Thursday, September 07, 2006

Tantramar Candidates' Debate - Quick First Impressions

We just got back from the all-candidates debate for the riding of Tantramar. It was very well attended. I'd estimate that there were about 200 people in the audience - it was standing-room only. I took down some detailed notes, and will put together a longer post tomorrow. Permit me a few initial thoughts though:

1) I was more impressed by the Progressive Conservative candidate, Mike Olscamp, than I thought I would be. A former teacher, he had clearly prepared himself on most of the issues, had a good delivery, and a casual style that made him seem very genuine and approachable. I think he will do well door-to-door. He was also the only candidate to speak directly to the issue of funding for Mount Allison University as an institution.

2) The Liberal candidate, John Higham, seems very much a party man. He spoke regularly about the recently-released Liberal platform, and kept referring back to the party's policies. He seems to view most issues in terms of complex integrated systems, which is probably a good way to look at them, but may have trouble translating into immediate resonance with voters. What did go over very well were his promises regarding senior care, and the Liberal promise to have a minister responsible for seniors at the Cabinet table.

2B) Higham was playing to the right audience. As one of the people posing questions from the floor pointed out, the majority of the audience in the room were seniors. I saw some university faculty, my vet, the bookstore owner, and a few students who are involved in student government. But the Mount Allison students were by-and-large not present.

2C) As university students were absent, so too was much discussion of the future of university funding. The Liberal candidate spoke about the party's platform for student grants, and the Conservative candidate mentioned the 5-year commitment of the Lord government to Mount A., but otherwise, the concerns of the town's largest employer were not front-and-centre. Seniors' issues definitely were.

3) The NDP candidate, Virgil Hammock, seemed to be running more as an independent than as an NDP man. He did not make any reference to an overall NDP strategy, and I don't recall him even referencing the party leader, Allison Brewer. He was less prepared than the other two in terms of scripted introductory and concluding remarks, and on a number of other policy points. His main point was that he intended to be the voice of Tantramar, and would put the riding's interests ahead of party lines, but he did not advance many major policy proposals.

I left the evening with mixed feelings, and still undecided about my eventual vote. I was surprised that I did not immediately find myself dismissive of the Conservative candidate. I could find pros and cons with the other two parties that I have historically voted for. I have the leaders' debate on tape, and will likely watch that and go over the party platforms before making up my mind.

Tomorrow, I hope to put up another post with more details on the Q&A and candidate priorities.

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