The newest big-name contender in Toronto's mayoral race wasn't on the debate stage Sunday, but Doug Ford was at the centre of his main rivals' attacks.
Often at his brother's side during Rob Ford's turbulent tenure as mayor, Mr. Ford, 49, entered the heated competition at the last minute Friday, after his younger brother was admitted to hospital with an abdominal tumour and abandoned his re-election bid.
Mr. Ford, an Etobicoke councillor since 2010, did not participate in the debate. Nor will he take part in any events Monday, said spokesman Jeff Silverstein. "Stay tuned," Mr. Ford told journalists when asked Sunday what would be in his platform. "We'll see over the next coming weeks. I have other things I have to address right now with Rob."
With six weeks to go before the Oct. 27 municipal vote, the dynamics of the contest for the city's top political job have changed. For candidates John Tory and Olivia Chow, the debate strategy Sunday included linking the pugnacious Mr. Ford to his brother's controversial record as mayor.
"We have four years of the Ford brothers doing a lot of damage to this city," Ms. Chow charged in front of an audience of several hundred Torontonians.
Mr. Tory contended it was time to change the channel at city hall and improve relations with the provincial and federal governments. Instead of speaking specifically about Rob or Doug Ford, Mr. Tory on Sunday repeatedly used a new phrase, "the Ford era," to portray the new mayoral candidate as cut from the same cloth as his brother.
"We can't afford four more years of the same," he told the crowd. "We have to bring a breath of fresh air to city hall. The Ford era has to come to an end."
Sunday's debate, which included candidate Ari Goldkind, was the first since Rob dropped out of the mayoral race. A biopsy has been done to determine whether his abdominal tumour is malignant or benign. The results are expected this week.
During the debate, Ms. Chow, recently an NDP MP, directed several attacks at Mr. Tory, a former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives. She criticized his transit-funding plan, contending it was vague and a "slippery track to nowhere."
Afterward, she played down Doug Ford's entrance into the race, renewing her attacks on Mr. Tory and his transit plans.
"I don't think there will be a lot of impact on the race," she said of Mr. Ford's candidacy before shifting her focus to Mr. Tory, comparing his transit-funding proposals to those of the Fords.
Mr. Tory appears to be the front-runner as the mayoral contest shifts into its final weeks, according to two snap opinion polls conducted Friday after Rob bowed out.
Mr. Tory garnered 41 per cent support in a Forum Research survey of 1,228 Torontonians and 45 per cent in a Mainstreet Technologies poll of 1,054 people.
Support for Ms. Chow and Doug Ford varied widely in the two polls. The Forum survey, done for the Toronto Star, had Ms. Chow in third at 19 per cent, while the Mainstreet poll had the former NDP MP in second at 27 per cent.
Mr. Ford netted 34-per-cent support in the Forum poll and 16 per cent in Mainstreet's opinion snapshot.
Both polls were conducted by interactive voice response and have a margin of error of about 3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Mr. Tory repeatedly took aim again at "the Ford era" when he met with volunteers at his campaign headquarters after the debate.
"Since brother Doug, mouthpiece, fellow ringmaster, has put his name on the ballot … I think it's also fair we should examine what he is going to bring to city hall should he get elected mayor," Mr. Tory told dozens of campaign canvassers.
"Ladies and gentleman, a Ford is a Ford. Have you driven one lately?"
The canvassers were on their way to knock on doors in Ms. Chow's stronghold of Trinity-Spadina.
"We're going directly into Olivia Chow territory. Half the ward will be hers. We want the other half," the campaign's director of operations, Kevin Gallagher, told the volunteers.
Mr. Ford, who didn't campaign Sunday, was seen entering Mount Sinai Hospital in the afternoon to visit his brother.
"He's in a little bit of pain. It's tough for everyone right now," Mr. Ford said.
With a report from Elizabeth Church