[I was on the fence about writing this up and posting it, however to the best of my knowledge no press were at the event last night. Twitter simply does not give me enough space to properly explain in detail what I was tweeting about last night, and I want to clarify some of my tweets about the meet the candidates event that happened last night in Etobicoke. I’ll try to keep this brief.]
Last night the Islington Ratepayers and Residents’ Association (IRRA) hosted a “meet the candidates” event at the Islington United Church for wards 3, 4, and 5. I was there to support my candidate of choice, Raymond Desilets, who is running in my ward, ward 5. Full disclosure: I’m working on his campaign (unpaid).
The event was certainly a unique set up, the three wards were brought together as the three make up the area the IRRA is based in. Also there certainly weren’t enough attendees from each individual ward to warrant a single event per ward (although ward 5 residents perhaps took up nearly half the audience). The candidates sat at tables in front of the audience and, with the guidance of the IRRA representative each candidate had roughly 2 minutes to introduce themselves to the crowd. Many candidates were cut off (I believe) prematurely, but I don’t think anyone was given preference over the others from any of the wards, I think it was just overwhelming to see 18 candidates from 3 different wards try to all say (except in the case of Ray Desilets and maybe 1 or 2 others form other wards) the same thing about keeping taxes low and finding efficiencies.
Prior to the event starting Ray had me look over his speech, it starts with a slight jab at the other candidates and he wanted to make sure it wasn’t too hostile. I told him it was fine, and the worst he’s saying is that some of the candidates don’t have any platform info on their websites, which is true.
Now, I need to point out that the dominating force for this race is Justin DiCiano, a local real estate executive. DiCiano ran last election as the Ford endorsed candidate against Peter Milczyn and lost by 109 votes. Rumors are abound in the ward about shady strategies from both the campaigns. This time around DiCiano is distancing himself from Ford by endorsing Tory (and getting his picture taken with him). DiCiano, unsurprisingly, is also trying to distance himself from him being a real estate executive, particularly his relation to Dunpar Developments who his brother is the owner of. (scroll down to see Julian Di Ciano listed as owner here) On the table designated for ward 5 candidate materials, DiCiano took up half the table with his five different pamphlets, which upon inspection were just glossy print outs of his websites “Issues” pages.
It was when Kinga Surma, the former assistant to Milczyn who was then fired for helping Doug Holyday beat Milczyn the first time in the provincial by-election, came to the end of her 2 minute introduction she took a jab directly at DiCiano and asked “And to my opponent Justin, how is it your so knowledgeable when it comes to development?” To be completely honest, this was a great jab. During the Rogers TV debate for our ward Ray had made a similar jab at DiCiano and quite frankly, we should have kept it up. As Surma returned to her seat the crowd went “Oooooo!” and the IRRA rep reminded everyone the event was not a debate.
The next stage of the event was the candidates had to answer a randomly assigned question, many of the candidates answered the same question and quite a few candidates used the opportunity to not answer the question but continue talking about their platform/hatred of taxes. To his credit, when DiCiano was asked what his thoughts on the Six Points road way was, he gave a sentence of relevance…but then went on to talk about his charity work.
It was after this questions from the audience would be taken. The IRRA rep made it clear the questions had to be directed at all the candidates from a ward and they would all be given equal time to answer. This is where things got gross. The first question was for ward 5 and was being posed by a woman I identified as a DiCiano supporter. She proceeded to state “This is a question for Kinga Surma, since you are so knowledgeable and good with numbers I was wondering if you could tell us what the city’s debt is including liabilities?” By the woman’s tone the question was obviously loaded, Surma calmly responded “Well, I don’t have the number in front of me-” and then was interrupted by the woman again, repeating the question over and over and frankly, getting quite nasty. (it was at this point I tweeted about the nasty question) The IRRA rep spoke over her mic insisting that all questions be directed to all the candidates and people in the crowd were starting to lose their patience with the woman who was now saying “Kinga, how can you not know the debt? If you spent so much time in city hall how do you not know the debt?”.
Finally the woman’s mic was removed and Surma responded with a typical conservative response about fiscal responsibility, she however handled the hostility quite well. The other candidates were then given a chance to comment on the city debt and none of them knew the specific number, they all also seemed a bit put off by how quickly this now 2 hour event turned hostile.
When DiCiano had his chance to answer the question he stood up and proudly said “The debt is 3.7 billion dollars including liabilities!” the crowd then laughed at this answer, as people in the front half of the audience had seen he’d been on his phone the entire time before it was his turn was was obviously checking Wikipedia. To those in the back (I was one of them) we couldn’t see him on his phone so our first assumption was that the entire exchange was rehearsed. (it was after the crowd had settled was when I tweeted my thoughts about DiCiano and his supporters behavior at this event)
After this the other two groups of candidates from wards 3 and 4 answered some tame questions and it was ward 5’s turn to be asked another question, this time a Surma campaign worker came to the mic and said “In my hand here I have the audit of Justin DiCiano from the last election…” it was at this point DiCiano made the perhaps the most fake and nervous laugh I have ever heard in my life. The Surma supporter kept his piece brief, and followed up talking about the audit by saying something along the lines of “As a candidate, how important is integrity to you?” Each of the candidates made a generic response, admittedly I wish I could have gotten to Ray and reminded him of the Integrity Commissioners increased work load recently (and even perhaps that DiCiano’s website front page used to feature a picture of him and Mammoliti). To be completely honest, DiCiano’s answer was so reflective and generic I don’t even remember what he said, but I do remember what one of the other candidates, Tony D’Aversa said.
D’Aversa took this opportunity to say he wasn’t concerned with DiCiano’s audit, and that you can be audited for anything including missing a few wooden stakes for your lawn signs. It was at this point me and one of the other attendees remarked to each other “Is D’Aversa trying to get him or DiCiano elected?” as surely D’Aversa is aware that DiCiano was investigated for things like paying for a campaign event with his charity’s money, not some missing pieces of wood.
After the other two wards answered questions the event ended and people either left or mingled. I had gone to the IRRA rep and thanked her for the event, and also mentioned that she did a great job handling the tension that came out of my ward. She then said that she was convinced the city debt question was a plant, and the others around us all agreed as well. As I was mingling and encouraging people to talk to Ray, I was asked if I knew what Surma’s jab was (and a few brought up that Ray had made a similar jab during the Rogers debate) I then brought up Dunpar and people responded with what I can only describe as unsurprised shock.
To be honest much of my original outrage has diminished, and part of me expected something like last night’s nastiness to happen. It was just so off-putting to see after such a pleasant and tame event had gone on for over an hour before that question was posed at Surma. Either way, I think if it was a plan by the DiCiano campaign the whole time it backfired, as many in the audience were unimpressed with the whole ordeal.
[much info about DiCiano’s audit, and his ties to Dunpar are hard to come by, however it would appear most people who are aware of them have seen the comment by “Roger B” on DiCiano’s Torontoist interview (where he talks about firing city staff)]