More than 200 Cowichan-Malahat-Langford constituents showed up in Langford on Sept. 24, ready to hear from their candidates during a debate on energy.
But the event, hosted by the Victoria chapter of B.C. Sustainable Energy Association and the Dogwood Initiative featured only three of the riding’s five candidates: Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi (Green), Alistair MacGregor (NDP), and Maria Manna (Liberal).
Martin Barker (Conservatives) was not present, instead replaced on the podium by a teddy bear in what’s become the standard replacement for absent Conservative candidates on the Island this campaign.
Barker had been invited.
But ready, willing and able, the Cowichan-Malahat-Langford’s fifth, and so far final candidate, Marxist-Leninist representative Alastair Haythornthwaite, wanted to participate in the debate but was told he wasn’t invited to do so.
“Here I was, wanting to participate and nope. I got to ask a question from the floor like an audience member. It was a little bit humiliating,” Haythornthwaite admitted. “I really don’t know what it was with those people but they’d made a decision in March and there was no shifting them from it.”
BCSEA Victoria Chapter chairperson Marion Pape confirmed the exclusion of Haythornthwaite was by design.
“There’s just a number of different parties and we had to come up with a policy on having parties that had a chance to win seats in the election campaign,” she said, noting their policy stretches to all of the debates they are hosting province-wide, not just the Langford one.
“It was just like we really had this ideal that we wanted to present the public with the best use of their time and the best focus on the issues and we just wanted those most likely to be making or affecting in policy,” Pape said. “We have no intention of being partisan. We’re doing this to encourage people to vote and help them learn about the issues and we just kind of thought having that repetition over and over again of too many people that people would lose interest in the topic.”
Pape said they did give Haythornthwaite a table for his literature and allowed him to introduce himself to the crowd at the microphone.
“It’s like, ‘How do we be inclusive while creating a really nice debate format?’ was what we were looking for,” she said. “We thought really clearly about it,” she said. “It was a great debate. We considered it wildly successful.”
What’s not clear to Haythornthwaite is how any debate in a democracy can be deemed successful if not everyone involved gets their chance to speak.
“I want to accent the positive,” he said. “When there are events when everyone is included — that’s what the election and democracy is about. When there are events like the BCSEA/Dogwood Institute energy debate in Langford and they aren’t inclusive, that’s not good. We have to praise the people who are being open and willing to give everyone the chance to participate.”
Citizens willing to hear what the Marxist-Leninist candidate has to say, or who just believe in his right to speak, can do so at upcoming all-candidates meetings in Cowichan.