It was a hot time in the old Peter Clark Hall on the University of Guelph campus last night as all eight of Guelph's by-election (and future general election) candidates appealed to the student voter.
In this corner: Philip "I've heard every Futurama joke ever" Bender of the Libertarian Party of Canada
In this corner: U of G's favourite professor and master of the metaphor, Tom King of the New Democratic Party
In this corner: Kornelis "You can call me Brother Kase" Klevering of the Marijuana Party
In this corner: playing for the home team; nurse, city councillor and all around good egg Gloria Kovach of the Conservative Party of Canada
In this corner: fighting for the little guy covered in fur and without a vote of their own, Karen Levenson of the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada
In this corner: the Green Machine, the man that doesn't know the meaning of the word quit, Mike Nagy of the Green Party of Canada
In this corner: wearing a hard hat and with a brief case full of visual aids, John Turmel
And finally, in this corner: the man that just can't get enough community service, Frank Valeriote of the Liberal Party of Canada
So let's play. The rules are simple: every candidate gets an opening statement. The first question comes from the Central Student Association and the rest came from the floor. Each candidate gets a minute and a half to respond, and if another candidate is personally mentioned in another's response then they get a minute to rebut. The moderator, my old Public Policy prof Tim Mau, promised to be ruthless with the time and it was thus.
Bender was very upfront saying "This is not going to go over very well with this audience," before responding to a question about government assistance in funding post-secondary education (although one guy in the back whooped every time Bender talked). He stuck to his Libertarian guns on a great many issues including the environment, child care and poverty saying that the answers lie not in more government interference but less. He also added that he wants to keep Parliament dysfunctional so that government will "do less harm" and he has no problem with accountability since his sole campaign promise is less government.
King was clearly a favourite and offered a couple of good analogies, like considering the environmental crisis like a speeding convertible or comparing the Conservatives and the Liberals to empty Pepsi and Coke cans, respectively. He attacked the government's $1,200 per year stipend for childcare, saying that "If anyone can find childcare for $100 per month, let me know." He tauted the NDP's record on the environment, poverty and accountability adding that the Liberals used to be the loyal Opposition and is now just loyal. In his closing statement, King said we all talk about change, but it's change we fear the most as we keep putting band aids on mortal wounds.
Which brings us to Brother Kase, who in his navy suit and wife beater was unsurprisingly chill throughout the length of the debate. His big thing was obviously to end the "Prohibition" against marijuana. This is bigger than you think because once we get over that, we can start looking at hemp as an alternative energy source and is a versatile solution to other material-based problems. On the government dysfunction question, Brother Kase said that they're mostly about big scandals, lies and hypocrisy anyway, and that by voting for candidates from the major parties, you're enabling the continuation of that bad behaviour. On other issues, Brother Kase says he's for a fully-funded daycare and post-secondary education system and wants a system of recall for the government.
Kovach came under fire a lot, mostly from Levenson, oddly enough. Kovach's debate performance started with the unusual measure of having a member of the campus' young Conservatives deliver her opening statement. When she was on, Kovach touted the Conservative governments record of tax cuts and credits and that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has kept his promises on offering choice in child care and cutting the GST. She did get soundly booed however when she rebutted to a comment by Levenson that a vote for Kovach is a vote for Harper. Kovach responded by saying that, "It's easy to make grandiose comments when you have no chance of forming a government."
Speaking of Levenson, her repose for the night was saying that her party didn't have a platform for the issue in question before segueing into discussing the mistreatment of animals. Of course, the environment was a matter of great importance for Levenson, animals live in the environment too, after all. Kovach became a frequent punching bag for Levenson's riff, aside from the aforementioned comment about Harper, she added that Kovach will have to clear all her comments from the PMO and that fear-mongering about the Liberals' proposed carbon tax is "evil." It seems that Levenson is still stewing from a perceived snub by Kovach during a council meeting about trapping.
As for Nagy, it was pretty clear that he was amongst his people this evening. He scored early points by saying that the Green Party intends to forgive 50 per cent of your student loan upon graduation. (Which got a jeer of "Charity" from Turmel.) He also talked about the Greens plans to allow every Canadian to earn a living income, and cut all income taxes for people making less than $20,000 per year. But Nagy spoke most clearly and most passionately about the environment and hit the ground running talking about the need for immediate action with the accelerating rate of melting of the Arctic ice. And seemingly taking the cue from a recently released poll, Nagy said that Guelph's poised to be the first riding in Canada to elect a Green MP.
No matter the subject that came up, Turmel would launch into his answer all: "Local Employment Trading Systems" (LETS), which Wikipedia describes as "interest-free barter arrangements," so that students can use the "Time Standard of Money" to work off their student loans or just about any other type of debt you can think of. Turmel plug how this is his 67th election, which secures his place in the Guinness Book of Records, next to the Queen or the Giant bagel, depending upon the edition. It seemed that Turmel's enthusiasm was catching in the hall until he brought up the war in Afghanistan and 9/11 conspiracy theories, calling Canada a "patsy posse" for the Americans in Afghanistan who started a war with the "white hat" Taliban after staging the 9/11 terrorist attacks and framing al Quada. Even the normally liberal university crowd found this hard to swallow.
Last but not least there was Valeriote. Obviously he talked about everything the previous Liberal government did, and would have done before losing the last election. But more importantly he talked about what the Liberals were going to do and Valeriote started off by offering the notion of interest-free student loans, we do it for corporations, offered Valeriote, why can't we do it for students. Bender praised Valeriote for his volunteerism and the Liberal candidate as en example, but Valeriote said that volunteering isn't enough without government money to back it up. Surprisingly there wasn't a lot of mention of the Green Shift plan, but Valeriote did acknowledge the sponsorship scandal and said that he's committed to seeing that a future Liberal government will be more accountable.