Dreadful, is being polite. Not one of the candidates roused any interest or enthusiasm. Surely Burlington can do better than this.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  September 27, 2011  The Chamber of Commerce web site said “No walk ins” – implying that if you hadn’t reserved a seat you were out of luck because the place was full.  A busload of people could have walked in and the room still wouldn’t have been full.  The event was the first time Burlington has seen all three candidates in the provincial election at the same podium.  Maybe the rain dampened everyone’s enthusiasm to see what the political choices were.

The soup was on the thin side.  The only time there were any amusing answers was when the issue of a gas fired generating plant was mentioned and all three candidates came back with a “not on my watch”.  The question was – given that Oakville has turned down a gas fired energy plant and now that Mississauga has said they don’t want the thing either could Burlington be home for the plant?   And that was about as exciting as it got.

Liberal candidate Karmel Sakran, out on his third all candidate event but his first with Progressive Conservative Jane McKenna didn’t make it.  New Democrat Peggy Russell was on point and her energy was certainly evident,  but this was a Chamber of Commerce crowd and they tend not to want to hear about the poor and the suffering.  McKenna held her own.

The questions were a lot better than the answers that were given and because of the format – you wrote out a question and it was asked of each candidate in a rotating order – you had the table with the Tory supporters writing out questions and having them asked – then the Liberal supporters would do the same thing.

The predictable answers to the question of raising the minimum wage: Liberals have  already raised it, Conservatives would leave it where it is and the NDP saying it had to be raised because it wasn’t even keeping up with inflation.

Burlington’s conservatives are still at that point where they believe that keeping wages at the minimum level keeps the costs down – they’ve yet to learn that if the minimum wage is raised people have more money to spend which results in higher sales.  They will get it over time.

What was disturbing, and I mean really disturbing, was the way all three candidates would dive into their briefing books to look for the party position on the question they had been asked.  McKenna didn’t seem to be able to get through a question without referring to her briefing book,  Karmel Sakran wasn’t much better and even Peggy Russell had to refer to her notes.

At times the candidates seemed to be racing through what they were reading to ensure that they didn’t get caught by the time keeper.

One of the questions late in the event was to “put the scripts aside and tell us why you want the job”  McKenna came back with why she went after the job – which just wasn’t true.  The Progressive Conservatives recruited her when they couldn’t find anyone else or didn’t like those who had put their names forward. McKenna got talked into the job, she was originally the campaign manager for Rene Papin who withdrew when the PC association asked him to do so.

McKenna then said something that was surprising.  She said that the “severity of where we are is not understood” by most people and then added that she was “overwhelmed by how much she didn’t know”.  To her credit McKenna has learned a lot – she had a lot to learn but she is more than ‘hanging in there’.  She is earning her spurs.  For a period of time she had chosen to be a peek-a-boo candidate.  She would go to events that were safe for her.  Her handlers should have let her out of the bubble they had her in earlier.  She may not be steeped in all this political stuff but she is learning and punching above her weight.

This was an event that Karmel Sakran should have taken hands down.  He is the most qualified candidate for provincial office, and he is said to be one of the best candidates the Liberals have had for some time.  He is a local boy who has done very well and has done more than his share in terms of community service.  But the room he spoke to Tuesday morning was a room that was not moved by Karmel Sakran.  He wasn’t able to move the words he read off the page.  I am sure he is just as disappointed as his supporters.

There was very little spontaneity and even less passion from any of the candidates.  During the last federal all candidates meeting and the municipal event almost a year ago I don’t recall seeing candidates sitting there with briefing books.  It was absolutely amazing to watch each candidate flip to the appropriate page in their briefing book.

The concern going in was – would McKenna show up.  And of course she had to show up and while her performance was passable at best she looked pretty good because the others just weren’t all that good.

Cogeco Cable had three cameras set up in the room – if they broadcast any of what they filmed they will surely be in the running for one of the worst public service performances ever put on by candidates for public office.  It was dreadful.

Peggy Russell kept having problems with the time allocation.  The Chamber of Commerce had a time keeper who would hold up a yellow care signifying that you were about to run out of time and a red card saying you were out of time and you got cut off.  Russell should have learned that when she saw yellow she had to say five more words of which the last two should have been thank you.

Sakran, a lawyer by training, droned on several times as he read from his briefing book – for a man of his experience that just wasn’t acceptable.

If you were an executive with a large corporation and you had asked Human Resources to advertise a job and send you their top three candidates and you interviewed each one of them – you would have asked Human Resources to run the ad again.  The first batch just weren’t all that good – with the possible exception of Peggy Russell who would be out there fighting the good fight.


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