It looks as though there will be no debate or forum this year in Ward 1. And just when I am ready to participate in such an event, there is not going to be one. I have voted in the last two elections, beginning in 2003 without much knowledge of candidates or issues (it was actually the first ballot I ever cast having just turned 18). In 2006, I was working on a university project and monitored newspaper clippings during the election campaign, and thus was much more aware of issues and candidates.
Now, after working myself up to becoming a council attendee this summer and regular at planning commission meetingsI have never been more politically active or informed about the role of municipal government. I find municipal politics quite interesting, largely because the decisions made in Henry Baker Hall affect my daily life the most and there is the most access to decision making of all the levels in government.
So without a debate, and being very keen to learn about the new candidatesi, I figured I would call each of them during a weekday afternoon and ask the same starting question to each: “will you be participating in any forums or debates during the election campaign?”
I phoned Louis Browne October 16 in the afternoon to ask him about the possibility of a ward 1 debate or forum. He explained that the debate put on last election was done so by the Whitmore Park community association and this year the president of said association is helping with Browne’s campaign. Therefore, the Whitmore Park Association wasn’t going to host a debate this year. Councillor Browne and I then spoke for about an hour on a variety of topics.
October 20, again in the afternoon, I spoke to Shawn Kuster Ward 1 candidate who mentioned, just as Councillor Browne had, that there was a forum last election but nothing planned so far. He did mention a meet and greet at the Lazy Owl Pub which occurred that day, just before I rang him, which was attended by all Ward 1 candidates. Kuster said the meet and greet was a low key affair with short policy statements being the extent of the public conversation and the rest of the time devoted to mingling. I am confused why Louis Browne would not mention the URSU event to me especially when I spoke to him the night before at council as well as on the phone last Thursday. The Leader Post knew about it, see below:
Candidate Kuster did lament that a process without some sort of debate was sub par. Our conversation wasn’t very long, he answered my question but didn’t ask if I had any others as Louis Browne had.
October 21 I spoke with the third Ward 1 candidate Andy Asherbranner and he was very quick to say he would debate anytime but that none were planned at the moment. Asherbranner asserted that “the incumbent” was the one least co-operative in having a debate and in fact would not face him when Asherbranner asked about a debate. Our conversation continued after my initial question, for close to an hour with candidate Asherbranner asking for any questions and expanding on his published platform. The conversation was very informative, with this candidate focused on a ‘buy local’ type of model in civic life, for example, by having more done by city workers rather than contractors and his personal preference to use resources such as gas stations or groceries within Ward 1.
That’s my Ward 1 election preparation for 2009. I had good conversations with Andy Asherbranner and Louis Browne, while Shawn Kuster did not engage me as the others (in fairness I think he was at work when I called). He did, however, answer my question fully and was pleasant to talk with.
On the issues it was not clear before my phone calls where there was separation between the candidates and this is only somewhat clear now. Certainly the incumbent has a record that I roughly know, but how will the other candidates make their goals a reality? This question is very difficult to judge, especially without knowing the working dynamic they might have in council. Councillors can’t move issues forward without the support of other councillors, no one can go it alone successfully. Few candidates articulate how they will maneuver support in council for the grand promises they make, and that is true in any ward.
Who should I vote for? It would be ideal to see the group in a public debate, where they could answer questions and respond to issues, and Ward 1 citizens could see the interaction on these issues between candidates. Here I feel sort of guilty; I should have gone into October prepared to organize a Ward 1 debate and why not one for mayor as well. All one must do is contact candidates and arrange an appropriate time and place, provide moderation, format and solicit questions agreeable to all members, invite the media, and advertise to the audience your attracting which could be as simple as a sign on a major street (Ex Ward 3’s Tuesday Oct 20 debate at the Cathedral Neighbourhood Centre).
Clearly someone has to. I naively thought that public debate with these candidates would occur and took that idea for granted. It clearly is not granted. I am struggling with who should facilitate such forums: the candidates, the community associations, me or some other mechanism/group/person(s) who should make sure such events occur every election. Perhaps this will push me into engagement with the community association which is active here but not as politically active as other community associations in the city (so it seems). In the end, all candidates I’ve seen so far have said all the right things about voter participation but that sentiment has been torpedoed by this election process. I can only hope in 3 years time the public will have remembered the lessons learned from this election.
Shawn Kuster’s City of Regina Profile: