Over the river and through the woods, to the-place-formerly-known-as-Cumberland we go - Liveblogging an Ottawa Orleans all-candidates’ debate

C’mon, it’ll be fun! The Orleans Chamber of Commerce plays host to Royal Galipeau – incumbent, Conservative, deputy speaker and someone with whom I always end up in the Centre Block elevator – as he defends his record against former Liberal MP Marc Godbout, who Galipeau defeated by just over 1,000 votes last time around, as well as the NDP’s Amy O’Dell and Green hopeful Paul Maillet. Riding profile here, courtesy of Pundits Guide.

But before you settle in for a long night of hitting refresh, Colleague Wells is calling on all interested participatory democracy nuts to join the liveblogging revolution, so head over to his openish thread and tell him you’re in.

7:18:41 PM
Okay, the one time I don’t show up ludicrously early, the place fills up early. There is literally not a seat left in the house — which is a particularly appropriate cliche, since this is, in fact, a theatre – the Orleans Theatre, to be exact. Somehow, I’ve ended up scrunched to the side at the back of the room, which is unfortunate, since it means I’ll be liveblogging while standing — never the most comfortable way to cover an event, I have to tell you – but even moreso because I have the misfortune of sitting beside a very chatty group, who keep distracting me.

But that’s enough bellyaching – the show is about to get underway, and the moderator/host – the publisher of the Ottawa Business Journal – is laying down the law. He promises to be as neutral as possible – and jokes that he was looking for “a red, blue, green and orange” tie, with no luck. (He’s not wearing a tie at all, in fact.)

The debate will be bilingual – which means you’ll be stuck with my somewhat less than fluent translation skills – and he keeps urging the overflow crowd to take advantage of the fact that there is audio available outside, but nobody is budging.

This is really not going to do wonders for my vaguely claustrophobic tendencies. At least I’ve found a table to lean against, which is fortunate, since – yes, you guessed it – I’m wearing somewhat less than sensible shoes. Whee!

7:26:33 PM

Wow, Royal Galipeau gets an introduction, by Barbara Johns – who is more than a supporter; she’s a superfan – who delivers a paean to the man that is Galipeau so overblown that it actually caused the audience to burst into giggles of shocked disbelief. Money for Petrie Island, “doubling the size of the Montfort” – which sparks groans from somewhere in front of me, and seems to get the audience going, but not quite the way she would hope.

Mercifully, at this point, the moderator steps in and throws the floor open to Galipeau, who assures the audience that he is “their servant” before musing about swimming at Petrie Island as a boy. He then segues into a standard list of achievements – tax cuts, leadership – before winding down with the best of the goody bag that is the peekaboo platform, punctuated at regular points with the observation that this is “real leadership.”

He promises to preserve the Leafy Lands – that’s probably misspelled – and fight for a national research council lab; he’ll fight for “long term sustainable jobs” in the East End — that got applause — under a Stephen Harper government. He wants to make this “a better place to live” – and he needs their support on October 14, but “even more, after that day.”

Some luckless campaign volunteer gives the most despirited “Whooooo” ever, and it’s over.

Next up; the Greens’ Paul Maillet, who also gets an introduction. This is going to take forever.

7:35:07 PM
I missed her last name, but Maillet’s opening act brings her pubescent son to the microphone, and gives a sweet, and mercifully short welcome to Paul Maillet, of the Paul Maillet Centre for Ethics – a retired colonel and engineer who believes in the environment, but also social responsibility, and families. He, like Galipeau, supports light rail, jobs and honest government. Oh, and electoral reform, and a bunch of other stuff. Canada also needs to be a “good global citizen” in “a secure and stable world”, and — wow, this is quite the ambitious to-do list for a wanna-be MP. Not that that’s a bad thing, but he seems to think that we need to get back to the Pearson legacy of Nobel-prize winning, as far as our place in the world. Baby steps!

He closes with a quick tribute to the other Green candidates, and that’s that. Back to the table.

7:40:28 PM
Next up: Marc Godbout’s master of ceremonies, who starts by taking a shot at Galipeau, by noting that *his* candidate “chose to live here” – unlike the current member. Ooh, burn.

Godbout is equally feisty, and accuses Galipeau of “inaction” – like letting those RCMP jobs be moved to the West End, and telling the locals that if they wanted federal jobs in the East End – “they should have voted Liberal” – a sentiment with which he agrees. The ITQ applause-o-meter is definitely giving him the edge so far, by the way – I can’t see the other half of the room, but everyone I can see is clapping, hooting and being downright truculent.

A list of some of Galipeau’s failings – personal and political – including that time he threatened a member on the floor of the House of Commons. Oh, what’s a little fist-shaking between parliamentary colleagues? He hasn’t secured funding for the area – although he did announce money for an Ottawa theatre – and don’t even get him started on the shenanigans of Galipeau’s “friend” John Baird.

Godbout then hits the highlights of his platform – money, jobs — including federal jobs – and a new multicultural centre – and heads back to the table, shaking hands with the other candidates as he takes his seat.

7:46:53 PM
Finally, Amy O’Dell. Or rather, Amy’s introducer, and I have to say that this format is idiotic. These guys don’t need warmup acts; and they just end up repeating half of what was just said. Anyway, Amy O’Dell would make a “great representative,” works with youth, cares about transit and would bring “a fresh energetic voice” to Parliament. Surprisingly robust applause for Amy. I’m so bad at gaging audience favourites.

7:49:52 PM
Amy delivers her spiel – I don’t mean to dismiss her; she’s obviously a bright, intelligent girl, but I’m hitting my limit on listening to local candidates regurgitate national campaign talking points. Put a twist on it, at least, guys. She takes shots at both the Liberals and the Tories on the environment – make polluters pay, not consumers – and calls for an end to corporate welfare, and social and economic equality for all.

Avorum Honori. That appears to be the Orleans motto, by the way, according to the coat of arms on the wall, which has two beavers holding up a crossed-axe shield.

7:53:03 PM
And now – questions from the audience! 45 seconds, and only one per customer; they can specify who should answer, and what order, or leave it open to all.

The line, by the way, is already full. The last question will be taken at 9, in order to allow closing statements from all.

The room, meanwhile, has come to life — nobody is really listening to the moderator, and the buzz of excitement is drowning out his overly long explanation. Seriously, moderator guy. This isn’t about you.

7:55:38 PM
First question – comprehensive transit plan for the city, as agreed by council earlier this month. What do the candidates think?

Galipeau goes first, and recalls that he worked on the east-west plan for three years – before becoming an MP, even – and he’s — reasonably okay with the current proposal, although he wishes it would go all the way to Trimm Road.

Someone just passed me a note asking if I’m using shorthand. Hah, I wish. No, this is all me.
Galipeau then responds to a very polite heckler from the audience by accusing his Liberal predecessor – Godbout – of doing “nothing” on the project, which provokes a round of boos; it’s not clear whether they’re directed at Godbout for not doing anything, or Galipeau for accusing him thereof.

Godbout shoots back, and points out that he’s the one who insisted on the environmental review of the original proposal, but O’Dell wins the round when she confesses that she’s the only candidate who relies on public transit to get around — she doesn’t own a car. The audience loves that, and she says she doesn’t mind before reeling off the usual NDP line on public transit.

8:00:55 PM
Next question: Military families reside in the East End, and this woman – Amy, another one – who has “just read” the Liberal platform — and there is “no mention” of military funding. Wait, that’s not true, actually. There is a section on Afghanistan – and that question, for the record, has the distinct tang of a plant from a rival campaign.

Maillet – the Green – is actually a former defence worker, and gives a surprisingly thoughtful response on the link between military spending and political decisions. “There are some things we spend money on that aren’t relevant to the emerging role of peacekeeping,” he concludes, to scattered applause.

Godbout very politely points out that the platform does explicitly commit to following the recommended military spending program, and also reminds the questioner of the additional money for veterans and military families. See, that’s how you respond to a hostile question – pretend you’re thrilled to answer it, and that you welcome the interest. Brian McGarry, take note.

Amy, it turns out, is a military brat – she grew up in an army family – but she bravely calls for “immediate withdrawal” from Afghanistan, which nets her all cheers, no boos, surprisingly.

8:06:12 PM
Finally, Galipeau accuses the Liberals of having underfunded the military, and tries to play off the planted question by once again quoting McCallum on using the military budget to fund “gaps’ in the Green Shift. The Conservatives, on the other hand, have announced a major new facility in the area – something about military research, I think – and wow, I just heard cheers from the lobby when Godbout pointed out the Mulroney legacy on military cuts.

Maillet suggests that giving a soldier a tank makes all his targets “tank targets” – whereas if he doesn’t have a tank, they become “diplomacy targets”. Even a peacenik like me can spot the potential hole in that logic, but he delivers his argument well.

8:09:25 PM
Hey, this is the same question as we heard last night – small and medium-sized businesses having trouble bidding on federal contracts. Galipeau begins by betraying the fact that he doesn’t read the Ottawa Citizen, saying that “procurement is going on right now” — which it isn’t, as reported by David Pugliese and Kathryn May; it’s pretty much at a dead stop for the duration of the election.

8:12:51 PM
More back and forth about government contracts – this is Ottawa, after all – and Galipeau is starting to get testy, at one point inquiring whether “anyone else wants to come up here and answer the question.” The fact that he’s sitting beside three people who are all fighting for his job suggests that yes, they do.

8:14:05 PM
And now, the PR question, which is exactly the same as all the other PR questions, and comes down to the following: Why no fairness in divvying up the seats? Amy O’Dell leaps at the chance to push for the abolition of the Senate – the NDP’s number one electoral reform of choice, and one that gets a big round of applause – as well as “more transparent” leadership races. Really? How is that even possible? They’re downright translucent now.

Galipeau reminds everyone that Ontario voters dealt with this during the last election, but indicates that he would rather see a preferential ballot than proportional representation.

Do I even have to tell you where the Greens stand on this? Really? He wants people in Parliament who were “elected by people” – not robots, I guess – and suggests that the Ontario referendum was designed to fail. Lots of clapping there.

Finally, Marc Godbout agrees that we’re “due” for democratic reform – from looking at the Senate as a means of ensuring proportional representation – but admits he wasn’t a fan of the Ontario proposal

8:21:49 PM
And now – the Kettle Island question that we’ve all been waiting for. Galipeau notes that he successfully got the direction of the bridge changed from where it was when Mauril Belanger – a Liberal – was in control of the file — insert knowing chuckles from somewhere in the audience here — and — wait, was that his whole answer? That seemed oddly unfinished.

Maillet notes that nobody wants a bridge in their community, and seems to be making a fairly sensible point, but the two men standing behind me are now engaged in a lively discussion of Galipeau’s response — they don’t seem satisfied — and I can’t completely follow his logic. It seems to involve being reasonable and thinking of the community.

Godbout tells the room that he would never support a bridge on Petrie Island, but he disagrees with Galipeau — Kettle Island was chosen by independent experts, and it was picked to minimize the effect on local families. He certainly hopes there is no political interference, which is what seems to be what is being suggested tonight. Yeah, that crack about Belanger — that’s my MP. Is Ottawa Orleans plotting to stab Ottawa Vanier in the back with a sneak bridge attack?

8:27:43 PM
A cranky question from a public servant and Orleans resident, who takes issue with Godbout’s suggestion that every ministry is “up for grabs” – and every riding deserves one. He lives here, but he works in Gatineau – and he’s okay with that. Otherwise, well -“that’s how you get a tax collection centre in Shawinigan,” which gets a big laugh.

Godbout defends his work to bring National Defence to Orleans – after all, this is the only G8 country with its military headquarters downtown, not to mention that most of the employees – military and civilian personnel – lived here.

Amy O’Dell points out that actually, this is a municipal issue, like all zoning matters, and nobody can promise to bring a company – or a department – to a particular spot. She really is kind of refreshing, I’ve got to admit. She can’t promise what she can’t necessarily deliver, she says, but she’ll do what she can to ensure more people work where they live.

There is a very small boy scout – wait, what comes before boy scouts? Like brownies, but male – amid the growing contingent of clearly perturbed non-Galipeau fans beside me. “This is such bullshit,” says one to another. Put him down as undecided.

8:35:21 PM
More about the DND move, which clearly still strikes a nerve in this area – or at least this room – Godbout and Galipeau both look aggrieved when the time runs out.

8:37:00 PM
A woman who describes herself as “a professional artist” asks a long – unnecessarily long, really – question on cuts to arts funding, and asks what the replacement program will be. Galipeau starts by describing himself as a supporter of the arts – which produces outright laughter from the room, and clearly nettles him. “Look, you could turn this into a partisan debate …” he begins, but trails off.

He then, unbelievably, starts telling us about his Christmas cards last year – which featured art, apparently – and then eventually meanders back to the official talking point, which is that arts funding has actually increased under this government.

Maillet – who, it turns out, also co-ran the Gloucester Art Gallery; is there anything this guy hasn’t done? – shares the questioner’s view that art is not a luxury, but necessary for society – and Godbout notes that the Liberals would double funding for the Canada Council for the Arts. Both get big applause from the room, but the star is – once again – Amy O’Dell, who confesses that she found Harper’s suggestion that art is a “fringe” issue to be bewildering. If that’s how he feels, the PM should stop appearing on the CBC’s Rick Mercer, and stop using music in his campaign, and as for that bit about there not being cuts, as alleged by Galipeau – “Well, that’s just wrong.”

8:45:02 PM
Godbout challenges Galipeau – If he’s such a big supporter of the arts, why hasn’t he successfully gotten Ottawa to match Ontario in funding for the theatre next door, which winds up the crowd but good. Galipeau doesn’t have much — he does, at one point, note that he “goes to the theatre”, although he doesn’t specify which one — and then tries to dodge the accusation that he hasn’t gotten the money by claiming that as yet, no request has been made. But when it is, he tells the somewhat sceptical crowd, he’ll be in a “better place” to fight for it than Godbout would be if he ends up winning the race.

This is all starting to be oddly reminiscent of last night’s debate, although Galipeau definitely has a slightly better ear for political tone than McGarry. Really, though, who doesn’t? He makes David Emerson look like Bill Clinton.

8:50:31 PM

A question about support for “Team Ottawa Orleans” – which is a local booster group, I guess – that has been accused – in fact, is being accused right now by Royal Galipeau – of being partisan. Galipeau claims that he wanted to work with the group – he “turned the page” when the Conservatives won the election. Yet now, the group is raising money to support his Liberal opponent. “They closed the door,” he says, but after the election, he’ll “turn the page again” – but not for a third time.

Wait, is that a threat? I’m clearly missing some backstory. A few more snarls-and-forth between the questioner – one of the directors of the group in question – Galipeau and Godbout, and — wow, did someone just accuse someone else of setting up shop beside a porn shop? This is getting better and better.

Alas, the time for the Team Ottawa Orleans round has expired, and now it’s onto a more general – and much less intriguing – question about the environment.

8:59:48 PM
The moderator is losing control of the audience – he just tried to close down the forum, and nearly provoked a riot from the people who had been told they’d be allowed to ask their questions. After some hemming and hawing, he allows the woman at the front of the line to ask her question, which is about the arts, and funding for the Shankman Theatre. Godbout notes that the Liberals would provide matching funding, as Galipeau looks on, arms crossed. When he gets his turn, he tells the questioner that he’ll agree to meet with the centre’s board of directors, which he hasn’t done yet – “I haven’t been invited” – to discuss the issue. Maillet notes that sustainability is important – in the environment, but also funding for the arts, and reminds the community that they – the community, that is – must support them as well.

9:04:20 PM
Archie Campbell hasn’t held a party membership since 1968, and yet he’s asking a question that has rival campaign plant written all over it, since it starts with his observation that Galipeau is described as “an eccentric” and “a space cadet.” Is he? No, really, that was the question.

Galipeau, however, claims he “couldn’t hear” it – it was all mumbly, apparently, although everyone else managed to understand it – and Godbout tells him he doesn’t have to answer. Maillet gives a pat little minilecture about taking the politics out of, well, politics, and that’s that.

9:07:55 PM
Last question – all about enforcement, and the Conservative position on pollution from “a gentleman that refused to shake my hand out front”, according to Galipeau. “That’s right,” comes the response from the questioner. “I’m a proud Liberal.” Anyway, Galipeau goes off on him, and assures the room that he – and his government – are serious about getting tough on all types of crime, including environmental.

Aw man, does Maillet have to jump in on every single question? Why do they even give the people asking the choice of posing questions to particular candidates, since everyone gets a crack at it anyway.

Godbout invites everyone to look at the Green Shift – no, really. He’s not running away from it! – and O’Dell suggests that the Conservatives “don’t take this seriously, as an issue”. She brings up the tax giveaways by the government, spending cuts to energy conservation programs, and subsidies for the tarsands, which provokes a “Shame!” from the audience. Instead, she wants to see politicians demonstrating environmental responsibility on a personal level – “like not using plastic cups”, she suggests, as she gazes at the offending receptacles on the table in front of her.

That’s it – well, no, I lie; there are closing statements, but I’m making a break for it anyway, because – honestly, they’re not going to say anything new, and really, these events are all about the audience, not the prefab speeches. (Sorry about that, speechwriters.)

And with that – I’m heading back to Ottawa Vanier – and don’t think of dropping a bridge onto our stretch of river while I’m not looking, Ottawa Orleans.