At a time when those wanting to be our next MP are out on the hustings, Mel Arnold’s approach is interesting.
The Conservative candidate is cherry-picking which forums he attends leading up to the Oct. 19 election.
“We’re trying to balance our time, we have a busy schedule and we’re doing as much door-knocking as possible and meeting people one-on-one,” said Arnold in a recent article.
He has committed to forums hosted by the Greater Vernon and Salmon Arm chambers of commerce but, as of press time, he still hasn’t said yes to an invite to participate in a forum hosted by the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Society.
“Why can’t he take part in two?” said Sigrid-Ann Thors, society president, of Arnold.
“I don’t think that’s a great problem when running a 78-day campaign.”
And Thors raises a valid point as previous campaigns were about 37 days long and candidates generally were able to juggle the various demands placed on them, whether it was forums, teas or shaking hands and kissing babies.
This time around, the campaign is twice as long so there should be sufficient time to fit everything in, and perhaps even a little bit more.
Arnold has indicated that he’s receiving multiple requests to appear at forums throughout the riding.
That’s likely the case, but it’s also the nature of the beast in a vast riding that ranges from Cherryville to Falkland and from Coldstream to Chase and the North Shuswap. Each community, no matter how big or small, is distinct and they want to hear from the election hopefuls directly.
By not attending a forum in one of these communities, a candidate can be perceived as not taking the community seriously. Such a move can feed a common attitude that the larger towns are more important than their smaller, rural counterparts.
Beyond geography and civic identities, some forums focus on specific issues such as the environment. If a candidate doesn’t attend, what does that potentially say about the candidate and their attitudes towards that issue?
Of course there will be those who will try and link Arnold’s activities to those of Conservative leader Stephen Harper, who is boycotting some national leaders’ debates. But I suspect Arnold is legitimately trying to balance his schedule and not controlling the message as occurs at the senior level.
In the interview, Arnold didn’t appear concerned that selectively attending forums will negatively impact his chances, particularly in Vernon where the Salmon Arm resident isn’t widely known.
“We’re spending hours and days door-knocking throughout the riding, meeting people face-to-face and we’re in Vernon almost every week at the Avenue Market,” he said.
But while forums aren’t the be-all and end-all, they do provide an opportunity to appear before a captive audience, especially in the smaller communities. It’s like speed dating for the electorate wanting to become informed. Door-knocking is a key campaign strategy but it’s hit and miss as people may not be home or the reception may not be overwhelming if you show up during Wheel of Fortune.
The other thing to consider if you are a candidate is, why would you give your competitors an advantage? But that’s exactly what you are doing if they show up at a forum and you don’t.
Hopefully Arnold will free up some time in his busy schedule and not disappoint the volunteer organizations that put the forums together or the public he wants to represent.
-Richard Rolke is a reporter with the Vernon Morning Star.