It took me a while to actually get to the point of putting keyboard to blog on this post. During my week-long, dogged, Tommy Lee Jones-like pursuit of an interview with Marty Burke last week, which in case you didn't know came out fruitless, my emotional state swung wildly between determination and outright anger. The later emotion was only really slaked when I found good company in CFRU's Election Show and I was interviewed by the Mercury's Greg Layson about the whole thing. Burke can duck me, I don't care.
And then there was last night. With just over 90 minutes to spare, Burke's campaign let the Guelph Mercury know that their candidate couldn't make their all-candidates debate due to a health issue, a back injury suffered during his military service. The show went on, as they say, but in the end the numbers don't lie, whether by act of over-scheduling or act of obfuscation, Marty Burke has made it only to one-third of the all-candidate debates and forums held since the start of the election. Aside from that he's been unresponsive to requests for time from the city's alternative media, and his responses to mainstream media have come mostly in the form of e-mails from himself or his communications director.
One thing is perfectly clear, Marty Burke doesn't think he has to properly debate in order to get people to vote for him, and he doesn't seem to think that addressing the media directly is worth his time. In short, Marty Burke has shown time and again that he doesn't think he has to do the things that people have to do, in order to prove they should be elected as Guelph's representative in Canada's House of Parliament. So I submit the following: you can vote for whoever you want on Election Day, but don't vote for Marty Burke.
Am I being too harsh? I don't think so. I've said before that if Burke can't handle the scrutinizing of myself and Jan and Scott on CFRU, how can he be expected to handle the pressures of Parliament Hill? If he can't come to forums because of a scheduling conflict, why won't he explain why he didn't give organizers of these forums a preferable meeting time? If he's susceptible to back issues, why did he not tip off the Mercury to his potential absence until and hour and half prior to the start of the debate? And to wit, why were there so few Burke supporters at the debate? It's almost like they knew there was no point going out to Guelph Place to support him.
To many Conservative candidates, it seems perfectly acceptable to skip debates and shut out the media. The reaction from Guelphites, I'm proud to say, is making a loud case for the opposite approach. Granted, Burke took some chin music at the Chamber of Commerce debate, which considering the host should have been the business-friendly party candidate's chance to shine. Plus, the Chamber debate was limited to the four major party candidates, so that meant no worrying about shedding a tear at Karen Levensen's animal abuse stories, no barrage of Harper put downs from Drew Garvie, no freaky-deaky nonsense from Kornelis Klevering, and no freaking out period about Super Mario comparisons with Phil Bender. All kidding aside, the conditions of this debate were perhaps most favourable to Burke amongst all others, his competition cut in half, he could make a strong case for himself and Conservative policies. Instead he told his opponents to "take a chill pill" about reservations on a trade agreement with the European Union.
Debating isn't easy. Trying to distill a complex argument into a convenient sound bite isn't easy. Burke might want to ask Bobbi Stewart and John Lawson, who, like him, are engaged in their first campaign. But then again, they're six for six on debates and have been nothing but warm and available to the people that want to talk to them. Frank Valeriote's quotes are his own in the paper, and if I had never dealt with any members of his staff, I'd barely know that he had one. But for every time that Burke's name is in the paper, it's usually a quote from his communications director, Michael Sona, that speaks for him. And then at that all communication takes place in e-mail form. Marty Burke is not only keeping himself at arms length from the media, but he's keeping his own comments at arm's length too.
This is what confuses me about the unflinching support of the people behind Burke, how can the people behind the message of making government open and honest allow for such thinly veiled excuses to not deal with people the Conservative Party perceives as "the enemy." The definition of "enemy" though is anyone that either disagrees with their party platform or those that might question its validity, like media, for example. How can we, the skeptical, be convinced that these are the best ideas if they're not vetted? It's a good question that Burke and his team seem remarkably unconcerned about it. By their optics, it seems that they need only 1,800 votes for a Conservative victory here. Just 1,800 who might have been on the fence or stayed at home last election day and might reward the Conservatives with a majority to avoid another near-future election.
But back to the debate, no pun intended. Anyone that's suffered from back pain knows that it doesn't just sneak up on you at inopportune times. Funny too, that a man that says he's on his feet "12 hours a day," knocking on doors and going to events would manage to go four weeks without a sign from the old injury. That is certainly a cynical view, but at this point a cynical view is all I have of Marty Burke. And the press release his campaign sent to the Mercury today doesn't help that image.
Guelph, Ontario, April 21, 2011 – “Yesterday, Liberal candidate Frank Valeriote stated to the Guelph Mercury that I was “avoiding debates,” even though I have attended several. I am calling on Frank Valeriote to withdraw this offensive and untrue comment.”
“Having served for 23 years in the military, I have suffered several injuries relating to that profession. One of these injuries involves my back, which from time to time causes pain, and it was at the recommendation of my chiropractor and doctor that I not attend last night’s debate.”
"It is highly disingenuous that Frank Valeriote has missed 33 votes in the House of Commons and yet has the audacity to accuse someone of avoiding a debate due to a injury suffered while in the military.”
“I am sure that Frank Valeriote misspoke in his comment and was not speaking against the hardships veterans with injuries from their military service face. Because of this, I am calling on him to immediately apologize for these comments.”
Thankfully, Valeriote has already said he will not apologize. First Burke is a bit liberal (so to speak) with the use of the word "several." If you're a baseball batter, and you're batting .333, you're not hitting "several" balls at the plate. Secondly, tagging Valeriote's 33 missed house votes as a trend, when the real number we should focus on is 362. That's the number of total votes in the last Parliament, meaning that Guelph's current MP was batting .909 in attendance. Third, maybe Burke can remind us he served in the military one more time. His response to a question on Tuesday in the Guelph Tribune, about the long form census, began with a reference to his nearly two dozen years in the Canadian Forces. What the one has to do with the other, I don't know. While I recognize and appreciate Burke's service to this country, it does not entitle him to a Get-out-of-answering-the-questions-free card when it comes to discussing the issues. It also doesn't entitle him to Guelph's seat in Parliament because that's for the voters to decide.
For my part, I hope to persuade the voters of Guelph that Marty Burke doesn't care about them, he cares about being elected and helping the Harper government put forward their agenda with impunity from the opposition. I don't know what he personally stands for, and I don't know what he will offer us as Guelph's Member of Parliament. This could be taken as pure spite on my part, and the reason I haven't wrote anything like this till now is that I was worried that emotion was overpowering reason; it's no fun being rejected after all. Even if Burke truly does knock on doors 12 hours a day, every day, he will never reach people on the same level as showing up at every debate and taking every media request. This is how democracy works. Talking to every person, in-person, is impractical. But when you're scared of the press because of what you might say might paint you in a way that makes you unelectable, maybe you should rethink the reasons why you're running.
On May 2nd, think hard about your vote. If someone is this secretive and inaccessable as a first-time candidate, how are they going to be when they're in office. If there's a matter of importance before Parliament, are we going to have to struggle to get our MP on the record if that MP is Burke? Are we going to get a lot of comments from his office staff with barely anything from the politician himself? I remember how Brenda Chamberlain acted before she left office, and I was offended. She refused to do an exit interview with my reporter from The Ontarion when she retired, and in her last election she was difficult to get ahold of, and evasive when interviewed. Of course, that was 13 years after she took office. I'm not sure what she was like at the beginning with the media, but know that if Burke is elected this is not a place I want to start from.