Candidates go MIA
By Bob Bruton Barrie Examiner October 20 2010
When is an all-candidates debate not so great? When more than half the candidates aren’t there, that’s when.
Mike Ramsay, Carl Hauck, Dave Aspden, Darren Roskam and Joe Tascona didn’t attend Tuesday’s mayors debate at Barrie Central Collegiate — all but Tascona because its original format included the audience voting four candidates off the stage — like a TV reality show — following their opening remarks.
Only Harry Ahmed, Jeff Lehman and Rob Hamilton showed.
“And then there were three,” Hamilton said, getting a few laughs. “If one-third of you would agree to vote for me, one-third for Harry and one-third for Jeff, we could all go home.
“It’s not the debate you expected.”
But Ahmed soon went home anyway, amidst some boos and jeers from the audience.
“I refuse to get caught up in the fiasco that surrounds this debate,” he said. “And now I will leave you with the old boys club (Hamilton and Lehman).”
“The old boys club is getting smaller,” Hamilton said. “I hope you don’t leave (to Lehman).
“I’m not going anywhere,” Lehman said.
Mike Fox, of debate sponsor Living Green Barrie, announced Tuesday afternoon that the format was being changed so there would be no audience vote, no candidates voted off the stage and all would have an equal opportunity to speak at the debate.
“In our mind, it was a democratic process, if the audience can vote,” he said. “But if a bunch of them (the candidates) are feeling we are being non-inclusive, I don’t know how we can deal with that.
“I can’t win either way. I’m between a rock and a hard place.”
But Ramsay still didn’t show.
“I just can’t trust the format now,” he said. “I just can’t trust that the rules aren’t going to change again.
“You need the impression of impartiality if you are going to conduct a fair debate. You have to be seen to be above reproach.”
Roskam, who helped organize a boycott of the original format, wouldn’t attend the revised format either.
“Take the cheap grandstanding elsewhere, Mr. Fox,” he said. “We were all ready to speak to the issues and share, and you were not interested.”Those who stand for fair debates are not attending. You can’t change the rules for a second time and get us to come back.”
Aspden said he didn’t like the format either.
“If all the candidates can’t be there for an all-candidates debate, I’m out,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely disgusting to have a format like that, for someone to have to leave.”
The revised format didn’t sway Aspden either.
“It’s too little, too late. This is very rude to the candidates,” he said. “I’m still the mayor and I represent all of the people.”
Originally, each candidate was to have five minutes to lay out his vision for how to manage growth in Barrie, while trying to achieve sustainability. The audience was then to decide which candidates it wanted to hear from again, choosing four to remain for an hour of questions and answers, along with debate. The other candidates were to be asked to leave the W. A. Fisher Auditorium stage.
Lehman said he asked the debate organizers to change the format.
“I believe in an open and transparent process,” he said. “I explained to the organizers that it would be difficult for me to take part in this debate knowing that some of my opponents will not have an opportunity to have equal time.”
Ramsay, who teaches political science and history at Barrie Central, said this format was unusual, to say the least.
“I have never, ever, ever … seen candidates voted off a stage by a straw poll of a stacked audience, that is biased,” he said. “This is a set-up by a special interest (group) which has endorsed Jeff Lehman.”
But Fox said Living Green Barrie does not support Lehman or any candidate in this municipal election.
“Our organization is non-political. This (debate) is as far as we go,” he said.
Ramsay noted Lehman’s picture is on the home page of Living Green’s website, although Fox says that’s just because Lehman attended its grand opening and open house of clothing store Nifty Thrifty in January.
Ramsay also asked Fox to read a statement in his absence, saying he feels “it is wrong to conduct a straw poll to eliminate half of the legally registered candidates”. It was not read.
Roskam spent much of Tuesday organizing a boycott of the debate.
“We did not learn ‘the democratic process’ of eliminating candidates from this mayoral debate until we received Darren’s e-mail yesterday (on Monday),” said Hauck. “I was never a part of this discussion of eliminating candidates, as I stick to my words — money buys power.
“I … will not be attending this (Tuesday) debate so you can continue your ‘democratic process’.”
Tascona said he would not attend due to a prior commitment at a seniors’ facility
“I am canvassing full throttle, as advance voting is underway,” he said.
Voting continues Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday, Oct. 25.
For more information, go to www.barrie.ca.
The debate was moderated by Gord Miller, environmental commissioner of Ontario.