This is a bad time of year to plan an event. Very inconvenient election time for a student. Students are focused on final exams, writing grade saving papers, and slowly dragging themselves through to summer.
No one expected over 350 people to pack the SUB ballrooms at the University of Lethbridge. I certainly didn’t expect to see more students than anyone else, and still a good number of Uleth staff. I expected some faces, but the ones I didn’t know or hadn’t seen before far outnumbered those I was familiar with already.
If you were unable to catch the forum, Keith Gardner, The Meliorist’s outgoing Editor-in-Chief, live tweeted the event and I would say gave an accurate reflection on the nights proceedings.
From my crowd attentive and non-tweeting perspective, I would say we had a good mix of party representation. Most were not flashing buttons or shaking people’s hands, most were there to listen and engage. One of the more notable moments of the evening came from a young women who openly said, to the candidates and the room, that she is a former conservative. Former because of Harper’s CPC government. To paraphrase: “I believe we have given him enough chances, I don’t want to give him anymore.” This sentiment seemed echoed by many in the crowd who seemed disenchanted with old partisan values.
From the conversations, and the questions asked I would guess that many in the room were still undecided before coming to the forum, though I think many found themselves surprised by who they were cheering for.
Of the four candidates, Mark Sandilands truly stood out. He was able to keep a conversational tone while speaking knowledgeably to his party’s platform all while bringing in his own personality and values. Geoffrey Capp surprised many with his congenial attitude towards the other parties. The biggest surprise to myself was his adamant advocacy for a reformed electoral system to an MMP system, which would ensure coalition governments by electorally making it impossible to get a majority in the house. Bring the CHP candidate, Capp may be a pretty big turn off for many voters, but his messages were strong: get involved in a political party on the ground floor and, Canada’s electoral system needs to change.
Electoral reform seemed to be the sexy issue of the night, with all but Jim Hillyer interested and informed on what their party would do to change our current “first past the post” system. MMP and PR were two buzz terms thrown around, which seemed to resonate well with the crowd.
(Sidebar: This election has pleasantly surprised me: I would have never guessed I would be talking parliamentary respect and reforming our electoral system with hundreds of people in the same room.)
Hillyer was the biggest disappointment of the night. Though he does indeed seem like a sincere individual, his complete lack of knowledge of his own party’s platform – to the point were he couldn’t speak on an issue without first looking it up – turned many away. He stumbled over the simplest questions and was unable to relay any sense of common knowledge. Some people who have been publicly active in the federal conservative part left half way through the forum, with one telling me that he couldn’t watch Hillyer anymore. It genuinely seemed like Hillyer came to the forum not even knowing why he was running, or who he was running for. Clearly reaching for straws he relied heavily on his folksy charm, which isn’t to be underestimated, but that charm quickly dissipated when he was unable to speak on anything his party stood for other than a “strong economic future”.
Another favourite quote came from a member of audience who asked Hillyer about the cost of the controversial fighter jets. Hillyer didn’t know, and followed that up with a strange remark on how not everything should be debated about, and how some costs are necessary and not everyone needs to know how much those cost are (I am paraphrasing here). This was after his defense of cutting funding to local group, Womanspace, because of “tough economic times”.
The response from the audience members was that it seems the CPC is fine with “nickel and dime’ing Womanspace” but cannot have an open conversation about billions of dollars. Sassy.
Though the candidates were the main event, it was the audience that took center stage. They were able to openly question the candidates on issue they cared about, and were able to challenge the response when it seemed insufficient. I think it gave more than one person a good reason to vote in this election.