By TOM GODFREY
One has to admire the determination of mayoral candidate Dionne Renee for not wanting to give up a seat at a debate that was left vacant by Doug Ford in North York last week.
Renee, who is described as a fringe candidate, had her microphone turned off and was escorted from the stage at York Woods Public Library, in the heart of the Jane and Finch community.
Front-runner John Tory, along with Olivia Chow, sat confused as organizers of the event allowed Renee to speak for a minute before she was shown the door.
Ford had refused to take part because up-and-comer Ari Goldkind was on the panel.
“I am the only person from the Black community here and I should be allowed to speak,” Renee told a packed auditorium. “This is not an inclusive debate because there are no Blacks at the table.”
She had a point in that the forum was being held in the Jane and Finch area, a home for many Blacks, and yet without one fielding questions. Other organizers had allowed their favourite candidate to take part in debates. About 60 candidates are competing for the Mayor’s Office.
“There is nobody here speaking on behalf of the community and we have to make sure that we are represented on election day,” Renee said as she was led off.
This was not the first time the dancer has been hauled off a stage for trying to participate. She also had to be removed last month in a debate that was sponsored by Film Ontario.
Also known on her website as “Powerhouse” and “Loca de Jamaica”, Renee is an entertainer who gained some recognition as a dancer for the Miami Heat NBA team from 2007 to 2009.
Her website says she has performed on music videos with top artists, including Sean Paul, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, The Dream, Kevin Lyttle, Snoop Dogg, Shakira and Usher.
Renee is a legitimate candidate and should have been given her say, as Goldkind was; and he is not even polling in the double digits as the top three.
I have attended many of the debates and they always come down to being a popularity contest with the leading candidates packing the halls with vocal supporters, who try to drown out the competition.
Many of the debates are also filled with residents, many who seem to have already made up their minds on who they are voting for.
Maybe Doug Ford is right and perhaps some of the many mayoral hopefuls can take turns debating the main three contenders.
Chow in most of the debates is seated between a bickering Ford and Tory, who often shout or try to intimidate each other. Chow has good debating skills, but her message is getting lost between Ford’s calls for subways and Tory’s SmartTrack plan.
She has held her own against the men, to give her credit. The former councillor and MP also has had to endure many racist taunts and threats that she continues to receive online and in person, with some rednecks wanting her to “go back to China”.
It does not help that her handlers are running a conservative, super-safe campaign that can backfire or hinder her efforts. Chow is well-known and has a history in this city for her social and charity works, which is not being fully exploited in the campaign.
Still, you have to wonder just how effective these debates are.
I attended a packed meeting last week in which 10 candidates were competing for the position of councillor for Ward 6.
The candidates only spoke for about six minutes in total during the debate, since each of them had a minute to answer a question before the microphone was passed on. They were only able to say a few sentences before their time was cut.
And with days left until election day on October 27, residents can see the increased activity of candidate signs on lawns and hear the electoral rhetoric heating up and promises starting to flow.
Don’t be fooled by the empty promises. Conduct some research and vote for a candidate who will best serve you, rather than one who is most popular.