Attempt To Sabotage Renfrew County Candidates Debate ….UNSUCCESSFUL! by Donna Burns

The Renfrew County chapter of the Ontario Landowners Association co-hosted a Renfrew County All Candidates Meeting with the local chapter of Action4Canada on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.  This was a very hasty decision made with only 17 days left before the election.  With little or no other events taking place to allow the public and candidates to gather together in one venue, time was of the essence to pull this off.  Renfrew County had 7 candidates in this provincial election which included:

MPP John Yakabuski – Conservatives
Oliver Jacob – Liberals Party
Kurt Stoll – NDP Party
Anna Dolan – Green Party
Thomas O’Connor – New Blue Party**
Kade MacWilliams – Ontario Party**
Murray Reid – Confederation of Regions Party**

With invitations sent out, all Candidates had replied that they would participate in this Election Debate event …. that is all, with the exception of the incumbent MPP John Yakabuski.  He actually got invited twice – a second one was sent from another team member because he still hadn’t responded to the first encouraging him to participate as he was the incumbent, and the residents would be looking forward to his presence.  But he did not reply to either invitation.

Then suddenly with only 5 days until the event, there was a Facebook posting made by the NDP candidate stating he had “declined” the invitation and encouraged the other main party candidates to decline as well.  We’re not really sure what prompted this “change of heart” other than the fact that he made some unfounded allegations against both the local Ontario Landowners chapter and Action4Canada, stating he did not want to be associated with the two host organizations providing this platform.  Then on the day before this event was to take place, both the Liberal and Green Party candidates backed out as well.  It appeared to be an attempt to sabotage this Election Debate from taking place. However, the candidates were re-invited to reconsider their “change of heart” and take this one-time opportunity to meet with the public; and that we would still keep their seats in place in case they changed their mind.  Next, we started getting requests for interviews from mainstream media on the day of the debate, where they questioned us if the 4 main party candidates (Conservatives, Liberal, NDP & Green) were going to attend and asked what were their reasons for not attending.  Suddenly, our All Candidates Meeting in Renfrew County was becoming a big “news story”.  So we told the truth …. the ONLY reason we were holding this Election Debate was to provide a platform – a venue where both the residents and all the candidates can gather together in one location to exchange their ideas, issues and concerns since there was such a short time span for the campaign during this provincial election period.  When asked about the comments made from the Facebook posting by NDP Candidate Kurt Stoll, again, we told the truth.  The comments he made on social media were unfounded – he didn’t investigate their validity – he didn’t make any contact with the hosts to discuss his concerns.  He is doing his party and the people in Renfrew County (who he claims he wants to represent) a huge disservice by wasting time trying to sling mud at the host organizations for whatever reason, rather than meet with the residents and learn what issues and concerns they may have  — that is the job of an MPP to meet with the people they represent and focus on what THEIR issues are and commit to making them better. With only 30 days to campaign, time was quickly running out.

As it turned out that night, only 3 candidates showed up to participate in this event – Kade MacWilliams (Ontario Party), Thomas O’Connor (New Blue Party) and Murray Reid (Confederation of Regions Party).  The candidates had already been sent a copy of the format the day before. Each time there was a cancellation from a candidate, that meant adjusting the times for the format of the debate.  They were told the doors would be open at 6:15 pm before the debate and for one-half hour following the debate so they can mix and mingle among the public.  The format included so much time for each candidate to give an introductory speech.  Following that were questions from the audience where each candidate was given 2 minutes to answer each question. Then after the questions, each candidate was given more time to give their closing remarks.  Even after all the negative press coming out about the 4 main party candidates not taking part in this election debate, there was still a very good crowd attendance.  It was disappointing that none of the 9 invited local media outlets attended; however, there was one journalist who was missed in the initial invitations, who did attend.  Following the debate, he told one of the organizers how impressed he was with the set up of the debate, the intellect of the questions from the audience as well as the well-thought-out answers from the 3 candidates.  He also said he couldn’t believe the actions of the 4 main party candidates (Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and Green) not being present when he noticed their 4 empty seats sitting at the front along with the 3 candidates who were in attendance.  Feedback from other members of the audience was excellent.  So many people had said they “learned a lot” from the questions asked and the answers back from the candidates.  They found the format of this debate to be “first class”.  Everyone was respectful and overall, it was a great success.

The pompous attitude and disrespect the 4 absent candidates presented to the people of Renfrew County backfired, in my opinion.  Their conspicuous absence provided the residents in Renfrew County a wonderful opportunity to see and hear two new party candidates (Ontario Party and the New Blue Party) without any distractions.  To many, people view politics as dirty and corrupt.  The trust in government has been broken.  Mainstream media tend to only promote the 4 main parties, purposely disregarding any other “new” parties and what they stand for. However, this time, the residents in Renfrew County got to hear words of wisdom from two new “unknown candidates” …. Kade MacWilliams (Ontario Party) and Thomas O’Connor (New Blue Party).  The audience was very much engaged with all three candidates at this debate. A lot of eyes got opened up that night.  The absence of the 4 main party candidates sent a very strong message to the people in Renfrew County  ….. that their issues and concerns are not a priority to them, but they were obviously to the 3 candidates (Ontario Party, New Blue Party and Confederation of Regions) who did attend.

The people are ready for change.  They want true leadership with someone who doesn’t have self-serving interests ….  someone they can call with a concern and get a response back from, they want someone they can trust who will represent them in protecting personal investments within our industries like tourism, farming, forestry, other small businesses …someone to our healthcare needs, provide our children with common sense educational needs and so on.  Who knows … perhaps with all the attention this All Candidates Meeting received, the word-of-mouth on how well it went and how well the Candidates (that did attend) performed …. there may very well be a new change in Renfrew County now that the door has been open for all to see.