Is it arrogance? Let’s hope so.

There’s been a long standing Tory tradition of swerving candidate debates. Here in York South-Weston, Tories are sent in as sacrificial lambs. Being a national party, the Conservatives feel obliged to have a candidate in every riding and while expectations in this corner of Toronto are slim, they always manage to find someone who will enter the race. 

In the days before Covid, debates were noisy, filled with, er, rabid and partisan socialists and were held in some remote location far away from their home – aka  the riding. Conservative candidates presumably thought that their time was better spent canvassing. Now it’s the Liberals too who are making this a thing. 

One can understand a Tory candidate’s unwillingness to be exposed to the mob. For one thing, their grasp of issues is likely to be confined to a few sentences. They’re usually running on a couple of wedge issues and don’t get the subtleties of an argument having two sides. The Liberals rarely swerved a chance to debate. Now we have a sitting MP and federal cabinet minister deciding that a debate isn’t important. 

Liberal Ahmed Hussen is a success story. He, like many of us in Canada, came to this country for a better life. He succeeded, became a community advocate and then a lawyer so it would be fair to assume that Mr. Hussen isn’t shy. Public speaking should be a natural fit for the Liberal candidate. During the 2015 election it was alleged that Mr. Hussen felt that debate organizers were partisan and he wouldn’t be treated fairly. The strategy didn’t hurt him and he handily beat Mike Sullivan with 46% of the vote.

In 2019, all candidates attended the one debate and Mr. Hussen romped to victory with 58% of the vote.

Now he seems to feel that any exposure to the public that he can’t control will either weaken his chances or waste his precious time. Although Mr. Hussen doesn’t live in the riding, there is strong evidence that he knows where it is and has been here on quite a few occasions.

So what was Mr. Hussen’s problem with participating in a candidate debate? Especially one held remotely. As a cabinet minister, he will assuredly have a good grasp of the issues and how to use Zoom. As a lawyer, he will have decent and confident debating skills. Heaven forfend that anyone could accuse a Liberal cabinet minister of arrogance but unless Mr. Hussen has a compelling reason for avoiding debate, one has to assume that’s exactly what it is.

Well done Mr. Hussen. You have what it takes to be a Liberal Prime Minister.

Some thoughts on skipping debates

Mark DeMontis did not attend tonight’s all-candidates debate; he spent it campaigning door-to-door instead.

It makes me very sad—and angry—that he wouldn’t attend, but it fits into into a broader pattern: PC candidates across the province are avoiding their electors. They’ve skipped debates in 25 ridings as of last weekend (and now 26).

Doug Ford denies muzzling candidates, saying “I’ve never told them not to go to a debate,” but a party spokesperson was more equivocal, and political scientists say that this is part of a plan to keep attention on the party leaders—and away from local politicians.

It’s the making of a monarchy: one person—Duke Doug—is to know all and fix all. His ‘ideas’ (they’re slogans) will not be tested in the public square. Objections won’t be heard, and experts (like other candidates) won’t be tolerated.  Doug Ford is so sure that he knows what you want that he won’t let you tell him. It’s omakase politics.

Mark DeMontis also denied us the chance to see Hassan and Albanese’s ideas lit up with a bright blue light. He missed his first chance for public service: showing us what is wrong with the Liberal, NDP, and Green platforms. We’re doubly worse off because he would have been an excellent debater (he has been a public speaker and broadcaster).

Mark DeMontis should have stood up for his party and presented his ideas to be debated. He also should have stood up to his party and attended in defiance, if he was told not to go.

All Candidates Debate

The all-candidates debate for Federal election candidates was held at the Mount Dennis Legion on Wednesday, April 13th.

The event was well organized and attended with a well-structured questioning process which allowed both neighbourhood organizations and individuals a chance to address the candidates. An air of respect and courtesy was evident throughout the evening due mainly to the comportment of the candidates who answered questions without resorting to negativity, and the audience’s interest in listening to the candidates. It was evident that everyone was there to exchange and receive information rather than engage in the discussion of preconceived ideas. The Mount Dennis Legion should be congratulated for their contribution to the democratic process by hosting this event.

Unfortunately there was one negative aspect to the evening; the non-participation of the Conservative candidate who apparently had a more pressing engagement which prevented her from meeting with ordinary voters and responding to uncensored questions. Her empty chair stood as a testament to the discomfort the Conservatives seem to have with Toronto. No doubt voters will return the favour at the ballot box.

The other candidates showed an interest in helping Weston area residents and a knowledge of our needs. All three as stated above presented a professional attitude. Of the three, Sonny Day (Green Party), Mike Sullivan (New Democratic Party) and Alan Tonks (Liberal), Sonny came across as a genuinely nice man who demonstrated a generosity of spirit when he praised the good work Mike Sullivan has done for Weston. Mike came across as well prepared, confident, professional and articulate. Many of his answers met with the approval of the audience. Alan Tonks as the elder statesman of the group was suave and well-spoken. Unfortunately, he has developed and perfected the career politician’s habit of restructuring questions while answering them, thereby never really addressing questioners’ concerns. As a non-resident, he suffers in comparison to the other two candidates. Hopefully Weston has matured beyond the need to be represented by gentleman candidates who claim to know our concerns better than we do. It might be time to be represented by one of our own.

Each of the candidates had winning moments, the best was Sonny’s answer to a question about Harper’s proposed purchase of jet fighters designed for aircraft carriers (Canada has none). He won loud applause when he stated that Canada needs to purchase military equipment that meets Canada’s needs; ‘We are not a northern branch of the U.S. Air Force’.

Mike Sullivan had a lot of solid ideas on how to improve the Weston area and received loud applause many times throughout the evening. He stated that the proposed airport express should be an above ground subway line serving all of the communities along the line. This would be a good step towards bringing Toronto’s transportation system in line with other world cities which are extensively served by rapid public transit. Alan’s major good point was that he claims to be working to bring a campus of George Brown College to Weston, a great way to stimulate the Weston economy.

Overall, all three candidates did well but if one were to pick a winner it would have to be Mike Sullivan who presented clear answers and was able to point out some of Alan Tonks’ worse decisions as a Member of Parliament. As an experienced advocate for the Weston area, he is the most closely tied to the community and its improvement. Tonks came across as smooth and professional which is fine if Weston is happy with the status quo and sees no need for improvement. Sonny Day is well-intentioned and would certainly be a breath of fresh air in Ottawa.