Andrea Horwath and Keanin Loomis face off in Hamilton mayoral candidate debates

Mayoral candidates Andrea Horwath and Keanin Loomis shake hands following a morning debate at Carmen's Banquet Centre on Tuesday. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Two of Hamilton’s more well-known mayoral candidates have now had a couple of opportunities to trade barbs, with less than a month to go before the municipal election.

Andrea Horwath and Keanin Loomis faced off during two debates on Tuesday, the first one hosted by HamiltoNEXT, a non-partisan group of local business organizations and developers.

Bob Bratina was the third mayoral candidate invited to attend the event, but he wasn’t able to take part due to a positive COVID-19 test.

Addressing a room of about 200 at Carmen’s Banquet Centre, the pair answered questions about job creation, transit and transportation, expanding business and investment in the city, climate change, and the affordability and housing crises.

“This is a very important election in Hamilton’s history and the city is at a critical moment,” Loomis said during his closing remarks.

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“What we need at this moment is real generational change, and I’m here to tell you that the sentiment is shared pervasively throughout the city. I have knocked on thousands of doors, I have been to hundreds of events, and I can tell you that Hamiltonians want somebody for mayor who is all in, as I have been since January.”

Read more: HamiltoNext seeks to pass on resident’s vision of city to candidates ahead of municipal election

Horwath highlighted her long history in Hamilton as being an asset to the city if she were elected mayor.

“I know this city inside and out, and the passion that I bring every day to every job that I’ve ever done comes from this city,” she said.

“It comes from the grit that people in this city have. It comes from the caring that the people in this city have for each other. It comes from the entrepreneurship and the bright minds, the great working people, the fantastic skills that we have in the people of Hamilton, and it comes from the fact that we all know that we can achieve so much more if we work collaboratively and thoughtfully.”

Loomis and Horwath were also the only two candidates present at Cable 14’s televised mayoral debate, which became much more heated than the earlier event when the candidates were given opportunities to ask each other questions.

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Read more: Hamilton mayoral candidate Keanin Loomis unveils details of promised town hall tour

Loomis took Horwath to task over stepping down as the Ontario NDP leader and MPP for Hamilton Centre following the provincial election, while Horwath targeted Loomis’s lack of experience in politics and time spent living and working in Hamilton.

“As the Chamber of Commerce CEO and president, Mr. Loomis had one constituency, but there are many, many constituencies in Hamilton,” Horwath said.

“It’s dangerous to think that with no experience, with very little time in our city, with really a ‘one constituency history,’ that you can just walk into the mayor’s chair and fix everything. That’s not how it works.”

“I was the voice of business in Hamilton, and now I’m running to be the voice of Hamilton,” Loomis responded.

“As a result, I am listening and evolving as a candidate and I think that that is exactly what the people of Hamilton want to see.”

Read more: Andrea Horwath pledging to improve traffic safety in Hamilton, add roundabout on Highway 52

Loomis argued that Horwath hasn’t been focusing on Hamilton during her time in provincial politics, and Horwath fired back by asking why he would be more qualified to be mayor than her based on the amount of time he’s spent in the city — a question that Loomis called “disrespectful” to transplants to Hamilton.

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“I’m lucky enough that I was in a position to be able to move here with my family in 2009, and Hamilton is a city that I quickly fell in love with, and I saw it as being a city that could be so much more because it had been so much more as well,” he said.

“We need great leadership in this community to be able to live up to the potential that we have here.”

Horwath argued that “leadership is not just a label that you stick on your own chest” and said it requires acknowledging the work that has come before.

“Most importantly, a leader is someone who doesn’t just talk about change as if it’s something that’s automatic. A leader has to have the skills, the experience, the ability to make that change happen, and I have shown many times that that’s exactly the kind of leader that I am.”

Read more: More police officers top promise from mayoral candidate Bob Bratina in pitch for safer Hamilton

Bratina was among the other mayoral candidates who did not attend the Cable 14 debate but submitted a video message that was played during the broadcast.

“I’m running to stop the takeover of city hall by the special interest groups who have ruined our city’s progress, who do not care about your safety, and who will continue to waste your money,” he said in the video.

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“The influence of unelected individuals over the previous council has led to the mess we’re in now, and we can’t afford to have more of the same.”

Among Bratina’s priorities are hiring more police officers, installing high-end lighting on trails in response to recent sexual assaults, and putting an end to homeless encampments by ensuring those who are unhoused “have access to a roof over their heads.”

Fellow mayoral candidates Ejaz Butt, Paul Fromm, Solomon Ikhuiwu, Hermiz Ishaya and Michael Pattison also had video messages played during the debate, while Jim Davis declined to provide a recorded message.

Hamiltonians will go to the polls on Oct. 24.

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