Candidates educated on social issues at private forum
October 4, 2013
Jason Markussoff, Calgary Herald
Civic candidates heard the pleas and perspectives from anti-poverty and community groups Thursday at an open house that organizers kept closed to media to offer a “safe space” for everyone involved.
About 30 candidates, from Mayor Naheed Nenshi to Catholic trustee hopefuls, showed up at the event at Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Association. Rather than distributing their campaign pamphlets, they left with armloads of awareness campaign materials from the voluntary sector.
Bob Bowles, a first-time candidate in Ward 6, left shaking his head after learning that the living wage is $14.50 an hour.
“I’m quite shocked. I thought it would be higher than that,” he said.
For the first time during a campaign, 13 different groups banded together to host an information session on their respective issues, from arts and sports to domestic violence and literacy. It was open to all mayoral, councillor and trustee contenders, but billed as a candidates-only event the media was never notified about, “to create a safe space,” the invitation said.
The Herald obtained an invitation and asked if a reporter could attend. Organizers with the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations allowed the Herald to sit at a table at the edge of the community hall and talk to exiting candidates, but not walk up to the tables.
Geoff Braun, the CCVO’s policy director, said groups may rethink the no-media policy next time. He spoke of one candidate who admitted to organizers that she appreciated being able to get briefed on arts issues before an upcoming forum.
“We just wanted to make sure they didn’t necessarily feel like they had to have all the answers for all the issues,” he said.
In 2010, Calgary Economic Development came under fire for organizing a closed-door mayoral candidates’ debate for members of groups such as Tourism Calgary and Calgary Airport Authority. After candidates demanded the forum be public, the city-owned agency cancelled the event.
Nenshi said he had no qualms with CCVO hosting a media-free event, although he was unaware that it was.
“This isn’t a forum. This is an education opportunity like a career fair where we could learn a little bit more about these groups,” he said.
“Now, given my background and where I come from, I know all these groups very well. But it was useful for me to hear what groups are working on, particularly in terms of homelessness and poverty.”
Earlier this year, council approved the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative, a program to co-ordinate various charitable organizations to a common goal of curbing the poverty rate. Poverty issues have become a common topic at election debates.
Carter Thomson, a mayoral candidate, said the various groups didn’t try to co-ordinate their messages, but offered their own platforms and ideas.
“It was each to their own,” he said.