Can­di­date fo­rums should be the norm

The Compass - - OPINION - Nicholas Mercer is a re­porter/pho­tog­ra­pher with The Com­pass. He writes from Bay Roberts and can be reached at nmercer@cb­n­com­

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.

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