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Rob Ford aiming to ‘stay on message’ in tonight’s debate

Mayor Rob Ford, right, laughs with his brother and campaign manager Doug Ford, left, during a commercial break as Rob Ford takes part in a live television mayoral debate in Toronto on Wednesday, March 26.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Rob Ford's goal in tonight's mayoral debate will be to "stay focused, stay on message," says his brother, Councillor Doug Ford – the day after the mayor earned praise for his performance in the first major televised debate.

Councillor Ford spoke with reporters Thursday morning after his brother delivered a confident performance in Wednesday night's CityNews debate – managing to deflect most of the talk of the drug scandal that has plagued the last year of his mayoralty. But the councillor said the mayor's mind is already on the next debate, which takes place Thursday night at Ryerson University.

"It's going to be interesting, with 360 students," said Councillor Ford, who is also serving as his brother's campaign manager. "That's a whole new demographic that supports Rob that wasn't 100 per cent there last time. I feel that's a whole new group – the under 25 group. Rob seems to appeal to them."

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Councillor Ford said his advice to his brother for tonight's debate will be the same as last night: "Stay on message. Stay on your record. Stay focused." But he predicted his brother wouldn't need much help. "I'm first to admit, sometimes I underestimate my own brother. He knows his stuff 10 times better than I know it down here."

The nearly 90-minute face-off Wednesday had the five leading candidates – Karen Stintz, John Tory, Olivia Chow, David Soknacki and the mayor – at several points in free-for-all sessions, leaving them speaking on top of one another and fighting for air time.

And though the other candidates, including Ms. Chow, managed to land a few jabs at the mayor (describing his mayoralty as a "circus" and telling him "you're embarrassing our city") – he managed to emerge unscathed. The debate focused on transit, leadership and finances, and it took over an hour before the words "crack cocaine" were even mentioned, and only because of a CityNews journalist who brought it up.

But not everyone was a fan of the mayor's Wednesday night performance.

"His ability to lie is just unchallenged," said Councillor Adam Vaughan Thursday.

"The claim that he did well is like saying that the person who took the taxicab in the middle of the marathon won because he crossed the finish line first. If you lie, you cheat. And if you lie in the middle of a debate, you're cheating."

In particular, Mr. Vaughan took issue with the mayor's oft-cited, but debunked claim to having saved $1-billion for the city, which he repeated Wednesday night.

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The mayor also claimed in the debate to have never made cuts to the TTC – despite a 10 percent budget cut in 2012 – and said inaccurately that there hasn't been a single labour strike during his mayoralty.

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