Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2018/ Partial Candidate Roundup

Partial Candidate Roundup

There is a lot swirling around in my head concerning this provincial election. I don't feel particularly enthusiastic about writing much of it down. Nonetheless, I went to a couple of all-candidates meetings, so I might as well write them up.

First I attended a debate called the "Namaste Debate." I am pretty sure it was organized by some Indo-Canadian organization, but I don't know which one. Then I went to the Kitchener-Centre debate held by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, because I wanted to see the PC candidate in person.

It would be incorrect to characterize either of these debates as "all-candidates" meetings. There was a representative from the "None of the Above" party at the Namaste debate, and he was not permitted to speak. I am pretty sure the Chamber only invited the candidates from the four major parties, and frankly I am surprised they included the Greens.

On the other hand, it seemed that the Namaste debate was intended to cover all of the local ridings. Four different candidates from the Liberal party were in attendance: Diane Vernile (Kitchener Centre), Dorothy McCabe (Waterloo), Joe Gowing (Kitchener-Conestoga) and Surekha Shenoy (Kitchener South-Hespeler). No other party had more than one representative. The NDP sent Laura Mae Lindo (Kitchener Centre); the Greens Stacey Danckert (Kitchener Centre), and there was one independent, Narine Sookram (pronounced "Nah-Rhine", not "Nah-Reen"). Unsurprisingly, there was zero representation from the PCs. The flood of Liberal candidates did not help them much, because the moderators solicited one response per party, not one response per candidate. So we heard a lot from Narine Sookram and not much from each individual Liberal.

At the Chamber of Commerce debate all four major party candidates from Kitchener Centre showed up, including Mary Heinein Thorn from the PCs. Apparently Henein Thorn also attended the Social Development Centre meet and greet (!) but she did not attend a CBC Radio interview or the Namaste debate (and who knows what else). Given that the heads of the Chambers of Commerce are strong supporters of the Conservative party (to put things lightly) I was pleasantly surprised at how balanced the questions were overall.


Let's get commonalities out of the way: the candidates all seemed personable. Several had impressive credentials. But most of them stuck to their talking points. Many of them deflected questions that were unfavourable to them, just as they were taught to do by their handlers.

Here are some thoughts, in alphabetical order by surname:

Stacey Danckert is running for the third time, and it shows. She seems to be a star candidate for the Greens, in the sense that she has appeared on The Agenda to talk about Green Party policy at least twice. She pulled the usual Green Party trick of deflecting questions into broader principles. For example, when asked about funding hospitals she talked about preventative medicine and the social determinants of health. There is merit to this approach, but I am getting tired of this schtick, because Danckert did not indicate how we get from our current system to the new one, she did not address the huge turf-wars that would be involved, and she did not address how she as a Green MPP would be able to advocate for these difficult political shifts given that the Greens are not going to win many (if any) seats in this election.

It turns out that the Green Party does have a platform of eight policy platforms (none of which include merging the school systems). But I did not know this from listening to the all-candidates meetings involving Danckert. It is good that Danckert does not parrot Green policy for every answer, but having a sense of this platform would not have been out of place.

I am pleased that Danckert considers nuance in some of her positions. We have somehow arrived in a future where the Liberals propose high-speed rail and the Greens oppose it, but Green concerns about the expense and how the track affects farmers are on point. Danckert expressed similar concerns about impacts to small business owners.

Joe Gowing is a financial planner, and boy did it show. I liked him a lot (hello unconscious bias), because he visibly struggled with the endless spending promises the Liberals (and the NDP, and the Tories) were making without the money to pay for these promises. When answering a question about hydro rates, he claimed that things were not a problem for him because he was on fixed billing. At first I found that answer arrogant, but then he followed up by describing how as a financial planner he would give similar information to his clients. Honestly this campaign has been lacking in any kind of fiscal responsibility, so it was refreshing to find at least one candidate who acknowledged this.

Another thing I appreciated was that Gowing was willing to speak about concerns that did not directly pander to his audience. During his closing remarks he talked about needs in rural Ontario: broadband and natural gas. Given that Kitchener-Conestoga is a weird largely-rural and partially-urban riding, maybe this is self-serving. But I liked that he was willing to talk about rural issues to the largely suburban audience.

Mary Henein Thorn is a former coworker of mine, so maybe there is a conflict of interest here. (We did not work closely together, however, and she may not remember me.) She mostly read off talking points from the OPC platform (such as it is), which got irritating. On the other hand I got a clear sense that she is on the Red Tory side of the spectrum (think Elizabeth Witmer); many of her personal anecdotes had to do with caring for others; and she claimed most of her work experience was either in social agencies or working for the government. Sometimes she was inconsistent; on the one hand she echoed the talking point that the PCs would keep the minimum wage; on the other she said that the minimum wage cost some of her son's friends their jobs.

Given that Henein Thorn is probably going to take Kitchener Centre I think she will be largely invisible, just as she was largely invisible during this campaign. If this debate was anything to go by she will dutifully parrot her party's talking points even when she does not believe in them.

One of Henein Thorn's comments made me pretty angry, and it was when she was going off-script. When asked about transparency and how governments can be held accountable when they break election promises, she went into a speech about how MPPs are public servants, and how it is important that they stay accountable to the public. If that is the case then why did she (and so many other OPC candidates) skip so many events where she could be held to account? Knocking on 16 thousand doors is all well and good, but that is persuasion, not accountability. Accountability during a campaign means being judged alongside your fellow candidates, and she largely shirked that responsibility.

Laura Mae Lindo worked as a diversity officer with Laurier. She likes personal anecdotes a lot; she is always telling stories in response to questions, and sometimes those stories are not relevant to the question at hand. She echoes the NDP talking points and big numbers, but admitted at the end of the Namaste debate that she thinks these numbers go over the heads of the voters. I appreciated that insight.

She got stumped when asked about the logistics of how the NDP can afford to buy back Hydro One shares, but worked her way back to an answer. Like Henein Thorn, she suffers from several of the failings that affect other first-time candidates: they can speak to the talking points, but do not have a strong grasp of other issues.

It is pretty clear that she has been working hard on the campaign, and has been visible for events. So that is a mark in her favour. I think there is a nonzero chance she will take the riding, and I am probably parking my vote with her, so I hope she actually wants the job. After observing her in three things (these two debates plus an additional CBC panel) I can't tell one way or the other.

Dorothy McCabe was another pleasant surprise. Overall I was impressed by the calibre of candidates the Liberals have run locally this term. She is another first-timer, but she has worked for the region of Waterloo and for John Milloy, and she seems to have a reasonable grasp of the issues. In her opening remarks at the Namaste debate, she had the gumption to stand up and note that the OPC candidates have been skipping all-candidates meetings.

Being a Liberal, she did not get many opportunities to answer questions. But she did address one question in depth: why there were a lack of specialists in the region. She talked about how RBJ Schlegal has been attracting geriatric specialists, and talked about the changes the McMaster campus in Kitchener has made for general practitioners. I got the sense that she was able to go beyond talking points on this issue. I would have been interested to see her performance in other debates to see how she stacked up against Catherine Fife in Waterloo.

Surekha Shenoy only stayed for the first question. Then she had to leave for two other election engagements (but Narine Sookram stayed, and he is running in the same riding).

I do not have much to say about her. She comes across as the typical newbie candidate; somebody who has done some work in the community and now wants to pursue political office. She was probably the weakest of the four Liberal candidates in attendance (but that's me being racist again, because she was the only person of colour among the four).

Narine Sookram is an independent who appears to be running a serious campaign: he has full-colour lawn signs all over the place and glossy brochures to hand out. He boasts an excessive number of awards -- most of his campaign brochure consists of photo-ops of him receiving certificates. He is a job developer at Lutherwood, and hosts a radio show I have never listened to.

He is fond of preaching. Several times during the evening he blasted us with his crescendoing sermons telling us that he won't just KNOCK ON DOORS. HE WILL NEGOTIATE!!! and WHAT IS THE HOLDUP?? WHAT IS THE WAIT????

I should not mock his enthusiasm and volume too much, because I am guilty of doing the same thing (sorry, Toronto DrupalCamp). I will partially mock him for straddling the line between respectability and being bizarre. As an independent he did not have a Big Binder of Policies to read through, so he came up with a lot of answers on the fly. Sometimes these answers were sensible (focusing on part-time and flexible hours for working moms in addition to daycare) and sometimes they were wacky (boycotting gas stations for a week at a time to deal with gas prices). But overall I think he is serious about this. He thinks he is going to make a serious run as an independent. I am not seeing it, but if he splits the vote sufficiently then who knows what will happen? NDP/Green/Liberal vote splitting favours the OPCs; it is not clear who will benefit if Sookram splits the vote.

Daiene Vernile mystifies me. She is an incumbent and thus is polished in her talking points and repartee. I would have expected her to go well beyond those talking points, but for the most part she didn't. There was one notable exception: she did a good job defending the high speed rail plan from Toronto to London, producing a comprehensive checklist of what needs to be done before the project can proceed, and then arguing that the Liberals have been working on that checklist.

Vernile used to be a news anchor and television host, and maybe the broadcaster voice she uses is part of what turns me off. That is bigoted of me, so let's rationalize some more objective measures. Vernile is the minister of some minor portfolio (Tourism, Culture, and Sport) but that is no great accomplishment in the Liberal government. She has been MPP for the past four years and she obviously runs in different social circles than I do, because she has been more-or-less invisible. (In her defence, I did see her at Tri-Pride this weekend, but she did not stick around.)

I am sure she is competent enough. I am told by others that she is strong on constituency work. But I am indifferent whether she gets re-elected or not. I identify with Catherine Fife much more strongly, and I am not even fond of the NDP.

Notable Moments

At the Namaste debate the panel asked about the sex-ed curriculum. The audience was largely South Asian, where opposition to telling children about sex is strong. (Given my background I have some strong opinions about this, but I will keep them to myself.) I was gratified to see that the respondents to this question showed some backbone and defended the curriculum. Lindo noted that there was not enough consultation on the curriculum, and acknowledged that opposition to the curriculum was higher amongst ethnic groups, but defended the curriculum on the basis that it gave kids the vocabulary to talk about sex and report when they are being harmed. Danckert praised the curriculum for teaching her two boys about consent. Only Sookram pandered to the audience. First he expressed support for the government's intentions, and by the end of his answer he claimed that there would be lots of teen pregnancies because kids are learning too much too fast. (Oy.) I am pretty sure the audience was mad at everybody but Sookram, but I was pleased that most of the candidates were willing to take a stand.

At the Chamber of Commerce debate the first question was about bringing a teaching hospital, because Vidyard CEO Michael Litt claimed we needed one. The implication was that if we had a teaching hospital in Waterloo Region then we would get more specialists settling here, and thus we would have more doctors.

This question made me furious, and the way that the candidates pandered to the suggestion made me furiouser. Every candidate supported the idea in principle. Dankert had the presence to note that hospitals are expensive, and pulled out the Green talking point about the social determinants of health. Vernile expressed weak support but then talked about Liberal talking points. But overall they all seemed to be in support.

I see two infuriating things about this approach. Firstly, Waterloo Region is in the process of solving its doctor shortage, because we have the McMaster medical campus here. Doctors are settling down here, which is solving a problem that used to be acute. But suddenly that is not good enough. Now in additional to family doctors we need specialists, so for some reason we need to attract a teaching hospital.

Secondly, this suggestion is utterly selfish. Waterloo Region is so close to the GTA that it will be swallowed up soon. We have lots of access to specialists. You know who needs a teaching hospital? Rural and northern Ontario. They are starving for doctors, but the CEO of Vidyard wants to hoard all of the resources for us, because we are Silicon Valley North and carry with us all the same entitled nonsense. But not a single candidate had the courage to say this out loud. Provincial politicians should be interested in the needs of the province, not just pork for local ridings.

There were a few other jawdroppers at these debates, but I am bored and nobody is reading this anyways.