The room was packed and the people were polite.
That sums up my impression of the Ward 2 debate held at the Church of the Ascension in September.
Was there a buzz? Not detectable. Is there a buzz about this municipal election? Hard to know.
I live in Ward 2, that’s why I was at the debate. But I’ve always found municipal politics fascinating and exasperating.
In the 1990’s when I worked at CHCH-TV we covered municipal elections with great commitment. All candidates were profiled and had their 90 seconds of fame.
I remember traipsing with a cameraman all over the city, visiting farms, roaming high-rises, and getting lost in suburbia, interviewing candidates with slim to no change of unseating an incumbent. On election night we broadcast live to the bitter end when the last elated winner would shuffle into city hall to thank their Dewey eyed supporters. It was fun and often there was a buzz.
Now we have so much news and non-news available it carves the buzz if there is one, into a million points of light. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Podcasts, newspapers and broadcast media chip away at the issues and candidates and yet at the end we may still be undecided and underwhelmed.
So an in-the-flesh candidates meeting may be one way to observe a candidate minus the hype, stunts and staging conducted on social and traditional media.
The Ward 2 debate was conducted with impeccable decorum. Questions submitted to the eight candidates were drafted by the neighbourhood associations in the Ward. To each query the candidates responded with Victorian civility.
It was in sharp contrast to the Cable 14 televised Mayoral debate which was freewheeling, outrageous and often hilarious.
But in the church on a nice September night the dress code included kid gloves.
Each candidate had 5 minutes to answer their question. Many of the questions concerned topics so big that a coherent response in such a short time was impossible. Considering Ward 2 has a 35 percent poverty rate and a median income of just over $37,000, the challenge of affordable housing was top of mind. It is not a subject that can be described in 5 minutes let alone solved in that time. And though not every candidate may have the skills to hold public office, they all answered the question thoughtfully and some sensibly.
One candidate lamented that so many of the City Housing properties sit in decay or empty that a good place to start a turn around would be for the city to enforce their own building code in their own buildings and in rental units in private hands.
Other topics gnashed about included traffic calming, sale of public lands, the entertainment district, homelessness, and downtown development. Surprisingly there was scant discussion of LRT.
The only candidate answer that elicited unanimous applause was when candidate Cameron Kroetsch was asked what he would do about the Hamilton Waterfront Trust.
To paraphrase Kroetsch, he said he would join the HWT board so that he could dissolve the HWT.
Incumbent ward councilor Jason Farr was unruffled by the promise and in general didn’t take too many body blows on a night that did not allow questions from the public.
About halfway through the meeting the couple next to me realized they were at the wrong debate. They live in ward 1.
“I wondered why our favourite candidate wasn’t here,” the woman lamented.
They decided to stay anyway, but mostly for the free pizza.
The candidates running in Ward 2 are:
Diane Chiarelli, Jason Farr, Cameron Kroetsch, Nicole Smith, Mark Tennant, James Unsworth, John Vail and Suresh Venodh Daljeet.