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Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat says she spent years at Toronto’s City Hall in a state of “deep frustration” with Mayor John Tory’s leadership.

At an election debate Tuesday, Mr. Tory asked his former city planner why she never took action herself.

“Where was your voice, which is so loud today when you’re a political candidate?”

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Mr. Tory claimed Ms. Keesmaat didn’t bring plans for affordable housing forward at any meeting he or his deputy mayor attended. Building 100,000 units of affordable housing over the next 10 years has been a cornerstone of Ms. Keesmaat’s campaign. Mr. Tory has called that plan “doomed to failure.”

Ms. Keesmaat disputed Mr. Tory’s assertion about inaction on her part, saying affordable units planned for the former site of Honest Ed’s and on Tippett Road were a result of her work. “It was like pushing water uphill, because there wasn’t any leadership at the top,” Ms. Keesmaat said, countering that Mr. Tory hadn’t met his own targets for affordable housing.

Affordability dominated the debate Tuesday afternoon, along with heated back-and-forth on transit and crime reduction between Mr. Tory, Ms. Keesmaat and fellow mayoral candidates Sarah Climenhaga and Saron Gebresellassi. As the talks began, around two dozen supporters of mayoral candidate Faith Goldy, a far-right “white nationalist” who has appeared on a neo-Nazi podcast, had gathered outside the Corus Quay building to protest her exclusion from the event.

While the candidates inside focused on solutions to gun violence, shots rang out just blocks away in Regent Park, killing one male victim. Ms. Keesmaat, around the same time, pointed out that there had been more than 1,000 shootings since Mr. Tory took office. “This has been one of the most violent summers on record,” she said, adding that the city has fallen behind on 9-1-1 response times. She stressed fixing those times, and increasing respect between communities and police.

“This is completely within our control. We can do this with strong leadership,” she said. Mr. Tory came under fire from Ms. Gebresellassi during the debate, who urged him to back down from a plan to hire 200 new police officers this year, and another 200 the year after that. “As a human being, as a father, as a grandfather and as the mayor, [the city’s gun violence] keeps me awake at night,” Mr. Tory retorted, saying he won’t abandon his plan to expand neighbourhood policing.

“A top-down approach is not going to work,” Ms. Keesmaat responded. “It hasn’t worked.”

Toronto mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat speaks at a news conference following the debate on Tuesday.

Tijana Martin

Mr. Tory called himself a “national leader” on the push to ban handguns. Within the past week, the federal government announced the launch of nationwide consultations on the proposal. Ms. Keesmaat challenged Mr. Tory’s previous statement that such a ban would be an “empty gesture,” to which Mr. Tory responded that he changed his mind upon seeing a report from Toronto police.

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Mr. Tory held up his work with the provincial and federal government as a strong point of his candidacy, accusing Ms. Keesmaat of a “stomp your feet” approach to other levels of governance.

When asked by a Globe and Mail reporter about recent adversarial relations with the provincial government over the cuts to Toronto City Council – which Mr. Tory maintains was “rammed down their throats in the middle of an election campaign” – he said he will still “try to make this relationship work, because that is what the people of Toronto expect me to do.” ​

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