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Toronto Mayoral candidate George Smitherman

Della Rollins/The Globe and Mail/Della Rollins/The Globe and Mail

George Smitherman won Wednesday's CARP debate, according to a snap survey taken after a mayoral forum hosted by the seniors' advocacy group.

Eighteen per cent of the more than 300 people in the audience at Ryerson University said before the event that they would vote for the former deputy premier. An hour and a half later, 43 per cent indicated they would cast a ballot for him, a spike that followed one of Mr. Smitherman's strongest performances yet.

Although he's known as a slick debater from his Queen's Park days, Mr. Smitherman has had trouble scoring rhetorical points against his chief opponent, Rob Ford.

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On Wednesday, he challenged Mr. Ford's record about a service dear to seniors: sidewalk snowplowing.

Mr. Smitherman accused the Etobicoke councillor of trying to gut the budgets for plowing and the 311 service line.

"Well, No. 1, Mr. Smitherman is just not accurate with what he's saying," Mr. Ford replied, before trying to switch the topic. Moderator Susan Eng interrupted and pressed him on snowplowing. "If you want to talk specifically about the snow-clearing, a lot of people said, 'Rob, we don't want the little dead-end streets snowplowed. We can do it ourselves.' "

Mr. Smitherman whipped out a piece of paper and read out a motion Mr. Ford had proposed during the council budget debate in 2007, calling for sidewalk plowing to be eliminated city-wide for a savings of more than $13-million.

"Now the good news," Mr. Smitherman said, "is that that vote was defeated 34-8. It certainly wasn't as he described it just now."

Mr. Ford dropped from 8-per-cent support at the beginning of the debate to 7 per cent afterward. Rocco Rossi picked up support, growing to 23 per cent from 17 per cent, while Joe Pantalone and Sarah Thomson lost ground.

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