About 100 people went on first dates Thursday evening at the Nelson Library.
In fact, they dated several people, all of them political candidates in the upcoming municipal election.
Candi-dating, an event organized by Nelson at its Best (formerly known as SPAN) had an atmosphere of concentrated engagement, with a friendly tension created by the sheer number of candidates (22) and the hair-trigger time limits imposed by the organizers.
“People were so remarkably curious and non-confrontational,” said moderator Jocelyn Carver. “It had a real genuineness to it.”
During the first section of the evening, people went on three-minute “dates” with the 22 candidates located at numbered stations around both floors of the library. After three minutes a bell went off — the signal to move on to the next candidate they’d signed up for.
“It was very illuminating,” said Toumbi Heynen, who dated several candidates, “and great to meet the candidates in such an intimate kind of situation, to get a feel for their character and their views. It is an absurdly short period of time which makes it a little more interesting — they were a bit more jazzed because they were obviously put on the spot.”
Sometimes daters ignored the bell and had to be encouraged to move on. Three minutes isn’t long for an in-depth political conversation. Carver said she noticed that many people had prepared very carefully thought-out questions. “They were trying hard to get to the heart of things,” she said.
“I thoroughly enjoyed these dates with the candidates,” said Janet Henderson. “I talked with six that I had appointments with and others I just went and listened. It was very personable.”
Some voters found that their preconceptions of certain candidates were overturned by the three-minute conversations.
“I have been surprisingly won over by a few of the candidates,” said Jeremy Kelly.
People who had not signed up for specific candidates were allowed to eavesdrop on others’ discussions but not take part in them.
“It is really fun and you can run around and eavesdrop and you can ask questions you might not ask in a forum,” said John Alton. “You also talk to other people. It is really social and a beehive of conversation.”
In the second half of the evening all candidates sat facing the crowd. Nelson at its Best had written six questions — about poverty, housing, climate change, youth engagement, jobs — and Carver chose candidates in a random order and asked them to answer, in two minutes, one of the six questions she also chose at random.
So each candidate got one chance to speak to the crowd, but they didn’t know when they would be called on or which question they would have to answer.
Carver said the intense engagement of both candidates and audience throughout the evening was “baked into the pie” by the uncertainty and the short time limits.
“The structure promoted a certain excitement about engaging and not wasting time,” she said.
The next election forum is for mayoral candidates only, hosted by broadcaster Glenn Hicks at the Prestige on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.
On Oct. 15 there is a forum on wildfires and climate change at the Nelson United Church, and on Oct. 16 an all candidates forum at the Central School gym at 7 p.m.
Voting day is Oct. 20.