Mississauga Mayoral Race Heats Up
Never let anyone tell you that suburban municipal politics are boring.
Last night, Mississauga mayoral candidates Steven Mahoney, Bonnie Crombie, Kevin "Jackal" Johnston, Scott Chapman, Derek Ramkissoon and Steven King gathered in the RBC Theatre in the Living Arts Centre to duke it out regarding the importance (and future) of arts and culture in the city.
The debate, which was held by the Mississauga Arts Council and moderated by insauga.com's own Khaled Iwamura, was a relatively standard and benign affair until the candidates, used to responding to polite, direct questions posed by a panel of art experts and aficionados, were invited to ask each other some burning questions.
Here are some fireworks and more below:
Like I said, the debate began amicably enough with each candidate being asked to lay out his or her general platform and plans (and passion) for art in the city. At first, it seemed like the ultra-casual Scott Chapman would be the debate's wildcard, offering off-the-cuff remarks about basically liking Celebration Square and the city's close proximity to Toronto before injecting some surprisingly good ideas about additional historical signage and the need to bring more artists to the city (particularly his -- and our -- beloved Celebration Square).
Some of the less well-known candidates, such as Ramkissoon and King, kept the debate congenial with jokes and unfailingly polite, genteel responses.
Ramkissoon, a business owner and minister who works in prisons, shelters and senior's homes, kept his focus positive with pledges to invite less represented cultural groups participate in the city's art scene. He also talked about the need to bring a more vibrant art scene to overlooked neighbourhoods in the city.
King interestingly (and rightly) pointed out that the arts can be a hard sell to voters who see it as an elitist luxury. He mentioned the need to emphasize that government support of the arts actually helps low-income people access an important industry. That said, King also went on to say that some lofty ideas -- such as the formation of a standalone museum -- might not be fiscally feasible.
Kevin Johnston said that, as an artist, he would support the arts and hoped the Art Gallery of Mississauga could become a standalone facility.
Crombie said she hopes to ensure that artists can work in low-cost and underutilized spaces in the city, and also proposed -- quite genuinely and gleefully -- a Hazel McCallion museum (complete with bobbleheads) to draw tourists to the city.
When it came to a full arts platform, Mahoney's ideas were the most ambitious. He has proposed doubling the city's arts and culture budget by 2018, holding an annual mayor's summit on arts, culture and heritage and making a concerted effort to encourage art and cultural participation in Mississauga's own First Nations community -- a community, he said, that is too often overlooked in terms of cultural celebration. He also emphasized the return on investment that arts and culture spending can generate and said the amount of money Mississauga spends on the arts is a pittance compared to similarly sized cities such as Kitchener and Hamilton.
Now, in the spirit of the arts, here's a breakdown of the surprisingly dramatic sparks that flew as the candidates challenged each other.
Mahoney and Crombie, the two frontrunners, hotly debated one another. Crombie questioned Mahoney's lack of action on the arts in his many years as a city councillor, MPP and MP and Mahoney pointed out, to Crombie's disagreement, that no city councilors are currently supporting her mayoral bid.
Here's the exchange, word for word.
Mahoney: I have public support, in writing, from councillors in wards 2, 6, 8 (my wife), 9 (that was the toughest), and 10. I’ve also talked to councillors in wards 1, 4, 7 and 11 and they do not support you. The councillor in ward 3 has said she wishes to remain neutral.
Crombie: Steve, what you’re saying is completely untrue. There is an article being written about it tonight. Your wife supports you, she is leaving council. Your best friend supports you, and perhaps her two lifelong friends from 30 years ago when you were on council supports you, granted. All the other councillors are neutral, that’s what being stated in the article this evening. I have an excellent working relationship with everyone on council and I have build consensus with people on council.
The cities you quoted, they are raising taxes. They’re proposing billboard taxes, surface parking taxes and hotel taxes to raise to raise the money for the arts. I don’t want to do it at the cost of a surcharge or new taxes for our residents.
Crombie: When in fact not one member of council supports a current member of council they’ve worked with for two and a half years, I frankly think that sends a pretty interesting message. I’ve talked to them all. Name me a name, Ms. Crombie! One councillor who supports you publicly to be the next mayor, and I will stand corrected.
Mahoney: The difference I think, between the two of us (him and Bonnie), which many have said are the frontrunners in this campaign, with respect to the others who would probably disagree with that, is the fact that I have almost 10 years experience on city council, eight years at Queen’s Park and and seven years in Ottawa as a cabinet minister. I was elected as a liberal in both the provincial and federal legislatures, but I now believe that the job of a mayor should be non-partisan. The new political party for Steve Mahoney is the people of Mississauga. I will cast aside my partisan interests, I am no longer working on behalf of the liberals or against the conservatives. In fact, I can tell you that I have people from all parties and even political agnostics working in my campaign because they know I can build a consensus. I would ask Ms. Crombie if she’s prepared to cast aside her partisan interests as well.
Crombie: Let me tell you one thing. City councillors of Mississauga are not going to decide if I’m the next mayor of Mississauga. The residents of Mississauga are going to decide (applause). Of course I’m not partisan, I’m a municipal politician. I don’t know what are you, municipal, provincial or federal! You’re all over the map! You check my website, you will see that I have support from every single party and I have support from every single community group and every single cultural group and I have a representative from every single group and from every corner of this city and I’m very proud of that, and unlike you sir, I am not a career politician and I’m very proud of that too. I had a 20 year business career. I have worked for multinationals and fortune 500 companies and if you can’t run a company, sir, then you can’t run city hall, I’m really sorry. So don’t you give me lessons about who my support comes from. I know where my support comes from and it comes from the people of Mississauga. Thank you very much!
The exchange, though uncomfortably heated (and complete with raised voices), was a strong one. It's important to see passion and controversy in politics, especially in a city that hasn't had a truly serious election since, as Khaled pointed out, the release of Van Halen's Van Halen. Things got even more heated when Crombie, emboldened by her tough exchange with her chief opponent, turned her attentions to flamboyant candidate Johnston (complete with a peacock feather corsage that looked like it was pulled off an oversize Christmas wreath).
Johnston, a former DJ, standup comedian, salesman, and comic book artist, has an acrimonious relationship with both Crombie and Mahoney and is actually suing them for $5 million for allegedly excluding him from two debates. While Crombie initially challenged Johnston to state his qualifications for the race, the debate took an ugly turn when Mahoney demanded Johnston apologize to one of his junior staffers (Johnston claims she's actually Mahoney's manager) for allegedly illegally recording a phone conversation. He also mentioned Johnston taking photos on his doorstep at night.
The entire exchange is here:
Crombie: I would like to ask my question to Kevin Jackal Johnston. Sir, I would like to know, since you really don’t fit the profile of a mayoral candidate, not really having a lot of business experience, not really having any political experience, what drives you to run for this position sir, and please don’t give me philosophical reasons, I want to know what qualifications you bring to this job, that you feel you should be on stage at every single debate. That’s what you have been saying on Twitter, that you have been accusing Mr. Mahoney and myself of blocking you, which is completely untrue, but I want to know what qualifications you bring to the table that makes you fit to be the next mayor of Mississauga. What business skills do you have and what skills do you have in government.
Johnston: I had a feeling that was going to be the question. I have worked for three Fortune 500 companies, Hewlett Packard being my favourite. What do I bring to the table? Number 1 is marketing. I am a marketeer. I know how to bring people into venues. I know how to get people to pay attention to what I’m selling. When I’m mayor of the city, I’m going to be marketing the city of Mississauga to the outside world, and let’s leave arts out of it for a second here, I want to make sure that I’m bring fortune 500 companies here because I know how to talk to these people. I know everything to do with corporate people. I don’t hang around government people like yourselves because usually what’s happening is like what’s happening now in the courts. We have someone who doesn’t want me to be part of a debate, so these two right beside me here work together to get me turfed from not one, but two debates. So there you go. What you guys are doing is dirty tactics. I’m not interested in dirty tactics.
Steve, we had an argument recently. Natalie, your manager and I, had an argument.
Mahoney: She’s not my manager, Kevin.
Mahoney: He recorded a phone call illegally on her.
Johnston: Actually I did not record a phone call illegally.
Mahoney: She is a junior person in my campaign and you should apologize to her.
Johnston: Absolutely not.
Mahoney: You should apologize to her.
Johnston: She told me that it was not the city’s responsibility to take care of or feed families, well I think that it is. So if you want to talk about it, it’s compassion. I have compassion. That, and corporate experience. I’ll make sure that we have jobs here and that everybody is fed. Thank you.
Crowd yells to apologize.
Johnston: I’m sorry, apologize for what?
Mahoney: For secretly recording a phone conversation with a junior member of my campaign and (unintelligible) and then standing on my doorstep and taking a picture at night!
The moderator managed to regain control of the exchange after Crombie signaled to Mahoney to stop arguing with Johnston. When Johnston asked Crombie and Mahoney how "ugly" they planned to make things for one another during the campaign, both simply answered that they would fund the arts.
When the debate settled, most candidates agreed that the challenges facing the city's art scene are a lack of exposure, a lack of knowledge among residents about the city's artistic and heritage hotspots and a lack of world or even province-wide attention. On a positive note, Mahoney reminded people that friction is good and generates ideas, while Crombie promised creative spaces, public art, festivals and an archive. All other candidates praised the city's uniquely diverse landscape and pledged to, if elected, support art and artists as best they can.
Catch it on RogersTV again on:
Saturday, Sept.13th 7pm
Saturday, Oct. 4th 4pm
Sunday, Oct. 5th 5pm
Wednesday, Oct. 8th 4am
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