Editor's column: Richmond candidates' no-show a problem

So, we’re entering the home stretch of the federal election. While some of us political junkies have been watching the various campaigns since the writ was dropped, a good many Canadians are only tuning in now.

In fact, if our question on the street is any indication (page 4), there’s a decided lack of awareness out there. Of the five people we asked, not one could name a single candidate running in Richmond — not exactly a great reflection of electoral engagement.

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That said, we also know a good many Richmondites care deeply about policies and political representation. In the last couple of weeks, there have been five all-candidate meetings that I’m aware of. Hats off to the organizations that have hosted them. It’s no small thing to manage all the logistics involved. I’ve done it before myself and the expression “herding cats” could not be more apt. Kudos, also, to the folks who have shown up to ask questions and hear the candidates debate various issues.

What I’m decidedly less impressed with is the candidates who don’t show up.

I was moderating the debate on Tuesday night hosted jointly by the Richmond Centre for Disability and the Richmond Poverty Response Committee.

Just before the debate began — when it was clear the Liberal candidate for Richmond Centre and neither of the Conservative candidates would be there — a woman came up to me at the moderator’s table. She was clearly ticked off that she had taken a night to come out and ask some pointed questions of those hoping to represent her in Ottawa but wouldn’t get the chance.

“I hope the fact some didn’t show up is reflected in the coverage,” she said to me. And, frankly, fair enough.

I understand a candidate can’t be everywhere. And sometimes things just happen. That appears to be the case with one of the NDP candidates who has had to step away from campaigning due to an illness or injury. But at least he let it be known. Simply not showing up or bowing out just hours before the debate is remarkably disrespectful.

And I will note that it’s not just one party or one debate where we’ve seen this. In fact, of the five debates mentioned earlier, I don’t think one had full attendance from those invited.

It’s also disheartening to think politicians are playing a strategic game — as in, not bothering to show up for debates if they don’t think it’s the type of audience that will vote for them anyway. I know strategy matters, but where’s the commitment to a healthy contest of ideas, the very foundation of democracy?

I’m not saying all this just to call people out or wag my finger. I’m saying it because we’ve seen a worrying trend towards apathy and disengagement when it comes to elections at all levels of government. It’s worrying because the old expression “use it or lose it” applies as much to democracy as anything else.

There’s no one solution for creating an engaged electorate, but surely showing up is a basic first step.

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