Update on the Local Campaign

Tonight was the local candidates’ debate for Whitby-Oshawa, so I went in hopes of helping me decide who to vote for.  In general, it was almost as big of a waste of time as the leaders debate.  I say almost because I now have a slightly better idea of what the individual candidates stand for in the riding.

The debate was hosted by the Whitby Chamber of Commerce, and the questions asked were a mixture of questions placed by the Chamber, and those asked by the audience.  It was pretty obvious which questions from the Chamber, since they were invariably long-winded, and related to business and corporate policies.  It was also pretty clear as to the answer the Chamber was looking for when they asked the questions.  The candidates weren’t generally swayed by the leading questions and stuck to their talking points.  The questions from the audience were varied between clear partisan shots to actual requests for policy information, but there wasn’t really anything too shocking said by any of the candidates.

Unfortunately for everyone, there seemed to be too many partisan supporters in the audience, to the point where we had to wait between every question for the applause to die down.  I think it would have been much better if the same rules were applied to the leaders debate, where the audience was asked not to shout anything, or clap between responses in order to better get through the questions.  There was even one particularly obnoxious (I’m assuming) Liberal supporter that would shout out approval to Liberal and NDP catch-phrases, and heckled Jim Flaherty at a few points.  Thankfully, someone eventually quieted him down a bit and we didn’t hear from him after the first couple questions.

On the plus side, the moderator were very good at keeping the candidates to their time, although that was probably helped by the fact that candidates were threatened with a muted microphone if they ran over their alloted time.

Overall, Jim Flaherty (Conservative) knew his stuff.  He has been in government for a very long time, so it’s not at all surprising how well he understands any topic that they threw at him.  There wasn’t much back-and-forth between the candidates, but he made sure he had a rebuttal for pretty much any time another candidate made an accusation against Flaherty or Conservative policy.  He also made sure that any time one of the other candidates made a promise that had actual barriers to implementation (such as not being able to expand the CPP without approval of the provinces), he made sure that those barriers were addressed, and not glossed over.  He made a point to address all of the good things that he has done for Durham Region and for Canada, including the controversial decision for bail out General Motors, which is a major employer in the region.  While he was the most well-spoken candidate, he should be, since he has been a politician for so long.  But he still suffers from all of the same criticisms of the Conservative Party, and he does receive a large share of the blame for its actions (or credit, if you are a supporter)

Trevor Bardens (Liberal) can be summed up with one phrase: Liberal Candidate – there’s an app for that.  The whole debate, it sounded like he was reading straight from the Liberal campaign website.  His answers often were only tangentially related to the questions asked, and it only took about 20 seconds into the first question before he mentioned “jets, jails, and corporate tax cuts.”  If the question asked wasn’t part of the Liberal platform (for example, there was a question on reducing the gas tax to lower gas prices) he just muddled through a non-response without being committed to any position whatsoever.  He was also the only candidate that did not have a table set up outside of the debate with campaign literature for anyone to take.  This just cements my earlier opinion that he is running a very weak campaign.  It seems like the Liberals just needed someone to run, and Trevor Bardens was the only person there.  On the plus side, he did do well on the question on border congestion, which he is familiar with due to his time on the Oshawa Harbour Commission.  Unfortunately, he lost the advantage there, when Flaherty mentioned that the Harbour Commission was a mess of infighting until the Federal government stepped in, and Bardens didn’t even take the time to disagree when given the option.

Trish McAuliffe (NDP) did reasonably well.  She knew the most of the NDP talking points well, even though she didn’t seem to be the most confident public speaker of the bunch.  The unfortunate thing is that she didn’t really differentiate herself from the NDP mold.  If you agree with NDP policies, then she will be right there to implement them if you elect her.  She seemed to have a bit of extra knowledge on anything to do with the manufacturing sector, due to her past experiences at GM and the CAW.  However, none of that really made her stand out, since all that helped her with was to give a slightly personal touch to the regular NDP platform.

Rebecca Harrison (Green) was probably the one that I was most disappointed with, but for different reasons than the other candidates.  I had hoped that since she was young, and running for a party trying to make inroads into Parliament, then she would try to cast herself as a different sort of politician: one that moves away from attacking other parties to one that is willing to work with others to accomplish her goals.  I did not receive that impression from her during the debate.  She attacked Conservative policy just as much as any other candidate, and proved that when it comes to partisanship, the Greens can play ball with the rest of them.  She was very familiar with all of the Green Party talking points, as well as her own pet issues of poverty elimination and women’s issues.  I was just hoping that the Green Party candidate would act a little less partisan, and a little more compromising.  I might have been able to look past some of the ideological differences between myself and the Greens if their candidate seemed willing to rise above the partisan bickering of the other parties, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  It may seem weird that I am holding one party to a higher standard than the others, but if the Greens want me to vote for them, they need to show me that they are better than the others, not just equal to them.

So despite having seen the local candidates in action, I am not really much closer to deciding who to vote for.  It would probably be an easier decision if I had been moderating the debate, because then I could ask follow-up questions.  There was a number of times where I wanted to call BS on what the candidates were saying, or at the very least, get them to answer the question that was asked instead of rambling on about something else entirely.  The most memorable occasion of this to me was when a question was asked on free trade, and the summary of answers would be Flaherty likes it, McAuliffe dislikes it, and we have no idea what Bardens or Harrison feel because they didn’t even mention free trade in their responses.  No candidate was completely guilt-free in this, and it would have been helpful if the moderators actively encouraged them to answer the question as asked.

Not included in the debate was a fifth candidate running for the Libertarian Party – Josh Insang.  There is no information specific to that candidate anywhere that I can see, nor have I seen a single lawn sign for him.  I am not even sure why the Libertarian Party is running a candidate if they aren’t even attempting to campaign.  Since he seems to only be on the ballot as a slot for a protest vote, I can see why he wasn’t invited to the debate.  I would put his chances of winning at exactly 0%, since in 2008 the Libertarian Party received 7,300 voted country-wide, while Jim Flaherty received 30,704 in Whitby-Oshawa.

So now the question becomes, how does one vote if none of the candidates are appealing?  I am open to suggestions.

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