Everybody knows his name and reputation. He’s likely to be the butt of every joke. Yet he shows up anyways. He’ll tell you it’s because he cares about customer service and connecting with the voter. Here’s the real reason. In a civilized debate, other candidates would never mention his drug problem or other debauchery. Instead, we get consistent video of Rob Ford doing what he does best: talking about the issues in a way that the average voter understands. The more footage of candidates talking about issues instead of scandals, the better it is for Ford. Also, if he doesn’t show up the front page story the next day will be about how he didn’t show up, followed by a tally of all the insults uttered about him that he was not present to respond to.
There you have it. Each candidate is pushed into agreeing to 39 debates by political logic and necessity. Each one of them will show up to as many as 5 debates each week in order to strut their stuff and likely embarrass him or herself. If you want to watch them, here’s a list of the dates and times. Also, if you want to watch them, you either are completely insane or have the same sense of humour as most political analysts.