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Mayoral candidates Olivia Chow and John Tory square off in a debate hosted by the Ontario Home Builders Association in Toronto, Ontario, Friday, September 12, 2014.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

John Tory is pulling out of a handful of debates, saying the race for Toronto mayor has entered a "new phase," prompting rival Olivia Chow to accuse him of hiding from voters because he is afraid to answer questions.

Mr. Tory's plan to pare down his schedule and drop three debates this week follows several opinion polls that have him leading by a wide margin. It also follows the stunning news Friday that Mayor Rob Ford is withdrawing from the campaign because of his health and his brother and campaign manager Doug Ford is running for mayor instead.

"With Doug Ford entering the race and less than six weeks to go until Election Day, we have entered a new phase of the campaign," the Tory campaign said in a statement issued Monday afternoon, just hours before a transit debate that Mr. Tory did not attend. "John has extraordinary demands on his time and, unfortunately, we are unable to accommodate every event and request," it said.

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The last-minute cancellation left Ms. Chow as the only candidate at the transit debate.

"If this is the new phase of the campaign, God help us," Ms. Chow told reporters before taking questions from the audience. "It means Mr. Tory is hiding. He won't face the people and he won't answer questions."

The two debates Mr. Tory said he would not attend on Tuesday have since been cancelled.

Ms. Chow has made it clear she sees a chance to debate Mr. Tory one-on-one to her advantage.

Mr. Tory, who did go head-to-head with Ms. Chow at a debate Monday night, said her claims made "no sense."

"I'm here, ready to debate tonight," he said. "There are many debates to go."

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