The Debate Debacle

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I'm writing to let you know why I'm now reluctant to be a party to the St. John's mayoral debate, and likely will not participate. But first some background is necessary.


In late May and June, I was involved in a series of key informant interviews with local organizations and their leaders as part of my own due diligence to become your mayor. These key informant interviews included a meeting with an editor of The Telegram and the CEO of the St. John's Board of Trade, among several others.


In the very positive, challenging, and informative meeting with the Board of Trade's CEO,  it was mentioned to me that a mayoral debate was to be organized in partnership with The Telegram, and The Harris Centre. Fair game, all well-resourced and respected sponsoring organizations, I thought. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't relish the idea, as a newbie politician, of standing up in front of a live crowd of a couple of hundred people and trying to make my points, as your candidate, in a 'debate' style forum. Remember, public speaking is (still) one of the things that people fear the most, even more than heights and snakes. Not to mention the added-effect of the cameras and mics etc. To the latter, I'm no stranger and did a lot of good media work in a former public position, but these add to the 'debate' anxiety.


Further, if you, like me, watched recent political debates such as the Trudeau coronation, the recent provincial leadership 'shouting match', or even, and albeit, on a whole other level, the Obama/Romney debate debacle; can anyone honestly say those 'forums' helped you sort out who was better for the job? Well, for Obama, maybe, yes.


I think the 'debate' approach to getting to know your candidates is just ineffective for the public in terms of who we are as people, what we have done in life, our education and career, expertise, acquired and proven, and are we worthy of the job? But a debate does make for good media fodder and 'biased-commentary' by the local media-egos and pundits. To me, that's about it.


So, after the meeting with the Board of Trade, I wrote their CEO, The Telegram, and The Harris Centre with my thoughts on how to make a public forum more informative of who the candidates are, their career experience, education, ideas, passion, and expertise that makes them strong candidates for the job they are each applying for. I proposed a high level job interview by a panel, with an audience present, and question and answer session with the audience. Then people might be better informed about who they are voting for in relation to such a key job as the mayor of our city.


I also proposed that we would have a courtesy meeting with all candidates, before the public forum, to discuss ground rules, broad areas of focus in the interview, and how to invite the public, in order to get a balance of perspectives and demographics. You know, work together for a change, across our differences, to help the voters know who we are and why we want, and might deserve, the job as Mayor.


Instead this is what I got:


1. Out of the Blue, an electronic invitation, from a staff of the Board of Trade, 'inviting' me to a Mayoral Debate at an already determined date, time and place. And, nothing else.

2. I wrote back and asked for details like: what's the format, who is the moderator and why, who is on the panel and why, or, is there a panel? Who gets invited to the 'debate', how and why? What are the broad areas of focus, other than the obvious, in the debate?

3. I get an email back from the same staff at the Board of Trade, asking me, 'did you get the letter from the chair of the board?'

4. I wrote back that no, I have not received a letter from the chair of your board.

5. Oh, says the staff person – they sent the letter to the wrong address, a place I never lived.

6. I ask again for information like who, what, why etc. You know, just the basics.

7. An e-copy of the letter, from the board's chair, sent to me weeks late, was of little help and had minimal information.

8. I get another email telling me to see their website, and get a few details.

9. There was no proposed courtesy meeting with the candidates, or their representatives, before the great debate.

10. Then a few days later I get another email from the same staff person telling me the date, time and location have changed, arbitrarily. No reason for the sudden change, and can I attend?


Now, in my 30 year health care career, I spent 15 years as a professional bureaucrat, and 5 years running a non-profit agency, and this kind of unprofessional behaviour, as evidenced here, by the board of trade and said staff person, would either not have happened at all, and, if it got by me, or someone senior to me, their would have been serious corrections, and apologies made. And, a humble request to 'lets start over'.


I am taking my candidacy to be your mayor seriously, and want it to be a contest of ideas, education, and experience, and not a beauty/popularity contest. The mess the board of trade has made of this 'Debate' is not a good sign for St. John's, or the electorate. As I write this, I now know, I'm not partaking in this debacle of a 'debate'. We all, including me, deserve better, and expect more.



Geoff Chaulk

St. John's Mayoral Candidate

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