On Monday night, three candidates in the Provincial election vying for the downtown Toronto seat of Trinity Spadina participated in a debate at The Duke of York pub. While Trinity Spadina is not a typical Ontario riding, the candidates were indeed representative of their political parties, not only in the literal sense, but in the way their characters as individuals seemed to be representations of what their parties stand for. The outcome reinforced the reality that no matter who wins the October election, Ontario's voters will be the losers.
The candidates who appeared were the incumbent MPP Rosario Marchese of the NDP, the Liberal Party's Sarah Thomson and Green Party candidate Tim Grant. Progressive Conservative Mike Yen, whose party has polled a poor third place in the riding in the last few elections, didn't bother to show up.
The audience of about 65 people were largely, but not entirely made up of partisans there to support their candidates and were, as was the case of the candidates themselves, often caricatures of what their respective political organizations represent. The NDP supporters were perpetually disgruntled and unkempt, the Liberals were intellectual bantamweights with a sense of elitist entitlement to rule, and the Greens were an odd, mixed bag obsessed with environmental issues while lacking cohesive positions on everything else.
Having the debate in a pub while liquor was available was for the most part a good idea. There was the odd exception, as in the case of the woman who identified herself to me as a former provincial Liberal candidate. She appeared inebriated and was constantly heckling and interrupting Marchese from the floor until a moderator finally had to tell her to behave herself. I certainly enjoyed the night a lot more than I would have had I not had 5 stiletto martinis during its course, however, even that amount of alcohol couldn't`t make the NDP's representative seem less pathetically inept or the Liberal less hopelessly insincere and uninformed.
Marchese`s solutions to everything seemed to be more taxes and more government control of people`s lives. Obviously, as far as he`s concerned, government does such a good job of running things that we need to extend it to the point of getting them to make junk food prohibitively expensive while we hand over every dollar of discretionary income to them. Government waste, duplication of services, and lack of accountability was outside their purview to address, while taking money out of taxpayers`wallets and throwing it at problems, and their cronies, seemed to be the obvious solution for the NDP.
Whereas getting a straight, honest answer from a Liberal seemed a more difficult prospect than discovering the God Particle in physics. In the case of Ms Thomson, she was also unclear as to why she would make a good representatives or what ideas she had other than "entrepreneurs will solve our problems" although since the question was on how to deal with nuclear power in the province, that answer seemed...well,.. let's say no less obtuse than Ms Thomson's other responses.
Ms Thomson herself is personable and charming. It's no wonder her mayoral bid received the support of Canada's most famous white-collar criminal, who seemed to prefer the prospect of feting Thomson at one of his garden parties to having to socialize with the brash, forthright Rob Ford, who overwhelmingly won the municipal election last year.
When asked by Greg Oliver of the Canadian Secular Alliance if they would abandon the discriminatory system of public funding for Catholic Schools and only fund the public school system, both Marchese and Thomson answered that they support continuing the system the way it is. When an additional question from the floor pressed Ms Thomson on how she felt about the ethics of providing public funding to one religious group's school and how she could justify tax funds being used for religious education, she seemed unwilling or unable to comprehend the question.
Rather than addressing ethics, Thomson deflected to self-serving political expediency, saying that her friend John Tory's campaign had failed on the basis of the same proposal, suggesting she buys into the belief that it (rather than his lack of charisma and good ideas) led to his defeat when he led the Ontario Progressive Conservatives. The questioner then pointed out that Mr. Tory's proposal was different - that Tory had proposed funding all religious schools, not none.
Ms Thomson seemed confused and unable to compute the difference between the two concepts and at that point declined to continue with a public answer.
The only candidate prepared to give an answer to that question based on the morality and not political practicalities, was the Greens' Tim Grant, who said unequivocally that he advocated incorporating the Catholic School Board into the Public System and would end religious education in public schools.
Grant is far and way the most intelligent and straightforward of Trinity Spadina's candidates. While as an individual he would clearly make the best representative, the Green Party lacks cohesion and leadership (most people couldn't even say who the Provincial Green Party leader is) and he stands virtually no chance of winning.
The riding's leanings make Conservative Mike Yen's chances of winning Trinity Spadina only slightly better than Libby Davies' chances of winning the next Miss Canada Pageant, which makes the only two practical voting choices Sarah Thomson or Rosario Marchese.
As loathe as I am to do so, on that basis, for those not willing to take the risk of voting for Grant, I would have to endorse Marchese. His party's politics are abhorrent, his ideas are doltish, but Marchese is honest, approachable, is genuinely dedicated to serving his constituents, and is in politics for reasons other than personal vanity, which makes him better than the alternative.
One additional note about the debate, which was one of, if not the first provincial riding debate for the upcoming election in the province. It was organized by an extraordinary young woman named Terri Chu. Disillusioned by the partisanship of issues that she felt should not be politicized, she organized a series of salon evenings in her home, with expert speakers discussing a variety of issues, many of which touched on her passion of environmental health and sustainability. Those evenings grew in popularity since she began about a year ago to the point where her home could no longer accommodate them. She then started the Why Should I Care? group that puts on regular forums for discussion of issues that affect public policy. Anyone interested in upcoming events or learning more about Why Should I Care? can get more information through the group's website.