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Ending the election silence on Church St

City Councillor Kyle Rae’s political rivals are accusing him of obstructing their attempt to organize an all-candidates debate on Church St.

“It’s appalling the community hasn’t had an opportunity to debate and discuss the issues,” says Carol Golench, one of eight candidates running in Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale.

Candidate Rob Bezanson says he contacted the 519 Community Centre on Church St more than three weeks before election day Mon, Nov 13 to try to organize a debate. He says he was told The 519 couldn’t host such a thing, though it has hosted candidates’ debates in the past.

Bezanson says he was told by staff that Rae, who as councillor sits ex-officio on the centre’s board, told staff not to hold a debate.

Rae says that’s not true.

“I’ve had no discussions with the board or senior management about a debate or had any influence in stopping one,” he says. “I called them three weeks ago to see if they were having one.”

Rae says staff told him they weren’t going to bother because they had such poor attendance at the last municipal debate the centre hosted years ago.

After Bezanson and three other candidates called a Nov 6 news conference in front of The 519 to complain about the lack of debate, The 519 issued a news release.

“There are a few reasons why The 519 Community Centre has not held a candidates’ meeting,” stated board chair Mathieu Chantelois. “The main reasons is, we are a city agency. In addition, the city appoints the sitting Ward 27 councillor to our community board of management. We believe The 519 may not be seen as a fair and balanced place for such a gathering.”

City policy does restrict the use of facilities for political purposes — except all-candidates’ debates, which are permitted if they are initiated by an interest group and not a candidate. Chantelois did not return Xtra’s call before deadline.

Bezanson says the debate needs to be held in the village but, as Xtra went to press, he confirmed Jarvis Collegiate (495 Jarvis St) as a venue, with a debate scheduled for 7pm on Sat, Nov 11.

Rae has not confirmed his attendance.

“As a public figure he’s obliged to communicate with the community,” says Golench.