By David F. Rooney
Revelstoke’s all-candidates forum brought out 60 people eager to hear what those seeking elected office had to say for themselves, but their hopes were dashed by the failure to appear by Conservative David Wilks and Liberal Betty Aitchison.
Aitchison was unable to travel and sent a letter of apology that was read to the audience by moderator Bydron Roe. But Wilks no-show was particularly galling because, as retiring MP Jim Abbott’s political successor as Conservative candidate, he is widely regarded as the man to beat. Wilks, who was in town two weeks ago, said at the time that he couldn’t be here because he had a prior commitment. He will be back in Revelstoke this weekend.
His failure to appear has fuelled rumours that non-attendance is part of the Conservative campaign strategy. However, calls to different communities across the riding show that Wilks will be at some all-candidates fora — but not at others. He will be at the Creston forum on April 15 and the Golden forum on April 19 and the Fernie forum on April 21 but he won’t be at the Kimberley forum on April 18 or the as-yet-unscheduled Invermere event. Strangely, there is no all-candidates forum scheduled for Cranbrook, which is the largest city in the riding.
The Tory’s non-appearance has drawn criticism from his opponents. Shmigelsky’s comment — “It’s very disappointing for the many voters in the region who want to engage in all aspects of the political system, but can’t. If there is no accountability now, what can we expect if Wilks is elected?” — was pretty typical. But it also drew the ire of people who normally support the Conservatives. A number of them told me privately that it’s one thing for a generally well-respected and long-serving MP like Jim Abbott to miss the odd forum, but something altogether different when a brand-new candidate misses the fora held in two of the riding’s largest cities — Revelstoke and Kimberley.
Wilks’ absence here cast something of a shadow over Tuesday’s event. All three candidates who did attend were the left-side of the political spectrum and their answers on everything from the environment, to education and health care sounded very similar. Would Wilks have sounded different? Probably, but who’s to know since he didn’t show up.
While a few people were angry that Wilks was a no-show and wished there was some way to force him to attend, others were more concerned by the twin spectres of “strategic voting” (voting for a party other than your own in order to stop another candidate from voting) and “splitting the vote.”
“Aren’t you afraid of vote splitting that will only benefit the Conservatives?” one woman asked the candidates.
“It’s your right to vote where you’re comfortable,” replied Shmigelsky, who added that he is seeking everyone’s vote.
Bill Green that if people start worrying about strategic voting or vote splitting then they “are a long sight away from having a long-term vision” while Bush said a vote for him is a vote for someone who is not bound by party rules.
The forum was videotaped by RCTV’s Shawn Filipchuck and will be rebroadcast on Channel 6 in its entirety on these days and times:
- Wednesday, April 13 — 5 pm
- Wednesday, April 13 — 10 pm
- Thursday, April 14 — 7 am
- Thursday, April 14 — 3 pm