A brief moment of mourning for the lost art of the local candidates’ debate

There’s nothing that will burst your bubble more quickly ,when you’re practically obsessed with an election, than to attend a local all-candidates meeting. I spend A LOT of time on social media, following the local candidates and the provincial leaders, and I interact with all kinds of folk, from journalists to small-town, 0ne-issue activists online. I presently volunteer for my riding’s NDP incumbent candidate for the provincial election, Peter Tabuns–he is one super-well-loved guy! For fun, I sit around sipping wine with my friends over BBQ’d goodies, while we discuss the latest election news. So you could hardly be surprised that I kind of just assume that–well, if not exactly a majority– lots and lots and lots of people eat, think, and drink elections while they’re on.

I know they don’t. But I always fantasize I’ll find my ilk at the all-candidates meeting. But then you show up and there’s 10 people there, or more candidates than there are audience members. I actually didn’t even know about my local #TorDan meeting until two days ago. AND DID I MENTION I VOLUNTEER FOR THE INCUMBENT?! Something weird has happened over the past 20 years or so. People stopped being engaged, and everything, AND I MEAN EVERYTHING  has become about spin, marketing and the look. And hey, there’s no one person more interested in those things than me! But the very strength of the Westminster parliamentary system is that it is, in fact, quite democratic. It may not be the best system for today’s Canada, but it does have mechanisms in place for a very democratic process. Still it needs to be activated and participated in in order work properly.

So the local candidates’ meeting is where you get to have your voice heard. People say that politicians don’t care about them? Well that’s the point of our system. So that there’s someone there in the midst of the parliamentary chaos who can at least recognize your face. They exist to represent you, whether or not you voted for them. They are one step away from the leadership of the country or province–indeed, they are part of that leadership. But you do actually need to show up and let them know you even exist! We get so confused with so much American media that we can easily forget that we don’t vote for the leaders of our province or country; we vote for our local representative. I can’t argue that it’s the best system for today, but it’s actually really not so bad if you take advantage of it. Think about it. If you introduce yourself to your local candidate, you are only one degree of separation from the leader of the province or the country. That’s a pretty good deal.

Alrighty. So enough of that soap boxy stuff. Speaking of soap, as I said, my little bubble is appropriately burst. I went to my local all-candidates meeting tonight. I was a few minutes late, but I didn’t think it would matter, given all the thousands of people that would be packed into the gymnasium, who would possibly notice?! So there I was clop-clop-clopping in my awesome vegan Australian heels, while one of the candidates was answering a question. Everyone turned to look. I mean, there were maybe 25 people at best in attendance. I sat at the back feeling like a major jerk.

The Candidates were perched on uncomfortable-looking school-chairs up on one of those awesome mid-20th-century proscenium arch stages. I figured I couldn’t actually be all that late since only three of the candidates was actually on stage. But then I realised that the others just weren’t coming, including the Conservative Naomi Solomon and the Green candidate Rachel Power whose nomination form I signed because I so want a Green presence in the province. I was there to support my candidate Peter Tabuns, the NDP incumbent, and I was pleased to get to see the Liberal candidate Rob Newman, who is a terribly likable fellow. The third guy was from the Canadian’s Choice Party–they seem to think they’re American, and keep referring to themselves as the Independent party. Anyway, his name is John Richardson, and he is every bit a cowboy. I’m so glad I went to this meeting just for him!

Without getting back on my soapbox, let me just say that this was just the kind of theatre I love. Richardson answered every question lobbed his way by standing up, slumping to one side after hiking up his belt and heaving a great sigh. I can’t tell you how endearing I found this gentleman. He has a hint of John Wayne in his cadence, and of course, he came in knowing that anyone who would bother to show up for this type of a meeting is probably not going to vote for him anyway. But he answered the questions, with that heaving sigh, and the OBVIOUSNESS that such a true conservative was never going  to go for such and such or whatever. But hey, he wants to abolish post secondary tuition, which does cause me to prick up my ears. Of course, he is a conservative, so he’s thinking in ROI–and so other conservatives should really lend an ear here. Unfortunately, Richardson is a true fiscal conservative, so the cost of free tuition would be paid for by pretty much taking the state out of every social institution we tend to hold dear in Canada. For instance, he doesn’t feel that the state (or province) should be in any way involved with child care. You know this schtick. Richardson pretty much had the same approach. He just came shy of saying “Ditto” to every question. But he was a good sport. And I’m fond of him.

The Liberal candidate is an eminently likable fellow. He’s that guy when your BFF texts and says she’s met “the ONE” that you hope she’s talking about. He was decked out in some nice relaxed-fit jeans and a well-pressed, casual, button-down cotton shirt that appropriately mimicked the colour of a fresh-burst early-summer cherry. Rob Newman actually might give Peter Tabuns a run for his money. Unlike the affectation of boredom that Richardson sported, Newman has the energy of someone who really digs politics, and he does have a reasonable expectation of winning the riding. He really wants this gig for realz. And his enthusiasm was palpable in every answer he gave. He has an earnestness that I’m inclined to like. And he’s smart. I think he handled some of the questions tonight better than Wynne did during the Big Debate–but the stakes were lower for him, so I don’t want to overstate things. He did come up with a rather innovative idea over the course of the evening. I’m not sure where or if it will stick in a Liberal platform, but he floated the idea of a capital gains tax break for non-home-owners. It was a bit of sideways response to a concern about the lack of affordable housing in our riding, but he segued into the idea with some pretty awesome skill. I was, as usual, trying to tweet with my god-awful Samsung Galaxy Note 3, so I almost tuned out of this topic, since it had been covered earlier in the evening. But then, BAM! Rob drops the tax-break bomb. It’s an interesting idea that would take the rabid desire for home ownership out of the equation for a lot of people who are just trying to save for their old age. It is a rather ingenious fix to the overheated housing market–would that help affordable housing… that’s not so clear. But I am taken–although not convinced–by Newman’s desire to take some of the fervid obsession off of housing as a retirement savings plan.

As I said, I’m volunteering for Peter Tabuns, so I can’t likely be as objective about him. I took a lot of time and talked to lots of people before I chose who to volunteer for. I didn’t take the choice lightly–in fact it was a sobering choice. I don’t see myself as a lifelong NDPer (although I normally tend to vote that way). So to me Peter is a statesman. When I met him, I felt like I was in the presence of someone who has seen a lot of the world. He has been in the trenches. His performance tonight was like a pro playing in an off-season tennis match. Genial and friendly, but truly out of the other guys’ leagues. Honestly, he was a little bit boring from a certain standpoint, but only because he understands the mechanisms of parliament and local politics so intimately that his answers to questions tended to be process and policy based.

On the other hand, I do keep hearing from people that they never see him or hear from him. I’m not sure how to remedy that. I do know that Rob, Naomi and Peter have been pounding the pavement pretty hard and that they all have campaign offices in the hood. So if they haven’t managed to get to you, then please do drop by their offices to get to know them. I’d be happy with any of the three as my MPP. I went for Peter for the reasons I’ve stated. I think Rob is a gem, and I hope we get to keep him around. Naomi is obviously a long shot, but is a really lovely person from what I can tell so far…. and I hope I’ll get to know her more.

I tried my best to live-tweet with my god-awful Samsung during the meeting. If you’re interested, check out the #TorDan on twitter. Please do comment below and I’ll do my best to answer questions.

 

 

 

 

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