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Anger flares during heated debate

GAME FACES: Vaughan federal hopefuls, from left, Liberal Maurizio Bevilacqua, Conservative Richard Lorello, Green Adrian Visentin and NDP Vicky Wilkin took part in a debate Monday night. (Philip Alves/Vaughan Today)

The political ambitions of Vaughan Liberal incumbent Maurizio Bevilacqua and Conservative challenger Richard Lorello were the topic of much-heated debate Monday night.

Bevilacqua was on the ropes, absorbing hits from his political challengers before a packed house at Toronto District Christian High School during an all-candidates debate co-hosted by Vaughan Today.

Lorello led the offensive, followed by Green Adrian Visentin and New Democrat Vicky Wilkin, who managed to stay out of most of the heavy fighting.

It was Visentin who first conjured the specter of a future Bevilacqua mayoralty bid.

“I think he should do the honorable thing: quit now and throw his support behind me,” Visentin said.

Lorello later seized on the opening and attacked.

“Is he running for mayor or is he running for MP?” Lorello asked. “If he does run for mayor, it means if he does win, which he won’t, there will be a byelection here and that’s going to cost the taxpayers money.

“If he’s chosen or wants to run for mayor, state that now, step out of the election right now and do what you want to do.”

In response to the allegation, Bevilacqua turned the question back on his Conservative challenger.

“I will tell you that I am not running for mayor,” he said. “But there is a question that I have: When you lose, will you run for regional council?”

During this exchange and throughout the night, the crowd was passionate, their questions pointed and the debate lively. The four candidates did their best to get their messages out through waves of heckles and cheers.

Several of the questions asked by debate spectators were hostile toward Bevilacqua, including one that referenced a Sept. 26 Vaughan Today article in which he spoke of “those that have a track record of losing”.

“Will you apologize for these offensive remarks, or do accept these comments as yourself, as a loser?” the questioner asked heatedly.

Bevilacqua’s response was measured.

“If you were in the House of Commons, you’d probably be ruled out of order,” he said, then referenced his string of federal election wins dating back to 1988.

Though not the focus of the brunt of the political attacks, Visentin and Wilkin did not emerge unscathed.

Lorello pounced after Visentin discussed a cousin of his who’d been working in Afghanistan and was frustrated by what the Green candidate called Harper government propaganda.

“Mr. Visentin, I’m deeply disturbed by your comment in that your cousin deserves the utmost respect for his sacrifice,” Lorello said.

Wilkin took a jab after making her case for the NDP’s fiscal responsibility, citing the party’s track record in provincial governments across Canada.

“She was born after Bob Rae,” Visentin said to a roar of laughter from the crowd.

The first four questions were prepared and asked by students of Toronto District Christian High School, and covered the economy, the environment, negative campaign ads and health care in Vaughan.

Members of the audience wanted to know where the candidates stood on public school and arts funding, the Liberal green shift plan, accountability on campaign promises, energy costs, defence spending and gay marriage, among others. To hear the candidates’ responses, visit Vaughan Today’s YouTube channel at

Toronto District Christian vice-principal Justin DeMoor helped facilitate the debate.

Vaughan Today
In print: October 10, 2008, page 1
Online: October 9, 2008 [link]