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Debate recap: Lekan Olawoye offers a "respectable voice" for Ward 12

I’ll be honest. I didn’t expect the Ward 12 candidates debate on Rogers TV to be so emotional.

Coun. Frank Di Giorgio, the incumbent, set the tone as he seemed on the verge of tears as he gave his opening statement. “There are two things that I wish to say to residents,” he said, his voice cracking, “I am running for re-election because I believe that…” He trailed off. There was then a long, awkward silence as Di Giorgio tried to compose himself.

He eventually hit his talking points, pointing to his time serving the community and his record as Mayor Rob Ford’s budget chief, but Di Giorgio’s message was delivered with a side order of defensiveness throughout the debate. “Real, meaningful, transformational change requires time,” he told viewers. It’s a fair point, but, setting aside a brief three-year hiatus post-amalgamation, Di Giorgio has represented the area since 1985. That would seem like a lot of time.

Joining Di Giorgio on stage were three challengers. Nick Dominelli also challenged Di Giorgio in 2010, losing by just 422 votes. Lekan Olawoye is best known for his work as executive director of the For Youth Initiative. And John Nunziata is a political veteran and lobbyist who seemingly decided to run for council on a whim after he happened to be in the city hall elections office at the same time Doug Ford was registering to run for mayor.

Nunziata and Olawoye provided the debate’s other dose of emotion, as Nunziata repeatedly accused his opponent of being a “union boy” after Olawoye talked about the community benefits agreement he’d helped push for as part of the Eglinton LRT construction.

Later, after Olawoye spoke about the lack of job opportunities for youth in ward 12, pointing out that the summer jobs offered through the For Youth Initiative receive hundreds more applications than there are available positions, Nunziata demanded that Olawoye “stop being so negative about our community.”

Dominelli, meanwhile, did a good job of poking holes in the incumbent’s record. After Dominelli said one of his ideas was to extend Ingram Road, Di Giorgio noted he’d been working on that project for a decade. When Dominelli pointed to the lack of progress, Di Giorgio again went back to his defensive line. “Oh, give me a break! Give be a break!” he said loudly. “I told you, transformational change takes time!”

Di Giorgio’s best moment came during a discussion of whether to reduce the size of city council. Instead of expressly endorsing that view — as Nunziata did — Di Giorgio talked about the need for the creation of at-large positions on city council, suggesting that community council areas like Scarborough or North York should elect two councillors responsible for those larger geographic areas. “You resurrect this notion of a board of control — people who have the broader city interests in mind,” he said.

Di Giorgio’s challengers had no shortage of their own ideas to improve Ward 12. Dominelli, who also impressed with his knowledge of city hall and his progressive views on policing, suggested the city should have a Bank of Toronto. Nunziata touted his belief that new regulations requiring taxicabs to be accessible will eliminate the need for the city to spend $100-million every year on WheelTrans. And Olawoye talked about improving service on the local bus routes, as well as wringing more local benefits from the multi-billion Eglinton LRT project.

Probably the most telling moment of the debate came toward the end, after Nunziata mused about the need for a bigger convention centre and a “magnificent vision” for Ontario Place, projects that don’t have a whole lot to do with Ward 12. “We need strong voices,” said Nunziata. “My voice is strong. My voice is heard.”

“We also need a respectable voice,” said Olawoye.

For more on the candidates running in Ward 12 check out the Position Primer, a project by Women in Toronto Politics.

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