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September 21, 2011 / amanda stratton

Dear Candidates:

This is an open letter to ALL candidates for political office, but it is certainly one that some of the candidates in my riding could benefit from.

On Monday, I attended a Perth-Wellington all-candidates meeting–the first all-candidates meeting I’ve attended since the 2000 federal election, which happened to have been the ONLY all-candidates meeting I’d ever attended.

For most people, the ultimate voting decision comes down to a mixture of party and candidate. Some people may prioritize one over the other, but I don’t think many people could vote for one without confidence in the other.

An all-candidates meeting, then, is a great opportunity to get to know the people who would like to represent you in Parliament. In part, it is an opportunity to ask for clarification or further information regarding party policies, and it’s a great time to ask how candidates foresee policies affecting the riding.

On a more basic level, though, I think it’s about asking two questions:

  • How well do these candidates understand this riding and our needs?
  • How well would each of these candidates represent us?

So, candidates, here is my debate advice from a layperson with remarkably little business offering such advice:

If you can’t apply your party’s policies directly to the riding you’re supposed to be representing, then you’re not a good choice for representative. It’s as simple as that, really. At that point, I feel like you’re desire is to represent the party and not to represent the people in your area.

If you don’t seem that connected to us before you even start spending half of your time somewhere else (in my case, only two hours away; in some cases, even farther with fewer visits home) then we have trouble believing you would be staying in touch with us, our views, and our needs if you were elected.

I heard a lot of “We support better education,” “We are in favour of easier access to healthcare,” “We support families having choices,” “We like pizza and puppies.” Well, who doesn’t? Honestly, which party is out there running on a platform of poor education, longer hospital wait-times, fascist control of our lives, and the banishment of tasty snacks and adorable baby animals? None of them.

When you talk in general terms, not only do you kind of waste everyone’s time because we could have gleaned all that from the party platform and the debate is supposed to be about digging deeper, but you also sound like you don’t really know anything more specific than that. It doesn’t look good.

Part of your job is to ACTUALLY physically represent us, the people who voted for you, when you get to Toronto (or Ottawa, if that’s the case). You should be able to speak publicly–including extemporaneously–knowledgeably and with confidence. This isn’t just a matter of how you present yourself and looking the part. It’s about how you are going to represent US and advocate for OUR NEEDS.

It’s hard to put faith in your ability to argue on behalf of what’s best for our little slice of the world if your five-minute opening remarks are weak, or if you give vague, conviction-less responses to questions. If you flounder under the pressure of a local teacher asking about education policy, then what are you going to do when you rise to speak in front of a house full of politicians?

Practically speaking, your ability to walk the walk and talk the talk with the big boys does matter. So, do what you have to do to learn how to speak publicly. Except don’t picture us all naked. That’s ew, and not acceptable.

Okay, that’s all my unsolicited advice for today. Well, not all of it, but I’m saving the rest for yelling at the TV while I watch Dr. Phil.*

[*no, not really]


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