As someone who has organized political forums for more than a decade and has attended at least 100 of them over a lifetime, there’s an important message for candidates.
With the campaign now in its final two weeks, Kelowna-Lake Country candidate Stephen Fuhr publicly commented on the conspicuous absence of Conservative opponent Tracy Gray at several earlier meetings. (Gray has since been in attendance at all events.)
Fuhr is the only candidate to attend all of the forums and while you might not pick up any votes, by not attending you will lose votes. (Justin Kulik and Travis Ashley have missed one event each.)
People want to hear what you have to say. An election is the most detailed job interview there is and you have about 25,000 people on the selection panel.
When a community group organizes an event, they go to a lot of work — advertising, emailing, choosing a moderator, booking a hall, setting up the hall, and sometimes even getting a business to donate free tea and coffee.
A no-show is a snub.
With candidate forums, many in attendance are decided voters or supporters of a specific candidate.
Unless there’s a Brian Mulroney “you sir, did have a choice” moment, rarely is an election won or lost on one forum.
But, people want to see how quick candidates are on their feet. Do they seem genuine? How do they interact with their opponents?
Sometimes candidates are so far ahead, organizers believe a poor showing at a candidate’s forum is the only thing that could cost them victory.
Forum participation is obviously important, otherwise Maxime Bernier wouldn’t have complained when he was originally left of the guest list for the leader’s debate. Ditto for Elizabeth May, several years ago when she too wasn’t invited. Bernier and May know the value in debates.
There were several mayoral forums in Penticton in 2018 in what was thought to be a three-way race. The three front-runners attended each and every forum.
John Vassilaki, the eventual winner, wasn’t the strongest speaker by any stretch of the imagination.
But, he won the election ... in a landslide. People saw he was genuine, honest and straight from the heart.
Again, it’s not what you say, but the fact that you’re there, live and in person, to say it.
James Miller is managing editor of The Kelowna Daily Courier.