ArtsVote hosted its mayoral debate today, and in contrast to past debates this debate was a breath of fresh air. The conversation was civil and smart—for that special praise must be given to Damian Abraham who did an excellent job of keeping all the candidates on track and civil to one another.
The first shots were fired by 19-year-old candidate Morgan Baskin when she pointed out that over the past four years Doug Ford had voted against several arts organizations, including TIFF and the National Ballet. For his part, Ford stated that he had voted in favour of giving TIFF a property tax exemption. He then went on to talk about the trip he and his brother took to build a relationship with Austin and how they’ve tried to bring a SXSW-like festival to Toronto.
The theme of bringing an outdoor music festival to rival Austin City Limits and South By Southwest became a common refrain throughout the debate, and it was one that was taken up most of the candidates. However, it took Baskin to point out that Toronto already has a notable city-wide festival in NXNE. She then went on to say that she thought it was important that the city continue to invest in the arts infrastructure it already has rather than investing in something like a new music festival.
Goldkind joined Baskin in saying that Toronto already has a growing outdoor music festival. “Austin should be copying us,” he said. “Not everything is about dollar and cents. You don’t legitimize art by saying how much revenue it generates.” Goldkind had several good points throughout the debate, but he ended up spending most of the debate needlessly wrangling with Abraham and failing in his attempts to provoke Ford.
Despite appearing not to be as well-versed as the other candidates with the city’s current art initiatives, Tory did suggest several ways the future mayor could better support the city’s art community. For instance, he talked about the need to ensure arts organizations have funding over multiple years, and how he would try to rework the tax incentives that encourage property owners to keep storefronts empty to instead incentivize them to allow artists to use their space.
It was Chow who seemed most at home talking about the arts. She talked about the Remix Project and Artscape Shaw St initiative, and it seemed here was a debate that Chow could gain some much needed ground on Tory and Ford.
When the candidates were asked to describe the most transformative art experience they’ve experienced, Ford seemed a bit lost. Earlier in the debate he had told the audience how he had donated $5000 to help with the painting of a mural in Rexdale, and he returned to that mural in his response to the question. However, he was unable to describe how the experience had transformed him; instead, he tried to weakly play it off for political gain. In fact, through much of the debate he seemed lacking much of the fire that characterized his debate debut.
In fact, what characterized this debate was how civil and thoughtful it was right through to the end, and then Chow made a serious misplay. During her closing remarks she told the audience that she had drawn some “art” herself. She then pulled out a doodle of Tory’s SmartTrack proposal and invited the audience to draw flying trains. It was a disappointing move for a candidate that had handled herself so well throughout the debate and clearly had the strongest arts background. Metro‘s Matt Elliott caught a snap of the doodle and shared it on his Twitter account.
It was a disappointing end to what had otherwise been one of the most thoughtful forums this mayoral race has seen.