Candidates debate

For all the criticisms I could make of politicians and their policies and how they often comport themselves, I’ll grant them this much: they generally try to answer the questions lobbed at them.

Even though one might suggest that in itself is part of the problem. Because a lot of the accusations thinly veiled – or not disguised at all –  as questions at public fora are far more about the “questioner” wanting to air his or her grievance than hearing the politician’s response. He or she usually isn’t interested in the answer; it wouldn’t be believed anyway.

People often hurl their comment at the candidates, then stride away, only pausing to turn back when their intention is to rail further against their pet injustice.

Not that there aren’t plenty of injustices to rail at. I’m just not sure it’s constructive. On the other hand, do the “answers” get us anywhere either? When you’re so determined to have your say, you just want to be heard – i.e. acknowledged – not necessarily given a response full of facts, promises or anecdotes. 

The downtown candidates debate was more interesting for how the candidates acted than what they said. I probably left with a better opinion of three out of the four representatives present, and a disappointingly lowered opinion of the fourth, such that I am actually considering changing my vote plans.

One candidate modelled “hearing” well, actually apologizing to an irate constituent despite the fact that it seemed the person taking offense had badly misunderstood what had been said on that issue. 

It probably made no difference that the Conservative Party candidate wasn’t present; I’m sure she’s perfectly earnest but I can’t see her collecting many votes in this riding, and strongly doubt the crowd present at the debate contained a single Tory. However, I find it utterly reprehensible that the ruling party in a representative democracy would call its candidates to refrain from participating in debates and doing interviews. “Hearing” requires showing up.

Scattered impressions from the event:

Kudos to the Communist guy for riding his bike to the event. He came across as folksy but genuine and though of course he was flogging his party’s vision of utopia, he wasn’t obnoxious about it. I liked his line about how universal health care was the Communist Party’s idea first, implemented by another party; he said wryly, “we’d like you other parties to steal more of our ideas.” Not such an ideologue he can’t be realistic about election chances and capable of sharing credit for good ideas.

It’s irritating enough that the media can’t get the city’s neighbourhoods right (buy a map already and stop assuming that every crime-related news story that’s not clearly in the suburbs must have happened in the most nefarious-sounding central neighbourhoods), but to hear this sentence from someone trying to represent the central neighbourhoods was galling: “I’ve lived in the West End for years, on Ruby and Canora.” The east and west boundaries of that neighbourhood may be open to interpretation but the southern boundary – Portage Avenue – is not in doubt. Neither Ruby nor Canora extend north of Portage.

Speaking of the suburbs, I was appalled to hear another candidate promise us the life of suburb dwellers. Who said we should or do *want* the life of suburb dwellers?! In fairness, he was speaking to the quality of services, but even in that context, it’s misinformed. Let’s talk services in winter after a snowstorm and see who gets their sidewalks – oh, assuming suburb dweller even *has* sidewalks – ploughed first.

And the ironies. Oh, the ironies! “Don’t follow the rhetoric,” one candidate exhorts, dripping with rhetoric. He was the least civil toward his fellow candidates, harping repeatedly on the past record of the incumbent but rarely adding anything of his own solutions except to lament how terrible the problems were. Buddy, if you have no insight or plans to address any of these problems you identify so pithily, how are you any better than the incumbent you are attacking?

The incumbent has a reputation for being bombastic and accusatory. I daresay this candidate who so roundly condemned the incumbent on every chance – even interrupting and name-calling – bested the incumbent on that score.

The candidates took every opportunity possible to tell us how bad things are. One of the worst ridings in Canada for child poverty, staggering mental health problems, poverty, crime, First Nations issues, degraded water (in Lake Winnipeg) – on and on they go about how terrible we have it. Then they turn on a dime when the Syria refugee crisis comes up and all promise to bring hundreds to settle in our good and wonderful city. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself, thinking, which is it: is everything broken in our neighbourhood or is it a wonderful place to welcome and shelter trauma-affected people from overseas?

I won’t ever envy the life of a politician. After the mercifully short comment-grenade hurling of the questions-from-the-floor time, the candidates had to face media questions (not so daunting) and more constituent outrage, now unmoderated by a time keeper and MC. (And, in one case, caught on film, and turned into an unflattering national news story within a few hours.) Besides policy making, complaint taking, and maybe some good governance mixed in, we also expect them to inspire.

Sometimes, they do.

“Hey, look; he’s there!” An Aboriginal middle school boy walking through the mall exclaimed to his sister as he stopped to see who was on stage. “The one with the long hair! He came to our house!”

That felt a little bit like hope on a very cynical evening.


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