Candidate forums should be the norm
A couple of towns in the Trinity Conception region tried something a little different last week in advance of municipal elections on Sept. 24. The towns of Bay Roberts and Clarke’s Beach held candidate forums.
They gave each prospective municipal representative the chance to have their voice heard and get their message across.
Both were interesting events, albeit, each town had different reasons for putting off such an event.
In Clarke’s Beach, they have a record number of candidates — 25 — on the ballot, so the forum served more as a meet-and-greet than anything else. It allowed members of the public in attendance to become better acquainted with the new faces.
Yes, candidates were able to get their message out, but it also gave the public a better understanding of their connection to Clarke’s Beach, and maybe a little bit of their values.
However, some of that intent was undermined after several candidates declined to attend the event.
While one gave reason why he could not make the event, the rest did not. What they might not realize is it will very likely hurt them in the end.
It failed to give voters a look at what makes them tick. Granted, most of those missing were incumbents. However, showing up would have given them the chance to earn back a little bit of trust and respect. Something it appears they lost after a string of municipal mishaps.
That lack of trust was bound to set them back at the polls, but with the chance at quasi-redemption squandered, who knows how everything will turn out. In Bay Roberts, it was a little bit different. With only nine candidates running for at-large positions and two more for mayor, it was a different format altogether.
The forum at the Royal Canadian Legion on Sept. 16 allowed new candidates to introduce themselves and their platforms, to the public, that was the same. But, candidates were also open to a question and answer format.
Once candidates finished, there was a mayoral debate that featured questions from the public and between candidates themselves.
Allowing the public to ask questions was valuable for discerning what the public was really after when it came to their elected officials.
Something like this tends to walk the line between being constructive and becoming something different altogether. When the public is allowed to ask questions, there is a chance it becomes a free-for-all.
Councillors give answers to questions that the residents do not buy and in turn, councillors become frustrated with answering the same question over and over.
Bay Roberts dipped its toes in water on both sides of the line. Questions were only asked of the incumbent councillors and even the mayor’s Q&A was focused more so on the current mayor than the challenger.
That was expected, but it would have been nice to hear the opinions of new councillors on topics that residents feel are important.
Now, one could look at it as a learning experience for organizers. They should be encouraged by some of the information that came out of the forum, and what it did for the public perception of some of the newer at-large candidates.
Maybe a panel format next time, something that moves the event along in a manner which does not allow for entrance of personal opinions.
That begs the question, why can’t more municipalities hold such events?
As Bay Roberts and Clarke’s Beach have shown, it can be an effective way for candidates to get their faces out there, especially to the residents they have not had a chance to visit.
In Carbonear and Harbour Grace, two of the more well-known communities in the region, such an event could help dispel any negativity surrounding campaigns.