Mayoral debate at the AGO

Mayoral candidates: James Di Fiore, Rob Ford, Joe Pantalone, Rocco Rossi, and George Smitherman. Meg Banks

Andrew Ardizzi
Senior Reporter

Toronto’s mayoral hopefuls pledged support for the arts at the Arts Gallery of Ontario debate Wednesday night.

Under the watchful eye of hundreds of the city’s artisans, candidates debated issues on funding and public access.

Many of the candidates agreed, a partnership between the arts community and the private sector is essential.

“We must get the private sector involved,” said mayoral hopeful Rob Ford.

Ford said city funds can’t be expected to fund the arts, and should look towards private sector investment through fundraisers to encourage the arts across the city.

James Di Fiore, another mayoral hopeful, concurred.

He said the private sector and the art sector need to work together to increase funding for artists per capita, adding Toronto artisans are dramatically underfunded.

“Toronto severely lags behind other North American cities in funding for arts programs,” said Claire Hopkinson, executive director of Toronto Arts Council. “To meet its potential, Toronto must substantially increase its financial and strategic commitment to the arts.”

Mayoralty candidates Rocco Rossi and Joe Pantalone agreed, pledging to increase funding per capita from $18 to $25 per person, eventually reaching $33 to match Montreal’s funding within the next four years.

Culture is key to economic development, and artists should be part of our pitch to the world, said Rossi.

Smitherman said, artists should be sent internationally to promote the city.

‘They animate the soul of the city,” he said.

Smitherman said, if elected, he’d bring back the Mayoral Arts Gala, because events and festivals help liven the city and provide the public with access to the city’s many cultures.

Ford said the city should use its property to display artists’ work, saying the city should use the facilities already available and utilize them.

The debate closed with final statements by candidates.

Councillor Pantalone animated in his criticism of his opponents’ planned cuts.

“I think they’re all mini-Mike Harris’ quite frankly,” he said. “We have to grow the city, not diminish it.”

Ford championed his record on council and his capacity to run a city this size as reason enough to support him.

Smitherman said simply arts add to the wealth of the city.

Rossi said a new perspective was needed at city hall, that bridges should be built to the arts community, not stopped.

Di Fiore said he believed young people needed to get re-engaged in politics.

His intent was to engage 18-35 year olds, of which only 18 per cent voted in the last mayoral election.

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