Seven of the eight candidates for the Toronto Centre seat at Queen’s Park showed up for the all-candidates debate co-hosted by The 519 and Xtra on Sept 22, but the real contest was between Liberal incumbent Glen Murray and NDP challenger Cathy Crowe, squaring off in their second electoral contest in two years.
PC candidate Martin Abell told The 519 and Xtra that he wouldn’t come to the debate because he was campaigning in Cabbagetown that evening. An empty chair was kept for him at the panel.
Crowe and Murray echoed one another during opening statements, in which both described their early advocacy on HIV/AIDS and for harm-reduction approaches to drugs.
It was Green Party candidate Mark Daye who launched the first attack of the night, when he used his opening statement to chastise Crowe and Murray for their parties’ support for maintaining a public Catholic school system that continues to discriminate against gays and non-Catholics.
“It’s an embarrassment to me as an Ontarian and as a gay man,” Daye said. “If you’re going to take my money and discriminate with it, I have a big problem with that.”
Catholic schools across Ontario have chosen to edit the province’s equity and inclusive education policy to specifically forbid gay-straight alliances, even though the ministry’s policy supports them.
Murray maintained that the Liberals support the principle that “every student in Ontario should have the right to start a gay, lesbian, trans club if they want to” and that activists, including him, are “advanced in a sophisticated [legal] strategy to support students.” He blamed the lack of progress on GSAs in Catholic schools on the fact that Catholic schools have constitutionally protected status in Ontario and that legal history has tended to side with the Catholic schools over the province when that’s been challenged.
Crowe momentarily caused confusion when she suggested that her party’s “100 percent support for GSAs” included the consequence of defunding Catholic schools if they don’t comply. She backtracked when Murray pointed out that that is not NDP policy, later suggesting that she and others within the party “would support going forward, exploring options” on Catholic schools.
Crowe refused to elaborate on what those options might be or what a strategy to compel Catholic schools to accept GSAs would entail.
A similar dynamic played out when the discussion turned to HIV criminalization.
Murray reiterated his stance that “significant risk” must play a defining role in prosecutorial guidelines that are “evidence-based.” Murray promised prosecutorial guidelines over the course of the next Liberal mandate but ducked questions about the Ontario attorney general’s recent application to argue against the use of “significant risk” as a legal benchmark in a Supreme Court of Canada case.
“The Supreme Court case is being brought by an NDP government in Manitoba. Why not talk to where you are in government to get them to drop the case?” Murray said to Crowe.
Crowe responded that she would ask her party. She lamented that Parliament has never actually legislated on HIV criminalization.
“There’s no legislation. It’s being left to judges,” she said. “We support a brave, courageous discussion out in the open.”
The province cannot actually change the law.
A number of questions focused on how the province will support municipal services facing the axe under the Ford administration at city hall.
Crowe talked about the importance of civic engagement.
“We have to mobilize citizens to say no,” she said. Crowe also touted the NDP’s plan to upload some municipal service costs to the province, including housing and transit costs.
Murray touted the province’s record on beginning to upload municipal costs and the Liberal’s City of Toronto Act, which gave the city new taxing powers to help close its chronic budget gap.
“The mayor is creating a crisis by reducing revenues,” Murray said. He noted that the province has moved to limit the city’s ability to cut core services by restricting its ability to sell social housing and threatening to cut provincial funding.
Murray also boasted of his successful lobbying to have the province increase its funding to Toronto Pride by 33 percent.
The other candidates who participated included Harvey Rotenberg of the Vegan Environmental Party, Bahman Yazdanfar of the Canadians’ Choice Party, Cathy Holliday of the Communist Party, and Phil Sarazen of The People.