It is Friday night and I am comfortably seated in Newmarket Theatre for the much anticipated candidates’ debate. It is terrific entertainment and all free. There is a full house – well, almost.

The format – quick rapid fire questions and short answers – moves things along briskly. And there is a short session giving candidates an opportunity to quiz other candidates. This, for me, is the most illuminating part of the evening.

But first, the candidates introduce themselves, painting little pictures for the rest of us to admire. The youngish Libertarian candidate, Jason Jenkins, draws gasps when he says he has six children. He believes in cutting taxes, dramatically reducing the size of Government and privatizing everything that isn’t nailed down.

Chris Ballard, the Liberal, projects a “steady-as-she-goes” demeanor. He tells us he has been chair of all sorts of committees on Aurora Council while, at the same time, running his own successful business.  The well-rounded Ballard tells us he loves Aurora which, he says, is a great place to bring up a family. Politicians feel obliged to say these things but I groan inside.

Canadians Choice candidate, Archbishop Dorian Baxter is a one-off. He sees Ontario's economic salvation coming via a closer association with the 71 nation strong British Commonwealth – in particular, India - and la francophonie. His views are eccentric but he is good value for money. And his alter ego, Elvis Presley, is always there in the background, ready to take the stage.

a little less conversation, a little more action

When elected, Baxter promises “a little less conversation and a little more action” at Queen’s Park. They’ll be all shook up. He says all this with a booming voice and a beaming smile on his face. He is clearly enjoying himself. When elected, he will give 50% of his MPP salary away to combat poverty.

The Green, Andrew Roblin, is bubbling with ideas and is quite impressive. He has lots of arresting facts at his fingertips and doesn’t need to consult a folder first.

NDP standard-bearer, Angus Duff, is a professor who lives in Aurora. He is sporting a big orange bow tie and projects quiet competence in an academic kind of way. With disarming honesty he admits that if he doesn’t know the answer to a question he will say so rather than make something up (as many politicians would).

Duff generally follows the official NDP line when answering questions, only occasionally ski-ing off-piste.  He jumps on the all-day two-way GO train bandwagon saying the NDP is committed to delivering this. This is news to me, but welcome.

I am Jane Twinney

Jane Twinney, the PC candidate and favourite to succeed Frank Klees, gives the impression she would rather be somewhere else. She seems nervous, often stumbling over her words. Her opening statement is curiously disjointed, telling us half way through her pitch that she is Jane Twinney - as if we didn't know. Jane tells us she has been knocking on doors and people want change.

Now the candidates are being asked about the deficit and how it can be reduced. Jane wants to cut the number of public sector workers by 100,000. She says it can be done through attrition. We are told 5% of the workforce retire every year. There is no mention of forced lay-offs. We are asked to believe it won’t be messy!

A special needs teacher, fired up and concerned, asks Jane from the floor if her teaching assistant is going to face the axe. No says Jane, with unusual confidence. As I am listening to her, I think to myself Jane is making things up as she goes along. I check afterwards and discover that, on this one, she is right.

Dorian Baxter is now asking Jane why she voted for tax increases at Newmarket council when her party is promising tax cuts. Surely this is a question Jane would have anticipated? She mumbles something about doing what is right for her residents. It is a feeble reply.

Rooting out waste - a top NDP priority

Now Angus Duff is telling us the NDP would tackle the deficit by rooting out waste.  This provides the cue for Baxter who gets a laugh when he says the NDP won't have to appoint a Minister for Accountability. When elected, he, Baxter, will fulfill that role.

Now the candidates are talking about how best to create a more favourable climate for business. At a brisk clip, we are on to infrastructure and how we pay for it. Next it is retirement and having the resources to enjoy it. Now energy costs (Jane tells us to expect a 48% increase over the next four years). Now it is the turn of food banks.

Then we are on to bees. Angus Duff engagingly confesses complete ignorance of the subject and offers no answer. The Green, Andrew Roblin, is in his element telling us that bees are responsible for 30% of all pollination. Without the bees, our food crops are threatened. Now we move on to something else.

There is hardly time to pause for breath before we are on to the next topic. The format kills any chance of testing candidates’ views to destruction. And it wouldn’t take much.

Million Jobs Plan

Jane Twinney is asked from the floor about Tim Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan and how the figures don’t add up. Jane, completely missing the point of the question, tells us that even if we get 800,000 new jobs that would be good. That is as much as we are going to get, like it or lump it. We move on.

The meeting flares into life when candidates are asked a question about the OMB (Ontario Municipal Board) and whether it should be reformed.

Angus tells us elliptically that development should be “aligned with the interests of the community”.  Jane says the problem is not with the OMB but with the legislation, presumably meaning the Places to Grow Act.

Klees is incandescent - or would like us to think so

Chris Ballard says something about Glenway that infuriates Frank Klees who is sitting a few feet away from me. The perma-tanned Klees, dressed in tight jeans and pointy shoes, takes to the microphone to denounce Ballard who, he claims, attacked his integrity by suggesting he didn’t work hard enough to get his “Preserving Existing Communities” private members' bill on to the Statute Book. Klees affects outrage well. He is quite the actor.

Of course, Klees has dined out on his private members' bill for ages. But there is more to “supporting Glenway” than a private members' bill that stood zero chance of becoming law. I never saw Klees nor heard a peep from him throughout the whole, long Glenway saga. And I followed it closely.

Ballard doesn’t buckle, refusing to retract whatever it was he said that so upset Klees. Ballard gets Brownie points for this.

All in all, an entertaining evening and I am sure the audience enjoyed it as much as I did. The candidates now have the measure of each other and, in any return match, we can expect a bit more cut and thrust.

Without question, we need another debate in Aurora but will we get one?


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