Twenty-five thousand South Surrey, White Rock and Cloverdale residents received a phone call from MP Russ Hiebert Monday.
The telephone town hall – held from 6:30-7:30 p.m. – was touted by the area’s MP as the first of its kind in Canada, “a really neat way to encourage participation in democracy.”
Many weeks in the making, it was also a chance for participants to speak directly with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
“I haven’t heard of any other Member of Parliament using this technology, although it may have happened,” Hiebert said Monday, hours before making the call-out.
One man who dialed in about 10 minutes into the conversation described the endeavour as a useful exercise. Bill Taylor said questions to the politicians were on issues ranging from taxation and job creation to why government is spending money on defence equipment as opposed to social programs.
All questions were directed at Flaherty, noted Taylor, a White Rock resident who volunteers at Hiebert’s South Surrey office. Given his involvement with the constituency board, Taylor said he chose to listen rather than pose questions himself.
Not everyone was happy about the unsolicited interruption to their dinner-hour.
Comments on Peace Arch News’ website prior to the call-out criticized it as poorly timed and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Taylor said those he heard on the line appreciated the opportunity the telephone meeting provided.
“They may not have agreed with everything, but they were very pleased with the opportunity.”
The town hall aimed to seek constituents’ input on the upcoming federal budget, as well as hear suggestions for ways to do things better. Questions were to be asked and answered “live, uncensored, unedited.”
Hiebert acknowledged prior to the meeting that not everyone would be able to speak.
“We only have 60 minutes. There’s a limited number of questions that can be asked,” he told PAN, noting constituents who stayed on the line would be able to participate in various surveys.
Hiebert did not return calls after the event by Peace Arch News deadline Tuesday, however in a news release that morning, he describes input from the town hall as “invaluable as we work to produce our government’s next budget.”
More specific results of the meeting, including how many people opted to get involved in the conversation, were not provided.
Prior to the event, Hiebert estimated the cost of Monday’s call at “in the pennies” per person.