By Andrew Stuckey
There’s a scene from a 1980s John Hughes movie that has a young university student showing up for class, only to find he’s the lone person attending.
The other desks are populated by tape recorders, each studiously taking audio notes from a tape recorder playing from the professor’s lectern.
Except for a brief nine minutes or so at the end of the event, that’s exactly how it felt attending an all- (two) candidates forum hosted by the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce at the Sonora Community Centre last night.
Before I explain why, I want to tell you I’m a keen supporter of the Chamber. Its effort last night wasn’t lost on me. Its motivation in asking interested parties to submit questions prior to the event for delivery by moderator Brock Jackson was well-founded.
And I can’t fault the candidates, MLA Linda Larson and contender Colleen Ross. They’ve allowed their names to stand. They agreed to attend and provide responses to the questions asked. They did exactly that, answering the questions fed to them with material that presented each in the best light.
But there’s the rub: the forum was pre-packaged, scripted.
And it made for as much entertainment as watching Rice Krispies snap, crackle and pop their way to the bottom of your breakfast bowl.
The two candidates sat, literally, tables apart, each of the surfaces in front of them littered with pre-scripted answers and notes and reports from which to read. Neither made any effort to hide the fact they were, for the most part, reading from prepared texts.
That, of course, doesn’t make any sense since an offered question would include nuances that require a tweaked response — unless, of course, a candidate wasn’t going to attempt to respond to the individuality of the question but rather drag the answer back to familiar, safer territory.
Except when audience members were finally allowed to engage with the candidates and ask their questions directly, there was no drama, no context.
About the only bit of excitement last night was when NDP candidate Colleen Ross took mild offence at MLA Linda Larson’s pronouncement that Ms. Ross’s children and grandchildren weren’t born and didn’t live in the Boundary-Similkameen riding.
Perhaps I’m more acutely aware of how scripted this event was because I’m now in the unenviable position of having to capture the essence of what was said and deliver it to you (the reader) for easy digestion.
Much of what I heard I had heard before — sometimes word for word — at a similar event hosted by the Wine Country Retired Teachers’ Association the previous Friday.
I’m not alone in this, of course. My good friend Richard McGuire at the Times is probably, right now, desperately attempting to do the same, make sense of last night for Times readers.
And I know Lyonel Doherty, editor at the Oliver Chronicle, was just as impressed at a similar event the previous evening. He wrote “Wednesday’s all-candidates meeting in Oliver could have been described as rather uneventful; there was no shouting or insults, and nobody was out of order.”
His headline: “All-candidates debate civil in Oliver.”
I can promise you ordinary folks who attended last night’s forum in Osoyoos went to express. They wanted to have their say. Instead, they were told to sit on their hands and listen. A few got up and left. Others waited for the sitting-down part to end, then got up and button-holed the candidates for one-on-ones.
They asked their questions and had their say.
So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m not going to tell you how questions were answered last night. You can read candidate and party positions on proffered brochures and pamphlets, scroll websites and, what I would encourage, button-hole the candidates yourself to see where each stands on issues important to you.
I am going to provide audio of the candidates’ closing statements. They, too, were scripted, but do capture the overall tenor of the respective campaigns. You can find that audio to the left of this article.
And I’m going to make a suggestion to my friends at the Chamber. Kudos for pulling together three forums over three nights in three different communities. High marks for creating a “civil” environment in which to hold these events.
But, please, please, find another format for the next opportunity four years from now. A debate, perhaps, if you want to curb the rants and raves from the audience.
More contrast. More context. And definitely more to write home about.