As the 519 Church Street Community Centre prepares to host an all-candidates’ debate for the Toronto-Centre riding Friday, April 15, one of those candidates will be conspicuously missing. Conservative Kevin Moore will not be attending, says an aide, because of a scheduling conflict with a fundraising event.
“It’s deplorable,” says Green Party candidate Ellen Michelson, “because people should have the opportunity to hear what every party is presenting.” She says Moore’s decision to skip the debate especially rankles in the aftermath of her own party leader Elizabeth May’s being shut out of the TV debates.
The current Toronto-Centre MP, Liberal Bob Rae, says he’s “very surprised and disappointed that Mr Moore isn’t going to be participating in the debate. The debate at The 519 is always a lively and informative one and a ‘can’t miss’ for anyone wanting to be the member of Parliament for Toronto Centre.”
Moore’s decision not to use this debate is a letdown considering his fire in December 2008, when he reacted to the NDP-Bloc Québécois coalition with his Facebook rallying cry, “Protest at Bob Rae’s Front Door.”
“It was a ‘no coalition’ rally at Queen’s Park,” says Rae. “Not exactly my ‘front door,'” he laughs.
It’s been a mere three years since the last federal candidates debate at The 519, when Rae represented the Liberal Party against the previous round of challengers: El-Farouk Khaki for the NDP, Chris Tindal for the Green Party and Rev Don Meredith for the Conservatives. Meredith was frequently booed by the crowd during his remarks, a campaign test Moore’s fundraiser will save him from facing.
Scheduling is a cop-out, says Michelson: “I would think that anyone who wants to support [Moore] by donating should understand that his priority should be meeting the public and generating more support if he can.”
NDP candidate Susan Wallace says Moore’s declared absence is “a bit of shock, actually.” She says she was invited “ages ago” and spent a great amount of time negotiating with The 519 on the exact date that would work with all schedules.
“They were trying to juggle it with Bob’s schedule because he’s only in the riding for a tiny bit of time, and of course, this is a debate that he wants to attend,” Wallace explains. “I didn’t mind moving things around.”
Moore’s people expressed interest in speaking to Xtra but, at press time, calls and emails have not been returned.
“I know Kevin,” says Michelson, “and I know he’s committed to serving this part of the world in the way he sees fit,” but she thinks Moore has greater value in his church than in politics. “I think it’s the responsibility of the Conservative party as a whole to meet the needs of our diverse community, and they have made it very, very clear that they do not choose to do this.”
Having done little to “demonstrate that they are compassionate or respectful,” the Conservatives, Michaelson says, “have dug themselves quite a hole in this riding… We have had Progressive Conservative candidates in this riding in the past,” she says, noting that many of them have since joined the Green’s ranks, “but the Conservative party has changed, and the voters have made it clear that they are no longer satisfied with what the Conservative party is offering.”
“That Kevin Moore, a fundamental Christian, takes a pass on this debate should be no surprise to any of us,” says Wallace. “He has a record that cannot be defended in front of this community we’ll be addressing… You’ll recall that video of Stephen Harper standing in front of a huge crowd of people and telling them that when he’s prime minister, he’ll make sure that marriage will be defined as being a union between a man and a woman.”
But personally, says Wallace, shifting gears, “I’m sort of glad because it’ll give me more one-on-one time with Bob Rae. He’s the one I really want to go at. I think our community has to call Mr Rae to account for his lack of service to us over the last few years in this Harper minority government. I want to call him out on his record of over 100 votes in support of the Harper Tories. If Kevin Moore’s not there, great — let’s talk to Bob Rae!”
Sure, says Rae, “I’m happy to debate with whoever turns up about whatever people want to talk about.” It’s a confident openness, apparently not yet shared by his Conservative opponent.
Toronto Centre All-Candidates’ Debate
Friday, April 15, 7pm
Grand Ballroom, 519 Church St Community Centre