Guest Post: Ajax/Pickering/Scarborough East Deate

My good friend Adam Walker over at at The Walker Express asked me if I would mind posting his review of the Ajax/Pickering Debate, and I am happy to oblige.

The election event held at the Hilton Garden Inn on April 19th was not a debate, but a “forum” that was organized by the Ajax Pickering Board of Trade.  It featured the candidates of the four major parties that are running in the ridings of Ajax-Pickering and Pickering-Scarborough East.  The candidates were grouped by party and the questions were created by the board of trade and asked by the host, who would direct the question to the candidates.  The candidates decided between themselves which individual would speak for their party’s position on that specific issue.  There was no cross-talk between the candidates and no one was allowed to further elaborate on questions or respond to anything said by other candidates after they had spoken.
Conservatives (Chris Alexander and Corneliu Chisu)
The candidates for the Conservative party stayed on message and on point for the entire evening.  There is a reason the Conservatives dropped former diplomat Chris Alexander into Ajax-Pickering: he’s a good public speaker, who has belief in his message and delivers in a clear and confident manner.  The Conservatives want a win in Ajax-Pickering so badly they can taste it and Alexander may be the guy to do it.  He stuck to the party platform without resorting to the party platitudes.  Mr. Chisu was the weaker of the pair, answering the questions in a canned manner, emphasizing his military service where possible and staying close to the prepared talking points.  When asked a direct question on the status of the Pickering Airport and the airport lands, he would not give an answer.

Liberal (Mark Holland and Dan McTeague)
Make no mistake: these guys are professionals.  They can answer any question thrown their way and spin it in their direction.  However, in a campaign that has focused on mud-slinging so much nationally, I was surprised at how these two kept that mostly to a minimum.  There was a significant amount of emphasis placed on McTeague’s work with the Chretien government in the 1990s and a surprising amount placed on Holland’s work with the Martin government of 2004-2006.  I’m not sure how many votes that would gain him.  Keeping the message on the platform and away from attacks gained a lot of respect from me and that’s saying something, as I am not a fan of Mr. Holland.

Green (Mike Harilaid and Kevin Smith)
As one would expect, the focus from these two men was on issues of future development using green technology and ideas.  They are the only candidates to actually address the issue of high speed rail (something that is an important issue to me and one that have written about on my own blog).  I think it came as a shock to most in attendance that the Green perspective isn’t a Left perspective.  They want to lower taxes for all Canadians, to shift the burden of taxes to consumption of fossil fuels and other pollutants and invest in Canada through tuition and other grants.  Mr. Smith came off as very professional, very polished and I imagine, were he running for a different party, he would be a front running candidate.  Mr. Harilaid, running in his second federal election, was engaging as a speaker as well.  He joked beforehand that he had the least supporters in the crowd, but I saw several people take flyers from the Green party table when the forum was finished.

NDP (Jim Koppens and Andrea Moffat)
The NDP candidates were a study in contrasts.  Mr. Koppens is a union man, through and through.  His emphasis was on jobs, labour and bringing work to Canada instead of sending it overseas.  He was slow, steady and a good candidate for the NDP – if it were 1975.  While the NDP’s base has long been labour, I think the direction the national party is trying to move in is away from the hard and fast union types towards a family friendly, centre-left party.  Mr. Koppens spoke well and is clearly passionate about ensuring work for Canadians.  I am too, but that doesn’t mean his message will resonate with the people in this riding.  As for Ms. Moffat, she has run before for the NDP and will no doubt run again.  She spoke very quickly and loudly, burning through issues without elaborating on them and she seemed very nervous.  For a candidate in the 2008 federal and 2007 provincial election, she should have a bit more confidence in speaking publicly.

In the interest of full coverage, the United Party candidate for Ajax-Pickering (Bob Kesic) was not in attendance.  There are no fringe party candidates running in Pickering-Scarborough East.

In summary, this forum did very little to move the needle in terms of my vote. As for others, aside from the people I mentioned above, it was clear by the buttons and the talk afterwards that most people were already aligned with a specific party.  To their credit, the Conservatives had a number of volunteers staffing the propaganda tables afterwards and they seemed genuinely interested in the questions I had for them.  These type of events are always a little peculiar, a little staged, for my liking.  When a candidate comes to my door and wants to talk to me, it seems as if they might care a little about what I have to say.  Talking to a volunteer or staffer is enlightening; it’s like they’re a real person!  In all seriousness, I don’t think this forum was of great value to the community and I don’t foresee people telling their friends
that it was the breaking point in the election for any side.
Like the host of this site, this election has been an indifferent one for me. On one hand, I’d like to not have to go to the polls every five minutes because the MPs can’t get along so a stable majority government would be nice.  On the other hand, there is something about the Conservative party that sort of rubs me the wrong way.  I guess I have to stick with what I think is right and the rest will turn out in the wash.

For Critical Constituent, I’m Adam Walker.  You can read more of my thoughts, mostly on trains, at The Walker Express.


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