July 17th marked the deadline for Kootenay-Columbia NDP candidate Wayne Stetski’s challenge to his opposing candidates.
Stetski wanted each candidate to nominate a member of their team to join a debate committee, which would co-ordinate debates in each of the eight major communities across the riding. Liberal candidate Don Johnston and Green candidate Bill Green quickly agreed to support the project, making Conservative David Wilks the lone stand-out.
“I am not going to move forward with an NDP suggestion,” Wilks said. “If that is what the NDP want to do, they should do that. That is their strategy, not mine.”
The end result of the committee is to have each candidate attend debates in Revelstoke, Golden, Invermere, Kimberley, Cranbrook, Fernie, Creston and Nelson.
In 2011, Wilks attended only three of the seven debates, missing the event in Invermere.
“We will use the same strategy as we did in 2011, which was a winning strategy,” Wilks said, noting that he earned 57.9 per cent of the vote.
Ultimately, Wilks said he is busy with work as an MP, but he will focus on the election after the writ is dropped, which will happen between late August and early September.
Wilks’ lack of participation has not halted the debate committee. Representatives of each candidate met over the weekend to share knowledge about prospective debates and co-ordinate schedules.
“I do not get a sense that there is a reluctance to continue because the rest of us at the table all believe that as many people as possible in this riding should get the chance to see all of the candidates, preferably in one place at one time,” Johnston said.
Johnston thinks Wilks does not see eye-to-eye with the rest of the candidates on this issue because he is overly cynical about the potential of debates to win over undecided voters.
“Despite some of the things that Mr. Wilks says about the majority of people (at debates) already having made up their mind, I know as a voter I go to those debates every time, and I have never gone into them with an agenda,” Johnston said.
“I have gone to them to get a sense of who was there and what they are bringing to the table.”
Stetski likened the debates to interviews. He added that Wilks should not assume that, just because he won once, he will perpetually continue
“Ducking debates is simply not good enough,” Stetski said. “The incumbent is asking for his job back, and he has a responsibility to stand beside other candidates and answer questions posed to him by voters.”
Further, Johnston questioned whether Wilks’ approach to debates is the product of his party’s stance.
“I frankly wonder if the Conservatives simply do not want their candidates out there in unscripted situations, where a real voter might ask a real question,” Johnston said.