Candidates-fullBy Michael Den Tandt

Judging from the performances at Thursday evening's all-candidates forum at the Woodford Community Center, incumbent Conservative Bill Walker has little to fear in the June 12 provincial election. Although he asserted, in a brief conversation before the event, that he is "taking nothing for granted."

In a session sponsored by Meaford's Chamber of Commerce, which was more discussion than debate, Walker, New Democrat Karen Gventer, Liberal Ellen Andersen and Green Jenny Parsons each were invited by moderator Geoff Solomon to answer questions about job creation, soaring electricity prices, deficits and debt, health care and infrastructure. They spoke to a curious crowd that had Woodford's small community center about two-thirds full.

Walker repeatedly appeared better armed with facts and more practised in rhetoric than any of his three rivals. His demeanor did not suggest he considers victory a given – though Bruce-Grey Owen Sound has long been a Conservative stronghold, both federally and provincially.

Parsons, a teacher, magician and entertainer, spoke with verve, standing while the other three mainly sat, but she appeared to rush through her answers. At times she appeared so eager to convey facts and figures that she got bogged down and failed to deliver the "nut graph" or conclusion. Her pitch was old-line Green Party fare – environmentalism, organic farming, a chicken in every pot, and a backhanded swipe at nuclear power for good measure.

Gventer, a familiar face and voice due to her strong performance for the New Democrats in the 2011 federal election, spoke forcefully and passionately. She was weak, however, on the economics questions, saying at one point that "we in the NDP have a clear plan that does not depend on economic growth to create jobs." Eh? If not economic growth, then what? "We do have to live within our means," she asserted elsewhere in the session. "But not at the cost of our services." Ah. But what if one cancels out the other?

Candidates-hall-featureWalker, as expected given his earlier debate performances in this campaign, focused on spending and debt, repeatedly tying the need to rein in spending to the province's future ability to provide social programs such as health care. Some $11-billion a year now goes to interest payments on the provincial debt, he noted – money that could otherwise be spent on social programs.

During a discussion-circle question-and-answer session that came after the formal remarks, Walker faced some pointed questioning from voters about Conservative leader Tim Hudak's pledge to slash 100,000 jobs from the provincial payroll. Just as Hudak had in the televised leaders' debate Tuesday evening, Walker downplayed the proffered cuts, saying 80 per cent would accrue from attrition and retirements.

Anderson, a veteran municipal politician and mayor of The Blue Mountains, was the weakest of the four, often reading verbatim from prepared notes. She rallied during the session on fitness and health care, saying "it's the core of the community." For the rest, her formal presentation was a dry defence of various Liberal government programs.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the locale, there was not a single formal question about wind power. Woodford is on the borders of the controversial Silcote Corners wind power project, which was shelved following opposition from area residents. Walker did take several opportunities to slam the provincial Liberals' Green Energy Act, and the turbines fields, and higher power prices, that have resulted.

Tuesday, Tory leader Hudak made the ballot question about economics, jobs and spending discipline. Walker did the same Thursday, though in terms markedly softer than his leader used early in the campaign – an indication, perhaps, that the party realizes its 100,000 job-cuts pledge, though it drew much attention early on, was a mistake.

Michael Den Tandt is publisher and editor of Owensoundhub.org. He can be reached at [email protected].


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