Conservative candidate a no-show at byelection forum on municipal issues

With just days before the polls open, candidates in Calgary’s upcoming City Centre federal by-election gathered Nov. 18, for a lively forum at the Central Library.

The forum grilled candidates on the specifics of how they plan to advocate for Calgary if elected to the House of Commons.

Green Party Candidate Chris Turner, NDP candidate Dan Meades and Liberal
Party candidate Harvey Locke all attended the Cities Matter forum.

Notably absent was Progressive Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt, who publicly opted to go door-knocking in Calgary Centre communities rather than attend the forum.

Sunday’s forum focused on the future of federal funding for infrastructure, Advocacy group Raging Grannies carol outside of Nov. 18 Cities Matter forum. The group said they were singing for progressive candidates in Calgary.

Photo by Krystal Northeytransit, arts and poverty reduction in Calgary. Audience members were also given the opportunity to submit questions to the candidates.

Throughout the event, candidates took time to make occasional jabs at each other’s respective parties, but spent the majority of the time united in wide-ranging criticism of the Harper Government’s treatment of the City of Calgary.

With Crockatt nowhere to be found, jokes and comments rang out undefended across the packed John Dutton Theatre.

Elephant not in the room

The debate on Nov. 18 was organized by the Calgary Public Library, a handful of community associations and the office of the mayor.

Mayor Nenshi addressed the crowd briefly after the forum, speaking on the importance of standard of living to Calgary’s economy.

“I’ve got no horse in this race,” said Nenshi, adding, “Well that’s not true, I have a horse in this race, and the horse in this race is the same horse all of you have and that’s this city.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi spoke to the crowd at the Nov. 18 Cities Matter Forum. The forum was attended by Green, Liberal and NDP candidates in the upcoming Calgary Centre byelection. 

Photo by Krystal Northey“I think it’s important every candidate have the opportunity to talk to you directly about what they stand for, about how they will fight for this city.”

Crockatt’s absence was also briefly discussed. “I should address the elephant in the room, or should I say the elephant not in the room,” Nenshi said to the crowd.

Nenshi had called on the Conservative candidate to attend the event via a tweet last Nov. 15. The mayor’s invitation was declined by default, but Crockatt did contact Nenshi late Nov. 17, again by Twitter, with a request.

“Hope you give the Conservative Party credit tomorrow for giving cities stable, predictable funding through the $2 billion gas tax,” Crockatt tweeted.

Nenshi responded to those remarks by saying that speaking on Crockatt’s behalf was not his job, and that Crockatt could consider coming to speak to the audience herself.

Also absent from the forum was Liberal Party candidate Tony Prashad and Independent Antoni Grochowski. The two candidates were not invited to take part as only candidates from parties with MPs currently holding seats in the House of Commons were invited to attend.

Supporting a national transit strategy

First on the agenda was a potential National Transit Strategy, an issue that saw all three candidates in attendance united in a call for “more stable and predictable” funding for Calgary transit from the federal government.

Turner called the issue the first priority of his campaign, while Meades argued that NDPs, led by MP Olivia Chow, are currently putting the most pressure on Ottawa for a national transit plan.

Locke referenced a perceived disparity between Calgary and other cities in terms of transit funding.

“Cities like Waterloo and Ottawa get federal funding to get their LRT lines, and Calgary does not. $300 million in one case $600 million in another, Calgary gets zip,” he said.

Recreation funding woes

Some of the harshest criticism of the afternoon came when moderator David Gray asked candidates to recall their positions on Calgary losing $100-million in federal funding for recreation centres last year.

The question came in reference to Public-Private Partnerships, commonly known as PPP, a federal program that allows governments of all levels to apply for federal funding for infrastructure projects.

According to the Mayor’s Office, the city spent $3.1 million during the PPP application process, and received preliminary approvals for the proposals. However, the 100 million dollar proposal was denied funding by the federal cabinet, at the eleventh hour.

“If that had happened in any other city in this country, there would have been MPs crying bloody murder,” Meades said of the funding controversy.

“Here in Calgary we heard nothing from our MPs of the incident.”

Turner argued that while the Tories likely denied the funding in the name of fiscal conservatism, funding for things like recreation would likely strengthen Calgary’s livability, and therefore its economy.

“If we want the best and brightest to settle here and make their lives here, salary’s not going to do it, job opportunities alone are not going to do it,” Turner said.

“To keep those people here we have got to keep building it and making it great.”

The incident was also an obvious sore spot for Mayor Nenshi, who noted from his seat in the audience that the federal government pulled a fast one on the city by removing recreation from the category of eligible projects, while the city was “in the middle of a press-conference,” about the project.

Polls righten with less than a week to go

Residents in Calgary Centre have a strong history of voting for the Tories; the riding has only ever elected right-wing candidates since its creation in 1968.

A Nov. 17 poll conducted by Forum Research showed Crockatt and Locke neck-in-neck, with Turner in a close third.

The poll took random public opinion samples of 403 Calgary Centre residents. Just over a third (35 per cent) of those sampled said they would support Crockatt, while 30 per cent said they would support Locke, and 25 per cent said they would vote for Turner. Meades trailed in the poll, with only 8 per cent saying they would support the NDP candidate.

The Calgary Centre byelection will take place on Nov. 26, along with byelections in Ontario and British Columbia.

knorthey@cjournal.ca