Will Cranbrook continue to shortchange itself politically?
Perceptions by Gerry Warner
On Oct. 7, Cranbrook voters will get a great opportunity to engage in participatory democracy in this most critical of federal elections. But should this be the only opportunity?
I don’t think so. Here’s why.
At 7 p.m., Oct. 7, the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring what is billed as a “Federal All Candidates Forum” in the Heritage Inn and Conference Centre which seats about 250. In the past, the chamber has sponsored such forums in the Key City Theatre, which seats 602 in a town of 20,000, and is a much more appropriate size for such an event.
The forum is “open to the general public” according to the chamber’s ads, but is this forum really directed at the “general public?” Not really if you look at the format of the event.
I talked to Chamber Executive Director David Hull this week and he explained the format to me. The candidates will be given 20 questions in advance by a chamber committee and it’s a safe bet what most of the questions will be about. “The economy is the big issue in this election and our goal is to have all 20 questions answered during the night.”
During the forum, audience members will have to submit written questions in advance, and the questions will be vetted by chamber members for their “suitability and relevance,” Hull says. Asked if a forum focused mainly on one issue – the economy – and questions vetted in advance, rather than spontaneous, is fair, Hull was adamant.
“The forum will be absolutely as fair and balanced as possible and there’s no basis for any comment like that . . . The chamber does not support any particular party. We represent our members and we are dedicated to a strong and powerful economy.”
Now some may disagree with Hull’s comments in terms of fairness, but there can be no denying that the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce is engaged in this election, which is more than can be said for any other organization in this politically apathetic town. Yes, apathetic! If you disagree, I ask you why every time an election rolls around it’s the chamber, or the chamber’s junior partner, JCI Kootenay, that sponsors anything remotely approximating an all-candidates forum or debate in Cranbrook?
We have other service clubs and organizations in town. We have a college where they teach political science. There are many groups in town that represent all kinds of interests that are directly affected by what governments do in Ottawa, Victoria or Cranbrook for that matter.
Well, where are they???
In fact, if there’s any organization in town you’d think would jump at the chance to sponsor an all-candidates forum it would surely be the East Kootenay District Labour Council. When I was a reporter at the Townsman, I asked them more than once why they didn’t consider sponsoring an all-candidates forum and they said they’d get back to me. They never did. I did it again when I was running for Cranbrook Council with the same result. And I can say at this point is that I find it very disconcerting that the organization which represents hundreds of workers in this town – including their economic interests – can’t get off their comfortable butts and do something beneficial for their members like sponsoring an all-candidates forum during an election, be it federal, provincial or municipal. Prior to writing this column I called the Labour Council office, but all I got was a recorded message saying they couldn’t record messages at this time. So much for their engagement with the community.
So what are we left with? Another election in which the only all-candidates forum in town will be sponsored by an organization that claims to be “non-partisan,” but at the same time describes itself as the “Voice of Business,” which is its perfect right, but at the same time is ignoring other important issues like health care, the environment, climate change and many others. However, as long as nobody is prepared to mount a challenge, the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce will continue to be the political arbiters in this town for better or worse.
Ever wonder why so many people are cynical about politics?