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Toronto mayoral candidates John Tory, Doug Ford and Olivia Chow take part in a lively debate at Brown College's Waterfront Campus on Oct 8 2014.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The already-heated Toronto mayoral race has grown even more combative, with the leading candidates sharpening their attacks on front-runner John Tory, and Mr. Tory swinging back in a raucous debate where he accused rival Doug Ford of "U.S.-style Tea Party" tactics.

With just three weeks left to go in what has already been an adversarial race, the unlikely pair of Ms. Chow and Mr. Ford tag-teamed Mr. Tory – who for several months has held a comfortable lead in the polls. But Mr. Tory shot back in a boisterous debate hosted by The Globe and Mail and George Brown College Wednesday, where he dismissed Mr. Ford's attack on his business record and accused him of "misleading the public."

The debate – which focused on issues affecting students, including affordable housing, jobs, and transit – descended at several points into cacophonous shouting matches.

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Mid-way through, a question on transit left all three candidates yelling onstage for several minutes, and Ms. Chow hunched in her seat, covering her ears. As Ms. Chow and Mr. Ford teamed up to cast doubt on whether Mr. Tory's $9-billion Smart Track plan can be built in seven years as he claims, Mr. Tory held up a Toronto Star column supporting his claims.

"Just because you keep repeating it doesn't mean it's real or true," Ms. Chow said. "Who is the engineering firm?" Mr. Ford pressed.

The attacks on Mr. Tory continued throughout, with Mr. Ford using almost every question as an opportunity to slam the front-runner.

On a question about affordable housing, Mr. Ford touted his own record with Toronto Community Housing before claiming that Mr. Tory has never stepped foot in TCHC (an accusation Mr. Tory denied).

And on a question about jobs, Mr. Ford brought up Charter Communications – a U.S. cable company that had Mr. Tory on its board of directors from 2001 to 2009, when it filed for bankruptcy protection – accusing Mr. Tory of intentionally omitting it from his résumé.

Mr. Ford also unveiled a new attack ad Wednesday, based in part on Mr. Tory's experience at Charter. "What's the story, Mr. Tory?" the ad asks.

"This is about credibility," Mr. Ford told reporters Wednesday. "He didn't put it on his résumé. He's avoided this like the plague."

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But Mr. Tory responded that his LinkedIn profile doesn't include many of the titles he's held in his career, including principal secretary to former premier Bill Davis. "There's lots of other boards, charitable and otherwise, that were not mentioned," he said.

The Tory campaign also issued a statement from Paul Allen, co-founder of Charter Communications as well as Microsoft, saying that the company's problems resulted from events predating Mr. Tory's tenure.

"These sort of U.S.-style Tea Party smears and tactics have no place in Toronto politics," Mr. Tory said in a statement. He also denounced Mr. Ford's ad tying his time as Rogers CEO with the company's negative-option billing controversy, calling it a "bold-faced lie," and that he didn't work for the company when the incident happened.

"Doug Ford has no credible plan, whether on transit or on any other issue, to bring forward. The only thing left is for Doug to throw mud and see what sticks."

Mr. Tory took swipes at his rivals, too. In one exchange over the TTC, Mr. Tory said to Mr. Ford "I ride the subway every day, do you?" before producing tokens for the other candidates.

Mr. Tory wasn't the only candidate who faced tough questions at the debate. Evan Carter, a George Brown student who has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism, took Mr. Ford to task for comments he made earlier this year about a home for people with developmental disabilities having "ruined" a west-end community.

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"The fact that you reduced people like me to animals and common criminals is really insulting," Mr. Carter said, demanding an apology.

But instead, Mr. Ford accused the media of getting the story wrong. Citing his volunteer work with the Rotary Club, he said "The work we have done with all sorts of folks that may have disabilities – I've worked day in and day out to help people like yourself."

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