John Tory has put Rob Ford's behaviour front and centre in the race for Toronto mayor, calling his association with criminals and "gang-types" unacceptable for the leader of the city.
Mr. Tory took direct aim at the scandal that has engulfed the city's mayor during a debate Thursday, one day after he and other rivals for the job were criticized for skirting the topic in the campaign's inaugural faceoff.
Four of the leading candidates vying for the mayor's job – Mr. Tory, Karen Stintz, David Soknacki and Mr. Ford – met for the second night in a row, this time in a packed lecture hall at Ryerson University. The four contenders sat at the front of the class in armchairs, answering questions from students, and appeared to have shaken off the opening night jitters on display the day before. Olivia Chow declined the invitation. A spokesman for her campaign said she had a scheduling conflict and concerns about the "moderator's neutrality." The fourth-year law and business class is run by lawyer and conservative fundraiser Ralph Lean.
Unlike in the first debate, Mr. Tory did not mince words when it came to the controversy surrounding the mayor, who has admitted to smoking crack cocaine and is the subject of a police investigation. His friend Alessandro Lisi is facing drug and extortion charges in relation to the alleged crack video and the mayor's name came up repeatedly in wiretaps conducted during a related guns-and-gangs investigation.
"It is not acceptable to have a mayor who shows up late and sometimes doesn't show up at all," Mr. Tory said. "It's not acceptable to see the spectacle of a mayor who refuses to answer questions from citizens and from the media and most troubling and unacceptable of all, a mayor who has eventually admitted multiple and continuing relationships with convicted criminals and gang-types – the very people he has pledged to keep off our streets."
Mr. Ford, as in the first debate, did not stray from his talking points, outlining his fiscal record every time he was questioned on his conduct.
Asked by a student why he continues to act in a manner that attracts negative attention, Mr. Ford gave his now familiar response: "You know what, I'm not perfect," he said, drawing jeers. "Maybe everyone here is." He said he has a proven track record.
Mr. Lean later took on the topic noting Mr. Ford appeared "to hang out with drug dealers."
"I don't condone drug dealers. I don't condone crack cocaine. I don't condone that stuff. I condone being the best mayor the city has ever had," Mr. Ford responded.
His closing remarks were drowned out at one point by heckling, but Mr. Ford invited everyone to his campaign launch on April 17.
Members of Mr. Ford's city hall staff, who said they were volunteering at the event, handed out invitations to the kickoff. Mr. Ford said the youth vote would "put him over the top" in the Oct. 27 election.
Ms. Stintz tried to steer attention away from the mayor and his troubles, twice telling students the election was "not a referendum on Rob Ford," and urging them to consider the city they want for their future.
Mr. Soknacki urged students to "look beyond the celebrity, look beyond the names and look at what the substance is."