Conservative, independent MP candidates criticize federal election debates at UBC

Following the Vancouver Quadra All-Candidates Debate and the 100 Debates on the Environment hosted last week at UBC, the Conservative and independent candidates have criticized the ethics and exclusivity of the two events.

Only three of the six candidates running in the riding participated in the debates. Conservative candidate Kathleen Dixon was invited but declined to participate, while candidates Sandra Filosof-Schipper of the People’s Party of Canada and independent candidate Austen Erhardt were not invited.

“I didn’t like the format of the [All-Candidates] debate — it was scheduled it [sic] back-to-back with a second debate organized by 100 Debates on the Environment. 100 Debates is a project of GreenPAC, who endorsed my opponent in advance of the debate — an ethically questionable approach,” Dixon wrote in a statement to The Ubyssey.

100 Debates on the Environment is a series of debates across the country, coordinated by GreenPAC and Equiterre. They aim to create a “forum where voters can hear directly from candidates about their visions for the environment,” according to their website.

On September 3, GreenPAC released their list of endorsements for the federal election, which included Vancouver Quadra Liberal incumbent Joyce Murray.

Ilnitchi said that the AMS was unaware of the endorsement at the time of the debates and that GreenPAC was not involved to her understanding.

“[GreenPAC] is not who we worked with,” Ilnitchi said.

She also stressed that the organizers of the 100 Debates at UBC were For Our Kids and UBC student groups, not the AMS.

The two debates ended up being scheduled on the same day, so despite being separately organized, there was a collaboration between 100 Debates and the All-Candidates debate, which was organized by the AMS and UBC Debate Society.

“We coordinated to encourage turnout to both events and so that both could take place,” Ilnitchi said.

She added that they informed all candidates of the collaboration between the two debates.

“[Dixon] emailed us back with a series of questions, all of which we answered. We didn’t hear response after,” Ilnitchi said.

When asked for comment, incumbent Liberal candidate Joyce Murray told The Ubyssey she felt the debates were “fair and professional” regardless of her endorsement.

“I am honoured to have been endorsed in August by GreenPac, one of 25 federal candidates nation-wide from all Parties - including Conservatives - to receive that validation, for my environmental contributions,” wrote Murray in an emailed statement.

A liberal bias?

Dixon also criticized the series of issues that the All-Candidates debate focused on.

“My debate invitation from the AMS informed me that the debate would focus on a series of issues drawn from the policy priorities of the Greens, the NDP, and the Liberals. There was nothing on the debt, economy or foreign policy,” Dixon wrote.

“I reached the conclusion that I had better things to do with my time — namely fighting for a viable economy for Western Canada and jobs for UBC grads.”

UBC Debate Society President Aidan Wilson disagreed with her claim.

“As students, I think that these were more related to us. Foreign policy isn't really affecting students a whole lot and the economy factors into things like affordable education and affordable housing,” Wilson said.

“I think that every interest group has questions that are more important to them and that ultimately, a candidate [...] should be able to articulate and listen to the issues of many different interest groups.”

Ilnitchi said when gathering topics for the debate, they focused on the five core student issues that the AMS is highlighting as part of the UBC Votes 2019 campaign: housing, education, Indigenous rights and reconciliation, climate action and health care.

“It’s somewhat surprising that a federal election candidate would be surprised by the opportunity to engage in a debate on issues that are most important to many of her constituents,” Ilnitchi said.

“We hope that there are other opportunities for her to be able to speak to students and young people and their families on these core issues that matter to them.”

What about the other candidates?

Erhardt is running as an independent in the Vancouver Quadra riding and didn’t receive an invitation to participate in the debate.

“I was trying to participate in the debates as I think it was a very important opportunity to engage with students and vice versa for students to be able to hear the platforms of all the candidates,” he said.

“It was very disappointing to not be included in that.”

Following the debate, Ilnitchi wrote in a statement to The Ubyssey that they invited candidates from the four major parties — Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Green — in line with the criteria set by the Leader’s Debate Commission.

Erhardt said that following the Leaders Debate Commission doesn’t make sense for a local debate.

“If people were wanting to hear just the national party talking points that are dictated by a platform, they could listen to the Leader’s Debate,” he said. “This was really an opportunity for students and other people in Vancouver Quadra to interact with candidates and really hear their thoughts on local issues. That’s where independents and representatives from other parties can really play a big role.”

Ilnitchi wrote that “the AMS is strongly committed to ensuring that students have access to information about voting and their candidates for federal office this election,” in her statement to The Ubyssey.

Erhardt said he doesn’t think they did that.

“It does a disservice to students and people in general in the riding,” he said.“They are going to go to the ballot less informed than they would otherwise be.”

Austen Erhardt once worked for The Ubyssey as its Blog and Opinion editor, among other positions.