The party or the candidate

An all-candidates meeting in Squamish is a different affair than an all-candidates meetings in Whistler. Certainly there have been some angry, choice words used at all-candidates meetings here, but I don’t recall anyone challenging John Reynolds to step outside and settle an issue man-to-man.

But aside from the personal invitation to Mr. Reynolds, Monday’s all-candidates meeting in Squamish shed precious little new light on matters in the final days of this election – as must be the case with most all-candidate meetings across the country.

The issues, such as they are, have long been defined by the leaders and their party platforms. All-candidates meetings are an opportunity for people to see and hear the local candidates, gauge the candidates’ understanding or empathy for local concerns, and for the voters to confront the candidates with their concerns.

Monday evening in Squamish there was no direct question to Liberal candidate Blair Wilson about the sponsorship scandal, although he was challenged over Paul Martin appointing Liberal candidates while also talking about a democracy deficit.

There were no direct questions on health-care spending or privatization of health care, although each of the candidates did manage to regurgitate part of their party’s platform on health care and/or assail the platform of another party.

The people who came to the all-candidates meeting were interested in issues that affect them – naturally. They were there to support the candidate or party they’ve already decided to vote for, or to scorn one of the candidates or parties they oppose.

And what could the candidates be expected to tell the people, other than their party’s policies and to show some understanding of local issues?

Reynolds certainly had some strong support at the Squamish meeting and handled all questions with the smoothness you would expect of someone who has spent most of his life in politics – including the offer from the gentleman who asked him to step outside.

The incumbent MP and deputy leader of the Conservatives also emphasized his record of working for people in this riding, something even those who don’t agree with his politics but have had reason to call on him for help over the years respect, albeit grudgingly. He spoke of working to get $12 million in federal money for communities in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast since the last election. More powerfully, he told of his efforts to bring the widow of one of the victims of January’s horrific car accident to Canada when government bureaucrats wouldn’t allow her in the country.

And while much of Canada continues to vacillate between anger at the Liberals and concerns about the new Conservative party – and some of the Conservative candidates in particular – people in Squamish and most of the riding know what they’re getting with Reynolds. He’s been their MP for seven years and was their MLA for several years in the ’80s.

Against this track record the five other candidates have had a tough time making an impact. All of them speak intelligently and with conviction about their party’s policies, which is more than can be said of some candidates in past elections. But of the five only Wilson has a chance of upsetting Reynolds.

Mr. Wilson is bright, engaging, enthusiastic and, at least at the Squamish all-candidates meeting, seemed to be the victim of voters’ frustrations with the Liberals.

Profligate spending on the gun registry, the sponsorship scandal, the human resources ministry and 11 years of indifference under Jean Chretien fuelled that frustration. But at the same time, it was during those 11 years that Canada got its deficit under control and its economy to the position where it in the best shape of any of the G8 countries. This was Wilson’s message, one that probably hasn’t been heard enough.

So what’s going to happen in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast, and Ottawa, on Monday?

When the election was called in May, and the Liberals were clearly ahead of the Conservatives in the polls, there was a theory going around locally that because of the 2010 Olympics the government – i.e. the Liberals – will be sure to pay attention to the Sea to Sky corridor in the next few years. Therefore the corridor might be best served by re-electing an opposition MP, i.e. Reynolds.

That theory wasn’t discussed much after the Conservatives moved ahead of the Liberals in national polls, including some which suggested the Conservatives could form a majority government. This week, at least one poll had the Liberals back ahead of the Conservatives.

Reynolds concluded Monday’s all-candidates meeting by saying there was going to be a change of government and he was going to be a part of it, the implication being that voters should jump on the bandwagon. But it remains to be seen whether voters will cast their ballots in favour of a candidate or against a party.


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