The moderation of last week’s all-candidates meeting in White Rock became – unfortunately – more than a little immoderate when discussion topics were proscribed even before the meeting began.
While Gary Hollick, past-president of the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce, can’t be faulted on his public-spirit for generously giving his time to moderate the debate, he overstepped the mark when he took it upon himself to actively shape the discussion.
While it is always a challenge to keep an all-candidates meeting moving along, we must remember that such events must also serve as an exercise in democracy. And, yes, often that means a few foolish questions along the way; perhaps, we’ll venture, even a few foolish answers.
Even such flawed exchanges can be revealing of the issues that residents are passionate about – and tell a lot, too, about the qualities of the putative or returning politician, and his or her ability to field brickbats and stay on-topic.
But in the meeting in question – co-presented Thursday evening by the chamber and the White Rock BIA – Hollick presumed to paraphrase previously submitted questions, excluding some issues he felt were beyond the control of civic politicians. This included, perhaps most notably, any questions about rail-relocation and rail safety, even though the topics had been mentioned in several of the candidates’ own introductions.
Hollick may believe that rail-relocation and safety are beyond the purview of city politicians, but this must come as a surprise to incumbents in both White Rock and Surrey, who have already invested time and efforts in the evident belief that a council should – and does – have a say on rail traffic, particularly along their waterfronts.
To arbitrarily limit the scope of discussion to what became just three issues – development, infrastructure and the OCP – may have seemed logical to the moderator, but it was not likely to satisfy either the candidates or the public who came to hear them.
In fact, such a heavy-handed approach – and lengthy preambles lecturing attendees, for precious minutes, on the purpose of civic government and the meaning of submitted questions – seemed almost guaranteed to send the meeting sideways.
While subsequent interruptions were certainly a little boorish and uncomfortable, it would be safe to assume the interruptees were right: attendees were there to hear the candidates, not the hosts.
We must be careful – particularly in the crucial pre-election period – that an understandable desire to run a tidy meeting does not abrogate the process of democracy in any city.