Carp debate has one empty chair

CARP – The Mess Hall was packed with West Carleton voters and there wasn’t an empty seat to be had, unless you include Conservative candidate Justina McCaffrey’s chair.

A rough head count estimated more than 140 people filled the Carp Mess Hall to capacity for last night’s (Oct. 8) Huntley Community Association hosted Kanata-Carleton riding candidates meeting. West Carleton Online dropped the all from ‘all-candidates meeting’ because McCaffrey didn’t bother to show.

Organizers were expecting the Conservative after reaching out to her office, but moderator Allan Joyner told West Carleton Online moments before the debate “we never had a firm confirmation.”

It was the second Kanata-Carleton all-candidates debate in a row McCaffrey skipped – third if you include a student debate held at W. Erskine Johnston Public School.

It was a clear disappointment to the large crowd of dedicated voters – you don’t go to all-candidate debates if you don’t vote. It was also an opportunity.

Right off the bat it was an opportunity for the zing of the night delivered with expert timing by Green Party candidate Dr. Jennifer Purdy of Dunrobin.

As organizers hurried to find chairs for the large group still standing, Purdy quipped “there’s an empty seat up here if anyone wants to sit onstage with us.”

The Carp Mess Hall was filled to capacity for last night's Huntley Community Association All-Candidates Debate. Photo by Jake Davies
The Carp Mess Hall was filled to capacity for last night’s Huntley Community Association All-Candidates Debate. Photo by Jake Davies

It was also an opportunity for the three so-called fringe candidates to focus their attention on Liberal policy and the incumbent MP Karen McCrimmon.

Candidates were allowed to introduce themselves and answer pre-written questions submitted in the weeks between the debate announcement and the start of the debate. Those questions were collated by journalist Randal Denley and Huntley Community Association member Kathy Fischer. Following that, the debate would open up to the floor for questions for about half an hour.

Another small difference between this all-candidates meeting and the one hosted by the Arnprior Region of the Federation of Agriculture two weeks ago was the candidates would be offered the opportunity to rebuttal answers made by other candidates.

“We’re usually pretty civilized at these things and we want to keep it that way,” Joyner said.

The NDP’s Melissa Coenraad was the first to speak.

“Governments make promises,” she said. “Sometimes the promises are successful and sometimes they fail. I think the government has to recognize when it makes a promise, it has to keep it.”

The People’s Party of Canada candidate Scott Miller spoke of his experience.

“I once yelled at Joe Clark’s granddaughter,” he joked adding she played on a soccer team he coached. “We’re very big on freedom of speech and small government. I know farming. It’s a hard life. Our platform is going to get rid of the dairy quota.”

McCrimmon spoke of her experience as a Member of Parliament so far.

“I’ve been serving you for the last four years,” she said. “The highest calling is one of being of service. The true measure of a life is the impact you have on others.”

Purdy spoke on climate change and the time to do something is now.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report came out last January,” she said. “In four years, what have the Liberals done? Nothing, nothing, buy a pipeline, nothing, nothing. We can’t combat climate change and put it on the backs of the public. People say ‘I don’t want to waste my vote.’ Well what has it done for you so far?”

The questions filtered in and covered a wide variety of topics similar to those in Kinburn including national issues such as gun control, the environment and the economy and there was also a question on a local issue, specifically the Cavanagh concrete batching plant proposed along the Carp Road.

Following the debate, West Carleton Online spoke with three West Carleton residents with a history of political activism in the community to get their thoughts on last night’s debate and the hot topic of the candidate that was not there.

Retired Dunrobin teacher, Dunrobin and District Women’s Institute member and municipal council candidate in Ward 5’s first election post amalgamation Adele Muldoon thought McCaffrey’s absence was a mistake.

“I’m very disappointed,” she told West Carleton Online this morning (Oct. 9). “Is this a strategy? I don’t think she’s showing the respect to the public they deserve. To hear her and listen to her thoughts on policy and to make a judgement if she is fit to serve. I think McCaffrey let the people of West Carleton down.”

Muldoon says she has attended every Kanata-Carleton all-candidates meeting held this election campaign. Mostly because she has a question for the Conservative candidate but can’t find her.

“The reason I went again, after Kinburn, was because I wanted to ask the Conservative candidate how her party will make up for the carbon tax?” Muldoon said. “They say they are going to scrap it and have the big polluters pay for it. I want to know how that will affect farmers. Are they going to be classified as big polluters? I would like to see the details in the policy.”

Muldoon is a big believer that climate change is real and already happening.

“You can’t live what we have experienced and not react,” she said. “We’ve had three major events in the last two years. But it’s not just here. It’s a global event. It’s happening, we just don’t know how bad it’s going to get.”

Muldoon says your federal riding representative is even more important than who wins the leadership.

“I think the candidate you send to Parliament is more important than the leader,” she said. “They represent you and they can help the individual. Karen (McCrimmon) has done all of that. She has done all of that. She has served the community very well.”

Muldoon feels West Carleton appreciates the traditional parties, but says she was impressed with the NDP’s Coenraad and her party’s policy.

The last Kanata-Carleton all-candidates meeting of the campaign is Thursday, Oct. 17 at the Kanata Recreation Complex in Kanata starting at 7 p.m.

Muldoon says she might be at that one too.

“I think I will go if the opportunity to ask my question presents itself,” she said.

Carp area resident Dan Mayo also attended last night’s debate. Mayo, who lives along Huntley Creek is a vocal opponent of the proposed concrete batching plant Cavanagh is hoping to build in the Carp Road Corridor.

It was hard not to notice the missing candidate.

“It was very unfortunate the Conservative candidate was not there,” Mayo told West Carleton Online this morning. “Was she ill perhaps or had a family emergency? Otherwise her absence implied taking the Tory votes in the Carp area for granted, as well as missing the opportunity to persuade any swing or undecided voters. Though typically few uncommitted voters turn up at all candidates meetings. They are usually mostly party loyalists.”

Those candidates that did show up put on a good show Mayo said.

“The turnout was decent, as was the quality of debate,” Mayo said of the large crowd and the discussion they heard. “Overall the Green candidate Dr. Jen Purdy gave the best account of herself in my opinion. As a political newcomer her command of policy issues was impressive. The Liberals should be nervous of votes bleeding to the Greens.”

Mayo said he remembered something similar happening in the 2015 election.

“During the 2015 race, Andrew West, the then Green candidate, told me he got a massive number of responses at the door that, although they’d like to vote Green they had to stop (former prime minister Stephen) Harper’s Conservatives getting re-elected, so they were voting Liberal. The curse of strategic voting in the first-past-the-post electoral system. The Liberals can’t count on anti-Harper sentiment this time. Digs at Doug Ford won’t get much traction and seem cheap anyway.”

Carp Road Corridor Business Improvement Area (CRCBIA) executive director Roddy Bolivar attended the debate as both a Kanata-Carleton resident and a representative of the CRCBIA business community.

Bolivar didn’t stay for the whole debate but said he was impressed with what he heard.

“I was happy each of the candidates present mentioned small business,” he said. “I’m happy it’s on each of the candidates’ agenda. I was there to represent the CRCBIA’s small businesses, their employment challenges and the manufacturing industry. They did talk about that and provided a little comment on their party’s platform toward small business.”

He was surprised he didn’t get to hear from the Conservative representative in any form.

“That was weird,” he said. “I was surprised she didn’t even give a statement. Even if she can’t be there, you send someone to take notes.”

Bolivar says he will probably attend next week’s Kanata all-candidates meeting. Bolivar is a Kanata resident but says the businesses in the CRCBIA have an interest in that part of the riding as well “with regard to the ever-creeping urban boundary. We certainly have an interest in hearing about transit issues as well.”

For West Carleton Online’s compete Kanata-Carleton election campaign coverage, click here.