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From left to right, candidates Olivia Chow, Doug Ford and John Tory laugh following the final TV debate Thursday.

Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

Almost seven months to the day they first faced off, the leading mayoral contenders have come full circle, participating in their final debate ahead of Monday's election.

But though some things looked the same as that first debate – the same CityNews studio, setup and podiums – the race itself has changed dramatically. Where there were five candidates in March, there are now three. And one Ford has replaced another – with Doug now running instead of Rob. And, while Olivia Chow entered the race as the front-runner, John Tory now looks like the one to beat.

Thursday night's event – which comes after more than 50 debates, also signals that the gruelling 10-month race is inching toward an end. On Monday, the daily grind of campaign events, announcements and canvassing will be over as Toronto voters take to the polling stations to choose the city's next mayor.

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But for Ms. Chow and Mr. Ford, Thursday night was another opportunity to narrow Mr. Tory's lead.

"People are making up their decision over the weekend. Some people make their decision even walking to the polling station," said Ms. Chow.

During the debate, she appealed directly to her supporters, invoking her late husband, Jack Layton, and urging them against strategic voting based on an anyone-but-Ford mentality.

"I love this city. I've built my life here. I've loved here, and I've lost here," she said. "If there's one thing I've learned from Jack, is that hope is better than fear. Vote based on hope, not fear."

For several months now, Mr. Tory has held a comfortable lead in the majority of polls, and earlier this week, a Forum Research poll showed Mr. Tory leading with 43 per cent, 14 points over Mr. Ford at 29 per cent, with Ms. Chow in third at 25 per cent. As a result, both Mr. Ford and Ms. Chow spent much of the night attacking the front-runner.

"I have nine different funding mechanisms; Mr. Tory has one that doesn't work," Mr. Ford said about Mr. Tory's transit-funding plan.

"You have no plan B, you have no risk assessment," Ms. Chow said to Mr. Tory on his $8-billion SmartTrack proposal funded, in part, by borrowing based on future development. "You can't just take confidence to the bank. It doesn't work."

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But Mr. Tory shot back, accusing Mr. Ford of having an "attendance problem" at council, and claiming that Ms. Chow's plan to reopen the Scarborough subway debate would cause "further delays" in building new transit.

After the debate, Mr. Ford was asked about a comment he made this week to Bloomberg News saying he'd continue to seek to build a casino and Ferris wheel along Toronto's waterfront if elected – an idea he tried, but failed, to put in motion at council several years ago.

But on Thursday night, Mr. Ford backtracked from that comment. "No, that's not my highest priority," he said. Both Mr. Tory and Ms. Chow, meanwhile, both said they would be against building either on the waterfront.

All three candidates appeared relatively relaxed during Thursday's debate, cracking jokes, and even smiling – another sign the race is nearing an end. "If it sounds like a Doug, walks like a Doug, it must be a Doug," Ms. Chow quipped at one point. "We're all going for drinks after," Mr. Ford added later.

When asked about his predictions going into Monday's election, a confident-looking Mr. Tory refused to speculate.

"They'll vote on Monday, and we'll see what the results are some time after eight," he said. "They'll be what they are."

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