Political event: Guelph All-Candidates Meeting

Guelph All-Candidates Meeting

Italian-Canadian Club, May 10 2018:

So, last night I did my civic/democratic duty and attended the all-candidates meeting for the upcoming provincial election. It was much too long. The candidates didn’t debate or engage with each other at all. They gave quick set speeches on questions that had mostly been provided to them in advance. Not the most interesting format, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that each of the seven candidates responded to every question and they stuck to the same order throughout.

There was quite a full house, forcing the event coordinators to open up the room at the back. They said there were over 400 people and that may have been right. Though people did start to drift away as the night wore on. Here are my immediate thoughts and impressions on the line-up, moving from left to right (I mean in terms of the order the panel were seated, not as a description of their political alignment):

Sly Castaldi (Liberal): Castaldi is stepping into the shoes of long-time incumbent Liz Sandals. She struck me as a bit stern, but probably capable. I think she has a background in running a women’s crisis centre. I got the impression that she wasn’t that keen on being a politician though, and that she was having to work hard to get up to speed. Her remarks were well prepared, which means that she at least stayed on topic and answered the questions even if she sounded like she was reading from a card most of the time. She also could have used some more energy, especially as there is a real air of “time’s up” hanging over the Liberals this election.

Michael Riehl (Libertarian): Mr. Riehl didn’t show up and nobody knew why. I thought this seemed appropriate for a true Libertarian. I mean, the guy’s free to do what he wants on a Thursday night, right?

Juanita Burnett (Communist): most of Burnett’s comments were kind of vague and not well delivered. She did, however, get one of the most audience-approved lines of the night when she said that she was going to fund various government programs by a progressive taxing of the rich, and especially big corporations. Applause!

Ray Ferraro (PC): I thought Ferraro (whose background is in real estate development and who I believe is the brother of a former Guelph MP) had the best opening remarks, but somewhere along the line he lost the crowd. Not that the crowd was ever going to be on his side anyway. The event was sponsored by the Guelph Coalition for Social Justice and most of the big applause lines during the evening were for backing unions. Given that, it seemed as though Ferraro decided at some point that he had zero fucks to give and began making some bizarre statements, like saying that in 45 years in the construction industry he’d never heard of someone being injured at work. At least that’s what it sounded like he said. Maybe he meant something else. In any event, he was the only speaker who was getting heckled, which is something he seemed indifferent if not oblivious to. In general he struck me as reasonably well informed but perhaps a bit old for the job.

Paul Taylor (None of the Above): I’ve never heard of the None of the Above party. I assumed they are a joke party, along the lines of the Rhinos, and that Mr. Taylor was only there to provide some comic relief. But apparently not. According to their website their mission is “to elect independent MPPs who are not bound by party control and who truly can represent their constituents first. We support the 3Rs of Direct Democracy: Referendum, Recall and Responsible Government laws for true Legislative and Electoral Reforms.” I quote the website here because I didn’t get any sense from Mr. Taylor that he was aware of a party platform or that he had spent much time thinking of the issues in this election. Most of his remarks seemed off the cuff, or were offered up as “just my personal opinion.” As the night went on he seemed increasingly clueless. It also didn’t help that he was always speaking right after Mike Schreiner.

Mike Schreiner (Green): Schreiner may have been the only political veteran on the panel and it showed. I think Ferraro was a city councillor years ago, but that’s a different game. Schreiner was the pro. He sounded great and stayed on-topic all night. This wasn’t hard because many of the questions had an environmental angle (power generation, water conservation, climate change). Aside from what has become an obligatory nod to an undefined and perhaps mythical “indigenous world view” most of it sounded right to me. I don’t know if it’s because he’s the provincial party leader or because Guelph just has a strong Green organization, but the Greens around here always seem to work the hardest come election time. They easily have the most boots on the ground. Not that it’s ever got anyone elected, but if they’re going to make a breakthrough then this is the place.

Agnieszka Mlynarz (NDP): “Aggie” probably had the most energy on the night (though Schreiner was close) and she generally came across well. Unfortunately, our lousy first-past-the-post election system penalizes the number of parties on the center left who are largely indistinguishable as far as their main policies are concerned. I came away from the  meeting not knowing what Mlynarz, Schreiner, Taylor and Castaldi really disagreed on.

Thomas Mooney (Alliance Party): as with the None of the Aboves, I’d never heard of the Ontario Alliance party. Apparently they were only founded less than a year ago, as part of the fallout from the Patrick Brown affair. From what I can gather from their website they are a sort of libertarian coalition. They are against government (or government-as-usual) and pro-free enterprise, family values, personal responsibility, and hard work. Everything Mooney said seemed like a platitude to me. No policy specifics.

Final thoughts: I thought Schreiner was pretty clearly the best speaker. The three fringe party candidates didn’t seem prepared or even that interested in what was going on (or, for that matter, the election). Schreiner and Mlynarz were the only two who showed any enthusiasm. Castaldi’s demeanour seemed to reflect slipping Liberal morale but she might have just been having a bad night. As noted, Ferraro appeared largely apathetic, which may have been a sign of confidence that broader trends were pulling in his direction anyway or may just have meant that he really didn’t care.

As with any political rally, there were endless calls for the government to provide people with more. Meaning more of everything. More for health care (home care, mental health, drug plans, senior care). More for education. More for the environment. More affordable housing. Aside from the Communist call to soak the rich there was little desire to nail down how all this was to be paid for though. Schreiner thought that moving to a green economy would result in savings and he’s probably right. Castaldi, stuck having to defend the party in power, could only point to the fact that the Ontario Liberals have been spending more, much more, on health care and education already. But the feeling seemed to be that all this has been a waste.

I won’t call this election yet, but if the Liberals really are as vulnerable as they seem and this riding is up for grabs then there is a slim possibility that Schreiner gets in. But given the clutter on the left and the weakness on the right I’d say that Ferraro’s confidence at this point is merited.

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