A long-time political organizer thinks candidates don’t have a responsibility to show up to all-candidates meetings or speak with the media.
Bob Ransford, who was the cochair in B.C. for the Conservatives in the 2004 federal election, noted that time and money are limited during campaigns, and candidates must make choices. He said that all-candidates meetings are “circuses of partisans”.
“I can tell you, in the 30 years I’ve been attending, most of them, 98 percent of them, are made up by our supporters and all the other candidates’ supporters,” Ransford told the Georgia Straight. “And very few of them are people who are interested members of the public who have not made up their minds. Usually, people are there to cheer for their candidate.”
So far, there’s been an epidemic of missing-in-action Conservative candidates. Last week, the Straight contacted every female Conservative candidate from the Lower Mainland, and none replied by deadline.
This week, Vancouver South candidate Wai Young didn’t return a call to discuss more than $500,000 in federal contracts that she received from the Conservative government. The CBC reported that Surrey North candidate Dona Cadman used RCMP to block reporters. On September 25, neither of the Richmond Conservative hopefuls showed up for an all-candidates meeting hosted by the Canada Asia Pacific Business Association.
The Conservative absence will also be felt at the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C.’s inaugural alternative all-candidates meeting in Vancouver Kingsway on Monday (October 6). Liberal candidate Wendy Yuan, NDP candidate Don Davies, and Green candidate Doug Warkentin will sit at roundtables with voters, and—instead of spouting platforms—they’ll listen to people’s stories.
“We’re asking candidates to acknowledge the lived experience of how policies work,” SPARC B.C. executive director Nancy Henderson told the Straight in a Main Street coffee shop. “There’s very little exchange during a campaign in a way that is intended to broaden people’s views.”
Henderson noted that as of September 25, Conservative candidate Salomon Rayek still hadn’t agreed to come. On September 30, the Straight contacted his campaign manager, Charles Kamimura, who claimed that Rayek hadn’t been invited. “No one called our office,” he said. “I’ve never heard of it.”
But SPARC B.C. spokesperson Lindsay Hindle told the Straight later that day that two SPARC B.C. staffers have been corresponding with Rayek’s office by e-mail and phone. She said they received confirmation by phone that Rayek would not be attending.
Duff Conacher, the coordinator of Democracy Watch, noted that Stephen Harper is the only federal leader to refuse to join an Ottawa debate on poverty issues hosted by the National Anti-Poverty Organization. The Conservatives were also absent from a Make Poverty History video on YouTube, he said.
“Many people seeking power would love to do so without having to answer any questions,” he told the Straight in an interview from Ottawa. “All-candidates forums are key, and the media is there to bring voices forward so voters can see what a broad range of stakeholders think about issues and platforms.”
Ransford, who is volunteering for Peter Ladner’s campaign for Vancouver mayor, doesn’t think voters read newspapers like they used to. Social networking, such as Facebook, is the future of campaigns, he said.
“My advice to candidates is that the traditional media is just one channel through which to communicate, and it’s certainly not something I would focus all my time on,” he said. “I’m seeing campaigns change dramatically right now. There’s no convenor of the message anymore, anyone can be that convenor.”
At press time, the Conservative party still hadn’t released a platform. Ransford said that didn’t matter, either, as the vast majority of voters don’t read them.
When the Straight pointed out that the Liberal, NDP, and Green candidates don’t seem to have a problem fitting interviews and all-candidates meetings into their schedules, Ransford replied, laughing: “Maybe that’s why the Tories are winning; they’re learning faster.”