Last night I attended The Great Toronto Arts Debate. The debate was held in the CBC building's atrium, and a large crowd was there. The event was taped for broadcast on Rogers, and snippets were to be aired today on Metro Morning. Andy Barrie was the moderator, and all the questions were prepared questions focusing on the arts in Toronto. The debate was hosted by The Toronto Arts Coalition.
When I went to the debate I thought to myself that this was a must-win for Barbara Hall, in some ways. If there was a community where she ought to be strong, it is the Toronto arts community. But in a way this analysis is all wrong. Based on what I saw last night -- strong audience support for David Miller, luke-warm for everyone else -- Barbara Hall's strength is in new areas today.
As I said, the crowd last night seemed to be with Miller. I'm not just referring to applause after the questions. The crowd was clearly a Miller crowd even before the debate began. I saw people wearing Miller t-shirts and buttons, but no one wearing anything in support of anyone else. I overheard someone telling their friends that six years ago she voted for Hall, and tried to convince others to do the same, but this time she is supporting Miller. And now she is trying to convince her friends again.
In fact, the sense I'm getting is that Miller is stronger than Hall in what used to be her core -- the downtown and old city of Toronto. Although I haven't seen detailed polling data, I imagine that Hall's strength is where Lastman's was back in 1997.
There are just about 50 days until election day, and despite Barbara Hall's big lead, I think it is possible for David Miller to build on the local popular support he is winning in debates to build strength in the rest of the city. He needs to find ways to harness the power of his grassroots to get his message out there. Early support for Hall is based on her name recognition and her position as the Lastman alternative. However, I feel like the more people get a chance to hear all five candidates, the more voters will rethink their voting intentions. This race is going to heat up through October -- in fact the campaign has barely begun -- so there is still plenty of opportunity for Miller, and the others.
I'm not sure if I'll take the time to write up last night's debate. However, I will note one strange thing. After the debate there were stations for each candidate to meet the audience and the media. All the candidates headed for their assigned spots to meet us. But, when Barbara Hall got to her station, she just kept walking. No one was there yet and I guess she decided to keep moving.
I stuck around for a while to watch what would happen. The other four candidates were talking to people for about ten minutes before I left. Miller seemed to have the largest crowd, by a small margin. Hall never returned.
There was supposed to be another debate tonight, but it has been cancelled. This frees me up to watch the Ontario leaders debate which was scheduled for the same time.