The Conservatives’ Vancouver Centre candidate has been a consistent no-show at several candidates’ debates organized by community groups in the riding leading up to the May 2 election.
While the Green, NDP and Liberal parties have participated in all six debates so far, organizers note that Jennifer Clarke has not shown up to any of them.
Clarke campaign representative Herman Nilsson says Clarke has participated in several debates, citing all-candidates’ discussions with CKNW, CBC and at the University Women’s Club.
“Hedy and Karen and others have also turned down appearances at all-candidates’ forums,” he says. “We’ve done our share of them.”
Tracy Ho of the Vancouver Community College’s (VCC) student union says the four major parties were invited to an April 19 meet and greet at the school’s downtown campus. Ho says Karen Shillington, Hedy Fry and Adriane Carr of the NDP, Liberal and Green parties, respectively, attended, but the Conservative candidate was absent.
VCC student union chairperson Carolyn Ehman says three invitations were extended to Clarke but she never responded and didn’t show up.
“We wanted to host the meet and greet just to talk about issues such as immigration and poverty, education, and we’re very disappointed that the Conservative candidate didn’t show up to give students, teachers and the community this opportunity to ask questions and discuss the issues,” Ehman says. “No sign of them.”
Clarke also did not attend the April 20 debate organized by Engineers Without Borders.
“We did get the NDP, Liberal and Green candidates for the riding Vancouver Centre,” says George Ma. “We invited Jennifer Clarke and she declined due to scheduling conflicts.
“I made the request quite early, within a few days after the election was called,” adds Ma, who says Clarke’s campaign told him they couldn’t make a decision at that juncture.
“They asked for a week to figure out their schedule and at that point, they declined,” he says.
“We tried a bunch of other Conservative candidates but none of them accepted our invitation,” Ma notes.
He says the event, which was held at SFU’s Harbour Centre, focused on poverty reduction and Canada’s foreign aid effectiveness.
Neither did Clarke bother to participate in the West End Community Centre’s April 17 all-candidates’ meeting. Fry, Shillington and Carr did.
“There was some confusion; somebody from the [Conservative] campaign office had said they would attend,” the centre’s programmer, Pamela Flatekval, says. “Closer to the date somebody had called and popped by the centre to apologize that they would not be in attendance. Their reason for not coming was that they, as a collective group, were going to run the Sun Run.”
Nilsson says the Sun Run was a commitment that Clarke had made at the beginning of the campaign.
Flatekval says the Conservatives were told they were “more than welcome” to send somebody to represent Clarke or “at the very least come by and supply a table with information regarding the campaign, their platform, their views generally as well as more locally. They did not take us up on our offer.”
Flatekval says a couple hundred people turned out for the event mediated by the CBC’s Rick Cluff.
In the afternoon on the same day, the West End Residents’ Association (WERA) held its own candidates’ debate, but again Clarke was missing.
“We invited all the parties that were registered with Elections Canada; the Conservative Party of Canada was the only one that didn’t show,” says WERA’s Brent Granby.
“I think people in Vancouver Centre are used to a hearty debate about election issues, so I think it’s a bit disappointing that they’re running this kind of peek-a-boo campaign, that she’s just running on her name,” he says.
Nilsson says at the time of that event Clarke was meeting with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
Clarke was also a no-show at Xtra‘s April 26 town hall for the gay community. Xtra repeatedly invited Clarke to attend and spoke to her campaign people to try to confirm her attendance but never got a definitive answer.
Nilsson says Clarke’s absence was due to another scheduling conflict. She attended two coffee meetings instead and prepared for an interview on April 27. Nilsson suggests that people can “take a look” at Clarke’s website when asked for her perspective on the issues of relevance to the gay community.
“This is coming from my perspective, [and] the issues that are relevant to the gay community are very similar to the issues of all Canadians: we want safer streets, we want to make sure that taxes are lower,” he says.
“We think that we need to focus on what’s important to all of Canada and all Canadians, not just the GLBT community in particular,” he says.
Nilsson says Clarke has “quite the record” given her nine years at Vancouver City Hall. He points to her role as one of the councillors responsible for bringing The Gathering Place Community Centre into existence.
Asked if Clarke plans to attend the April 27 candidates’ debate at The Gathering Place, Nilsson says “she’s got another scheduling conflict on that as well.”
He says an election campaign is a very busy time, and there have been scheduling clashes. He says Clarke has been out meeting voters every day. “We’ve covered a lot of ground in this campaign,” Nilsson adds.
He says he doesn’t discuss polling numbers when asked where Clarke stands among the candidates running in Vancouver Centre.
“The only poll that matters is the one on election day,” Nilsson concludes.