Despite a tight campaign window, several community groups have sprung to action and organized three all-candidates’ debates for the upcoming Etobicoke-Lakeshore provincial byelection.
It’s impressive, as three is typically the maximum number of debates you’d expect in a riding during a regular election where a campaign is often twice as long as the byelection slated for Aug. 1
Even in the city’s east end, where the Scarborough-Guildwood byelection campaign is under way, there’s one meet-and-greet currently on the calendar.
We’re thrilled to see local groups like the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition, CARP Etobicoke and the Mimico Residents Association step up to provide these fully-moderated events in such short time and put questions to the candidates on issues that matter. It’s even more impressive to see residents turn out in such high numbers, as they did with the first debate last week at a local legion where it was standing-room-only. This too, during the usually vacation-filled days of summer.
Public forums are the perfect opportunity to test candidates on matters that have a direct effect on us all, including transit, health care and growing the economy. It’s an effective way to highlight the concerns of a community – like the potential expansion of the subway into Scarborough or bringing investment and job growth to south Etobicoke – not to mention a key tool in making an informed choice, come election day.
It’s also valuable to hold these kinds of meetings with elected officials after ballots have been cast. What better way to maintain civic engagement, hold politicians accountable and connect with constituents than face-to-face in an organized forum hosted by a local interest group?
Motivating people to participate is always a challenge. Perhaps the key is not only in the format of engagement – as with a public forum – but also in who initiates the invitation. Groups like those mentioned above are in a position of advantage: their members belong to the community and they therefore have a stake in local issues and can passionately help push the agenda.
It’s this level of involvement that needs to be maintained to ignite civic engagement and keep it aflame in our neighbourhoods, not only during elections, but 365 days a year.