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RECAP: Highlights from the Mississauga mayoral debate

With less than two weeks until Mississauga residents head to the poll, some of the leading mayoral candidates faced off in a debate Wednesday night and made their pitch to voters.

The debate was hosted by United Way Greater Toronto, Sheridan College, The Mississauga Board of Trade and The Metamorphosis Network.

The 90-minute debate took place at Sheridan College’s Hazel McCallion Campus at 7 p.m. and was moderated by broadcaster Angie Seth.

Mayoral candidates who have been polling at five per cent or above were invited to participate in the debate.

This included Alvin Tedjo, Brian Crombie, Dipika Damerla, Stephen Dasko, and George Tavares. Frontrunner Carolyn Parrish was invited, but did not attend.

The election was triggered when former mayor Bonnie Crombie stepped down from the top job to become leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.

So far turnout at advance voting is up 42 per cent compared to the last election. While Carolyn Parrish started off the race with a large lead, that gap has narrowed in the final weeks of the election.

Here are some of the highlights from the debate.

CANDIDATES ON WHY THEY ARE THE RIGHT PERSON TO LEAD

Damerla says her experience as a small business owner, a former provincial MPP, and a city councillor has prepared her to lead the city.

“I’m running to tackle crime and keep our property taxes affordable. My commitment is a hard no to any new class of taxes,” she says before attacking Parrish, who she noted is musing about bringing in a new municipal land transfer tax.

“I’ll bring a practical approach and lean into new ideas to ensure our city remains livable and affordable, even as we grow.”

Tedjo says he is an advocate for families and students, and he will make sure that residents have a liveable community and the best access to education.

“I’ve been fighting for that. And I’ve been fighting for our neighbours and our family and our friends to make sure that we have the most affordable city and the most livable city in Canada,” he says.

Meanwhile, Dasko says he will take a common-sense approach to solving problems and building things.

“I have a proven track record of getting things done. And one of the big things that I do is I listen. I think that’s one of the most important qualities that we could have in somebody that’s going to lead us forward as a City of Mississauga,” Dasko says.

Crombie says his 40 years of business experience will help him lead Mississauga. “Given what has already been described, you wouldn’t be promoting someone to the senior job if they’ve shepherd over the disaster that we’ve got right now,” he says, referring to the current councillors who are running for mayor.

“You need a business person to get in and understand what’s going on.”

Tavares says he has worked with every level of government in Canada, the U.S. and around the world, which makes him the best choice to lead the city. “I’m the person that brought that is brought in to fix multi-million dollar projects on the brink of failure,” he says. “In the world of business, if you want change, you can’t hire within and expect positive results. It doesn’t happen. You need change.”

CANDIDATES ON THEIR TRANSPORTATION/TRANSIT PLAN

Damerla says the city is intensifying without building transit, and “that is wrong.”

“We are removing car lanes without giving people more transit options. That is wrong. And so I have put forward a practical proposal. The practical proposal is we don’t take car lanes away without providing drivers with real transit alternatives and the second is we need to have greater ambition when it comes to building out our transit,” she says.

Tedjo wants to rectify the city’s mistake of declining an offer to extend the TTC subway to Mississauga.

“We needed to find a way to undo that mistake and work with the government to find ways to fund more rapid transit across the City of Mississauga. But we need to have that connection,” he says. “And then we need to build a minimum viable network of bus rapid transit across the city and Mississauga.” Tedjo also wants to add a viable network of cycling and multi-use trails.

Dasko says the city needs world-class transit as the next step in its trans formation. For him, the downtown loop makes no sense if there is no east-west fixed. He says there should be a bus rapid transit along Dundas to connect Kipling Station to the Hurontario LRT.

Crombie says the “most transformational thing” that could happen in Mississauga is an all-day to two-way GO frequent service on the Milton, Mississauga line. Unlike buses and LRTS, GO trains can accommodate more people, he says, “that’s the kind of service that we need.”

Tavares says he will combine the existing transit system and bus management system to create a virtual bus transit system.

CANDIDATES ASK WHERE THE FRONTRUNNER IS

Candidates are given time to ask each other questions.

Damerla asks Tedjo if he would introduce the new municipal land transfer tax. He says no.

“I said so on a number of occasions over the last several years. We’ve been talking about how do we freeze taxes. I’ve been talking about how we freeze taxes, and I’m the only candidate talking about that because of how important I believe it is to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to help the people in this city, living in a more affordable city,” Tedjo says.

Tedjo directs his question to Parrish, who is not in attendance.

“Carolyn Parrish, I believe, owes the people of Mississauga an explanation. This job of mayor is not one you can do in retirement, on the side of your desk,” he says. “This is incredibly important. We have 800,000 people here who deserve to know what your plans are, who deserve to be able to ask you questions, and an absentee candidate and an absentee mayor is completely unacceptable for our city.”

He then asks Damerla why she believes raising taxes is important. Damerla says she will keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation. “Yes, there’s an affordability crisis. But the city has its obligations.”

Dasko also uses his time to ask where Parrish is. “We want to see a leader that is in the City of Mississauga that’s going to build communities that’s going to represent communities. And you can only do that by showing up and being out visible in the community. I have a track record of doing that,” he says. “So I ask where and when will we see Carolyn Parrish coming forward to be the mayor that she says that she wants to be because we don’t see that right now.”

CANDIDATES ON ADDRESSING AFFORDABILITY

A student from Sheridan College asks how they are going to address affordability to ensure graduates stay in Mississauga and thrive here.

Damerla says it’s her number one priority and provides her housing plan, which includes waiving development charges, approving modular construction, and speeding up approvals.

“One thing we must not do is bring in new taxes, like the municipal land transfer tax, because that will just add thousands and thousands of dollars to the cost of a house,” she says.

Tedjo says Mississauga has become one of the most unaffordable cities, “and it’s getting worse before it’s getting better.”

“We need to do much more; we need to change course in terms of what we’re doing here, the City of Mississauga, in terms of how we approach and approve housing, how do we approach and approve more transit projects,” he says, noting that approving affordable housing along transit lines is how Mississauga can build more.

Dasko says Mississauga should build more affordable rental units to give graduating students a foothold in the market. The city, he says, should also support services to help graduates find employment opportunities. “These are things that we need to do to give people hope to let them know that young people, this is your home as much as anybody else and your opportunities are the sky’s the limit.”

Crombie says Mississauga needs to do three things to help new graduates amid the affordability crisis: a “dramatic” increase in housing, “dramatic” improvement in transit, and high-paying jobs. “We’ve got to develop those great jobs so that all those people can go to those jobs and pay their mortgage,” he says.

For Tavares, there should be a student first-time homebuyers program. “If we want to keep them in our city, we need to keep them,” he says. The city also needs to hold the property tax at a “reasonable level,” Tavares says.

CANDIDATES ON THEIR VISION FOR MISSISSAUGA

In their own words, candidates answer this question: What is the vision of a Mississauga we want to share with Ontario, Canada and the world? How does City Hall meet the moment and make sure that the next version of our city is a Mississauga for everyone?

Damerla: “As we look at the next 50 years, this is a pivotal election, and you have a clear choice in this race between Carolyn Parrish and me, and we couldn’t be more different. I will build an inclusive Mississauga. I said this earlier and I’m gonna say this again. You know, when I moved to Canada, I really came here with big dreams and really no plan, but this unshakable belief that this country would come through for me, and I want that for everybody, for all the young people here for my daughter and for your children.

“And so what I want to build is a Mississauga brimming with opportunity for people to get ahead because I believe that the best cities, the greatest cities, are not the ones with the tallest buildings or the best museums. There are cities where ordinary people believe that they can work hard and build a better life for themselves and their children. And that’s my aspiration for Mississauga. That’s why I’m running to be mayor on June 10.”

Tedjo: “This is an incredibly important election. Where we have an opportunity to change the direction of the future of our city. We are talking about building the future. We’re talking about families who are living in a city who can’t afford to stay in the city right now, about seniors who need to leave because they can’t afford the property taxes for families that can’t find the space to grow. We’re losing jobs, we’re losing those people. But we have hope, because I’m ambitious for our city. Because I love this city.

“I want to do everything we can to make sure that our seniors can continue to live in this community to make sure that my kids have a place to live, to make sure that we make this most affordable, the most livable, the most walkable community that we’ve seen in Canada. We can do that. We deserve that. We deserve these good things for our community because it’s ours. And I’ve lived here my entire life. And I want to see that for you. And I want to see that for all of us. So take that vote to heart and understand the choice that you’re going to make on June 10. And I asked for it.”

Dasko: “I want a city with a world-class waterfront, a world-class downtown. These are right within our grasp right now. Same thing when we have our transit. This is what we’re really looking to do to move forward, to have a city that’s fiscally responsible, that’s sustainable, and one that’s going to have more opportunities for everybody and to have an arts and culture that would really get ourselves put on the world map. This is an opportunity to be an inclusive city and to one that really forge our future together and go forward. We’re not living as a bedroom community anymore. We’re becoming more of a cosmopolitan city, an inclusive city and one that’s gotten identity around the world. Here’s our opportunity to do it. This is what June 10 is coming into. It’s our next chapter of who we are as a City of Mississauga. And I ask on June 10, that you vote for me Stephen Dasko to be our next mayor of Mississauga to lead us all forward together.”

Crombie: “I have news for Councillor Damerla. The election campaign is not over yet. There’s still two weeks to go. I’ve only heard this comment once before that was 2011. Michael Ignatieff said it is between me and Stephen Harper, and you know what happened? He went down to the biggest defeat the Liberal Party has ever suffered. And Jack Layton jumped on top and formed the official opposition. So you know, beware. In 2010, two weeks before Election Day, (former Calgary mayor Naheed) Nenshi, I think one of the most transformative, transformational mayors in Canadian history, was at 8 per cent in the polls. Two weeks later, he won, and the existing councillors that said you’re not invited to debate, you’re not allowed to come actually went down. He was in third place at 8 per cent and he won two weeks later. I gotta tell you, in September of 2014, the candidates for (Mississauga) mayor were neck and neck, and Mayor Hazel McCallion heard that there was a debate that she thought was undemocratic. She got upset. She flew back from Brazil. She called me three times on a Friday. That Friday night, she was so incensed that it was undemocratic that she went and endorsed one candidate and that candidate won by 30 percent…Carolyn Parrish not showing up is wrong. And Dipika saying she’s the only candidate that can win is wrong.”

Tavares: “For the next 50 years, I think Mississauga will be in a position where we’ll have great transit. It’ll be on time, fast, with great technology to keep going. I think we’re gonna have less traffic, better options – whether you want to bike, walk, drive, micromobility whatever you like. There will be environmental sustainability with dog parks, permeable driveways, more parks, more green space, and the most important thing that we’ll have is we’ll have hope. We’ll have hope, but that comes to this moment right here…The next 50 years of Mississauga will be determined by the mayor, the mayor that we are going to determine is one of us now… So, please go to mississaugavotes.ca. Double-check everyone that’s there. They might not be your same ideology, might not be your same ideas, you might not even agree with all of them, but they have a right to be heard. So, at the very least, spend the time. Double check everybody.”

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS

Is there a scenario in which you would use the strong mayor power to pass a bylaw with less than a majority of city council support?

Damerla, Dasko and Tavares say no. Tedjo says yes. Crombie says, “Referendum.”

Car, bike, walk transit: in one word, how do you personally most often travel to work?

All the candidates say they use a car.

Sum up what you would love about Mississauga in six words or less

Damerla: Diversity. The world lives here and it’s so green and it’s so livable.

Tedjo: Great place to raise kids.

Dasko: Diversity, opportunity, incredible people and really a bright future.

Crombie: Waterfront, parks, great business opportunities and wonderful friends.

Tavares: A parade for the Toronto Maple Leafs down along Dundas Street after winning the Stanley Cup.

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