Rob Ford and George Smitherman abruptly pulled out of yesterday’s debate sponsored by Get Active Toronto, a coalition encouraging people to get healthy through exercise.

Despite the cancellations, the event continued with mayoral candidate Joe Pantalone, who spoke to about 200 people at the downtown YMCA beside two empty chairs.

“I would say it’s disrespectful and disappointing,” said organizer Catriona Delaney. “We wanted to know where Mr. Ford and Mr. Smitherman stood on the subject of the importance of physical activity and the health of Torontonians. Their actions spoke louder than their words.”

Mayor David Miller is honorary chair of Get Active Toronto, a movement started by former Toronto medical health officer Sheila Basrur to address the fact that six out of every 10 Torontonians are inactive.

Attendees from members, who include Toronto public health and parks and recreation, wanted to ask how they would curb Toronto’s rising obesity rate, Delaney said.

About an hour before, an e-mail came in from the Ford camp “saying they had been on their way, but an issue had arisen and they were suddenly unable to attend. They refused to disclose what the issue was.” Then, seconds before the event was to start, Smitherman withdrew, she said.

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