By Kirk Starratt
A District 11 Kings County council candidate is disappointed that two potential opponents wouldn’t accept an invitation to a public debate.
In his invitation to Gary Connolly and Dale Pineo, Jim Winsor stated, “a public debate will provide voters with firsthand knowledge of the respective strengths of candidates and how well we would represent them at council.”
Winsor said he believes District 11 voters are being denied an excellent opportunity to assess candidates.
“This is not in the best interest of democracy for the people of New Minas,” he said.
Winsor extended an invitation to Connolly and Pineo soon after they publicly announced intentions to run, proposing that local media facilitate to ensure a fair process. Winsor said Connolly declined in an e-mail and Pineo also declined. However, Pineo said he has not formally declined a debate of some form.
Connolly said he was already duly elected as councillor for District 11 before the Supreme Court overturned the Oct. 20 election results. He said he’s been a part of the community for 34 years and people know who he is. From what he has been hearing on the doorstep, people aren’t very enthusiastic about being asked to return to the polls in the midst of winter.
“I don’t think anybody wants an election, yet alone a debate,” Connolly said.
Connolly feels the debate would only aid Winsor. He said Winsor doesn’t live in the district and Connolly feels there are enough people who live in New Minas willing to represent the area on council.
Connolly said he is willing to participate in other forums. If an independent third party had extended an invitation to candidates for a debate, that would be a different situation, he added.
Local media has facilitated provincial and federal candidates forums in the past, but has not hosted municipal debates for county elections.
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Connolly said he would continue visiting voters and would be sending a mail-out soon promoting what he was able to accomplish in a month-and-a-half as councillor. Connolly said he recognizes he was one voice among 11 on council and the job is all about cooperation, not confrontation.
Pineo said he would be agreeable if all candidates were involved, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. He was given a Feb. 6 deadline to respond to the invitation, nearly two full weeks before nominations officially close, and called this premature. Pineo said it wouldn’t be effective or productive if all candidates weren’t involved.
Pineo said he respects his opponents, but believes that debates at this level have historically had little impact on voter behaviour. It’s difficult engaging voters at the best of times, he said, let alone in the middle of winter. He believes it would be probably be difficult for all candidates to agree on the structure for a debate. In light of the Dec. 21 Supreme Court decision to vacate the seat, Pineo said such an event could potentially take on a negative spin. He said elections are won on personal contact and the message really gets out door-to-door.
“My visibility, credentials, commitment and hard work is not to be questioned,” Pineo said. “I really don’t need to defend myself.”
Winsor said he thinks both opponents are missing the point of a public debate, which plays a legitimate and traditionally valued role in the democratic process.
District 8 candidate Rick Ackland is also challenging his fellow candidates to a public debate facilitated by local media. However, Ackland had yet to contact potential opponents Dale Lloyd and Ted Palmer to extend the invitation and gauge response as of Feb. 6.