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Some better questions but mostly more of the same at the mayoral debate with the Agenda's Steve Paikin

In yet another example of the evolution of media, Tuesday's mayoral debate on The Agenda, hosted by Steve Paikin, was available for online streaming live, as it happened, five hours before the debate official start time of 8 p.m.

For political junkies lucky enough to have the day free to lounge on our computers (a.k.a me), it was an irresistible chance to get the jump on a debate that many hope will move beyond the repetition and cliche of former televised efforts.

"Rob Ford," Paikin began. "What attribute of George Smitherman's did you wish you had?"

"That's very, very hard," Rob Ford replied, genuinely struggling to come up with an answer. "We're completely different...I guess he wears nice suits."

"I'm going back to you one last time, because everyone else was pretty generous...in finding something positive they could say about the other guy," Paikin said. "I want to give you another chance."

Ford had nothing to add.

The rest of the candidates, as Paikin noted, did for the most part offer meaningful answers.

Then Rocco Rossi appropriately summed up the situation. "You can't [even] find some positive feature in other people. That's the key to building consensus...without that you cannot lead"

Tuesday's debate was only the latest installment, in what feels like, an endless series of debates. That's why Paikin, acknowledging their repetitive nature, asked Ford the odd question.

It's "to keep your interest," he explained to the candidates.

The debate got under way when Paikin pressed Ford on his plans to cut taxes. "If the city has a revenue problem, if the city has a fiscal stability problem, why cut the taxes that are going to deprive the city of the tens of millions of dollars that it needs to pay for programs?"

Ford gave his regular spiel about sole-sourced contracts and over budgeted city projects, and maintained that the vehicle registration and land-transfer taxes only make up 2 percent of revenues. "In the the private sector we have to find efficiencies of 10 to 15 percent every year," he added.

"If it's a billion dollars over four years that would be forgone by cutting those two taxes, where will you find that money or what services will you cut in exchange?" Paikin asked.

"I just explained," Ford responded. "You don't look at four years, you take it one year at a time." He repeated examples like the over budget Peter Street Shelter, and sole-sourced contracts as ways to make up the difference.

Then Smitherman took aim. "So far he's [Ford] getting away with this story of a billion dollars in revenue givebacks, without actually answering your [Paikin's] question, despite you asking it three times, about what service cuts are going to come."

Paikin brought up the number of phone calls Ford claims to take from constituents daily. "They've done the math, and they say that means you return 70 calls a day," Paikin pointed out.

Sarah Thomson could be seen laughing with pleasure during the exchange.

"Easy," Ford replied. "For example, for today, I'm up to 70 calls just coming into the studio."

Paikin then asked for everyone's greatest strength and weakness.

Ford said his greatest strength is being a "steadfast champion," citing his (supposed) leadership of the Woodbine Live project. And after some trouble getting him to speak about his weakness, he admitted "maybe I eat too much."

Joe Pantalone said his greatest strength was his ability to work with people and his biggest weakness was not "being the fiery speaker that sets the grass on fire just by being present."

Rossi said his greatest strength was "a record of consistent excellence." And when Paikin pressed him on his greatest weakness, Rossi took a stab at Ford instead. "I've never been arrested, so I guess I can't be a front-runner."

Eventually Rossi conceded "his impatience with getting things done."

Smitherman said experience was his greatest strength and "being patient enough" was his weakness.

Thomson said her "vision" and being able to build consensus were her best qualities, and making "decisions quickly" is her worst.

At another point of the debate, Ford found himself defending his comment that "Orientals work like dogs."

"It was the wrong terminology...and I apologized," he explained. "I meant it as a compliment...When I was brought up my Dad said 'work like a dog'...that means you're a hard worker."

Overall, with so many debates, it's hard to take much new out of this one. Paikin is, nevertheless, the best possible host for such a forum -- but with only 60 minutes his room to delve into details was small. What I'd like to see instead, if it were only possible, is an in depth one-on-one interview between Paikin and each of the candidates.


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