Federal Commission’s Scheduling Fail Forces GreenPAC to Shift 100+ Local Environment Debates to October 3
GreenPAC is rescheduling more than 100 local riding debates on the environment to October 3, 2½ weeks before Canada’s federal election, after the Leaders’ Debates Commission summarily scheduled the party leaders’ English-language debate for the date GreenPAC had originally chosen.
“While the Commission’s actions are disappointing, we need to put this behind us and provide certainty for the hundreds of volunteers organizing debates in their communities,” GreenPAC Executive Director Sabrina Bowman said in a release. “We have debates confirmed in nearly a third of all the ridings in Canada, and our top priority is to continue growing.”
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Since unveiling its 100 Debates initiative in June and gaining national media coverage with the announcement, GreenPAC had “success in rallying citizens in 117 ridings to host environment-themed all-candidates debates” that were originally set for October 7, the release notes. The Debates Commission’s decision to take over that date “runs contrary to the Commission’s mandate, which states that it must not ‘preclude other organizations from producing or organizing leaders’ debates or other political debates’.”
But in negotiations with the Commission, “I never felt that they were able to offer something that would really help address the problems,” Bowman told the Globe and Mail. In an emailed statement, a Commission spokesperson said the widely-viewed, nationally-televised events it organizes “don’t preclude any other debates from happening,” adding that “we’re always prepared to continue discussions with these groups and others”.
The Globe cites debate organizers in the Ontario ridings of Halton and Leeds-Grenville, Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes who had already booked space and confirmed candidates’ availability for October 7, and weren’t sure they’d be able to adjust to the new date.
“So much was already in place, and while we may be able to rebook venues, the issue will be trying to achieve the high level of participation of local candidates,” said Cindy Toth, vice-chair of the Halton Environmental Network.
“This is a real shame, as splitting the debates onto different days could reduce the overall impact,” added Leeds-Grenville organizer Sarah Tuck.
“At least half of the 117 debates have confirmed venues that will now have to be rebooked,” the GreenPAC release notes. “Some debate hosts paid for the deposits on these venues from their own personal funds. In several cases, scheduling difficulties will mean that that they will lose the opportunity to hold these events, and for communities to have this meaningful forum to engage candidates on the environment—an issue that pollsters identify as the top issue in the election.”
“No debate project of this scale had ever taken place in Canada—nearly a third of all ridings, and still growing,” said Ryan Worms, communications director at Montreal-based Équiterre. “We know Canadians want elected leaders that care about the environment, but the support for this project has been nothing short of astounding.” [Disclosure: The Energy Mix publisher Mitchell Beer is a former communications advisor to GreenPAC and serves on its Council of Advisors.]