The All Candidates Open Forum held at the Killaloe Lions Hall on October 5 by Local 303 of the National Farmers Union attracted nine of the ten declared candidates for election in Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke (RNP). Above from left: David Ainsworth (People’s Party of Canada), Robert Cherrin (Veterans Coalition Party of Canada), Dan Criger (Independent), Jonathan Davis (Independent), Stefan Klietsch (Libertarian Party of Canada), Dheerendra Kumar (Independent), Ruben Marini (Liberal Party of Canada), Ian Pineau (Green Party of Canada), and Eileen Jones-Whyte (New Democratic Party). The only candidate absent was incumbent Cheryl Gallant (Conservative Party of Canada).
NFU President Marshall Buchanan welcomed the crowd of about 140 and introduced the moderator, Rudy Kadlech, a journalist with myFM. Kadlech maintained the pace of the evening and brought the formal proceedings to a close slightly later than the scheduled 9 p.m.
Some of the candidates’ opening statements prompted enthusiastic audience response. Supporters cheered as Mountain View Road resident Davis described what he called a “rigged government” in Ottawa. Cries of “All right” and “love it” followed Kumar’s impassioned promise to take care of Canadians feeling pain by asking difficult questions in Parliament.
Selecting from the written questions submitted by audience members after the opening remarks, Kadlech announced that many of them related to the topics of climate change and the recent flooding events in the Ottawa Valley. He asked every candidate present to respond about these and other frequently-mentioned issues but said that subsequent questions could be directed to specific candidates. Themes such as ways to boost the local economy, retain youth and improve the level of income for RNP residents came up several times during the evening. The climate change discussion brought forth views ranging from party platforms for programs to address the issue all the way to disbelief that climate change is human-induced. Suggestions to boost the local economy, reduce unemployment and retain youth in the riding included support for small businesses, improved high speed internet, growing hemp to replace materials such as plastic and seeing climate change as an opportunity to provide employment. One question challenged each candidate to describe the most important promise they would keep if elected.
Throughout the evening all candidates present held the floor numerous times. Liberal candidate Marini said he decided to run because RNP needs better representation in Ottawa, and said his ten years in government meant he knew how to make things happen and where to find the decision-makers. Jones-Whyte outlined the NDP platform on a variety of issues, including on what she referred to as “intense unpredictable weather,” and explained that her motivation was to achieve social and climate justice. Pineau (Green Party) used the agricultural sector in Renfrew County as an example of how his party would hold the balance of power in a minority government. Criger (Independent) said his door-to-door campaigning revealed conservative voters in RNP did not wish to vote for the incumbent and offered himself as the alternative conservative candidate.
The first of the floor questions came from Ann Pohl (above left) who, referring to incumbent Cheryl Gallant’s empty place (above right) as the “elephant in the room,” asked the candidates if they felt democracy was being served by her absence at this event – a question which brought cheering and applause from the audience. The candidates’ responses ranged from a simple “No, democracy has not been served tonight” from Marini, to Kumar’s “You are not selfish. You have taken time and you are here just to listen to what we are saying. If the current Member of Parliament is not here, that means she doesn’t care about you. Do you care about her?” Laughter greeted Davis as he offered his personal phone number and said he was available 24/7.
A few days earlier this reporter spoke to Gallant’s campaign manager, Bernard Doyle, who said that the incombent’s debate attendances had to be approved “by national” and event organisers were required to submit completed questionnaires in advance to gain approval. In this case, he said, the organisers had not responded in time. After Saturday’s meeting ended, I put this to Buchanan who said that the form, which initially arrived anonymously, included 30 detailed questions — many of which appeared to be designed for abatement of risk. He said they had completed it to the extent that they could given some of the event arrangements were not finalized until the past week. He said the request arrived without a deadline for completion.
At the end of the evening MV resident Bernadine Roslyn commented, “While some of the ideas put forward were a little bit off the wall, it was really interesting that there was no personal attack, no badmouthing of anybody – it was all about the issues and the ideas.”