The debate over election debates continues with MP David Wilks issuing his conditions for a series of all-candidate forums in the Kootenay-Columbia riding.
In a news release sent out last week, the Conservative Party campaign team said they would only take part in debates organized by local Chambers of Commerce, and only between September 21 and October 2.
“Voting is a solemn obligation. The conduct of formal debates should reflect that responsibility and be encouraged by organizations that are non-partisan,” the Conservatives said in a news release. “To facilitate understanding and comparison of the differences between parties, structure and orderly format for candidate dialogue is of paramount importance.”
As well, they want questions to be collected in advance in order to “create efficiency and reduce duplication” and “allow maximum time for the four candidates to engage in debate.”
Wilks issued his own conditions despite the fact the other three candidates have been working to organize a debate schedule for several weeks now.
A month ago, NDP candidate Wayne Stetski issued his own challenge to his opponents to organize debates in Revelstoke, Cranbrook, Fernie, Creston, Nelson, Invermere, Kimberley and Golden over the course of the campaign.
The challenge was accepted by Liberal candidate Don Johnston and Green Party candidate Bill Green, who also suggested debates in Salmo, Kaslo and the east shore of Kootenay Lake.
Wilks rejected it, saying he wouldn’t respond until the official campaign started. Now that the campaign is underway, he’s proposed his debate conditions.
Stetski said he, Johnston and Green would continue to work on their own debate schedule — whether Wilks participates or not.
“Our committee will look at all proposals, but in the end we are going to go with the debates that give the maximum opportunity for the public to have their concerns expressed and their questions answered,” said Stetski. “Three of the four parties have agreed to work together. Mr. Wilks has not.”
Green also decried Wilks’ move, asking why he couldn’t cooperate with the other parties.
He also criticized the call to only have Chambers of Commerce organize the debates. He said the Mir Centre for Peace and the Citizen’s Climate Lobby are organizing a debate in Nelson in mid-September.
“Both organizations advocate for important causes, but they are also non-partisan,” Green wrote in an e-mail.
In Reelstoke, Judy Goodman, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, says they won’t be organizing this year’s debate.
“We don’t have the budget for it, or the time,” she said. “It is time consuming and it is expensive.”
There is no word yet on who will step up to take their place, though the Rotary Club has been approached.
In an interview, Wilks said that until Sunday he had been focusing on his job as MP and not the campaign.
“Once the writ was dropped, I was able to sit down with my campaign team and set out the course that we felt we wanted to do,” he said.
When asked specifically why he chose to adopt his own course, and not take part in the three-party committee that’s already formed, he replied: “I haven’t seen one date from the NDP candidate, not one. Have you?”
Wilks said the lack of chamber involvement wouldn’t preclude him from taking part in a Revelstoke debate.
“I’d prefer if the chamber’s got involved because for the most part they’re non-partisan groups that have the capability of putting it together,” he said. “They’ve done it in the past, they can do it this time as well.”
Wilks said he felt the two weeks he suggested were best suited for the debates. Green said a wider date range would allow for more flexibility to accommodate different communities.