To all election wonks, All Candidates’ Meetings (ACM) are the purest of democracy tools. But are they really? Perhaps in a Federal and Provincial election they might work simply because of the small number of candidates sharing the same platform.
In a municipal setting we think that most meetings are unworkable and as such do not allow the public to see a complete picture of the candidates and their points of view. For a meeting to be successful they must be accessible to all and allow a fair exchange of opinion. In this election, in Cobourg we have two ACMs scheduled and both fail the test of openness and accessibility. One, organised by the local Chamber of Commerce (which has always failed the democracy test), has made accessibility worse by restricting attendance to members first and then the remainder of the 125 seats to members of the public. The other ACM is being held by aother local organisation but again fails the openness test by the very timing of the meeting. By scheduling the meeting for 0830 hrs in the morning it disqualifies anybody who works at that time or anyone else who has morning chores to take care of.
Which brings us back to the position that ACMs as currently and historically practised are not open and fair to the voters. In fact some of the candidates have declared that ACMs must be favourable to them or they will not attend. How is that fair to the voters?
One ACM, in Cobourg, has already been cancelled because some of the candidates did not approve of the structure or the organisers of the proposed ACM. How was that fair to the voters? In Hamilton Township only three of the six candidates attended an ACM held last week and a meeting in Cramahe was cancelled because some candidates, noticeably the Mayor, had “scheduling conflicts”.
In order to allow local democracy to flourish we would like to suggest that ACMs should be mandated by the bylaw that governs local elections and supervised by the Town Clerk who supervises local elections. At least two ACMs should be mandated for each election period: one during the day and one in the evening, that would allow access to the candidates by all people who may miss on meeting by not being available. These meetings should allow more time than the past meetings have allowed – one minute opening statement and questions from the floor. The very idea of having vetted questions is a danger to local free speech and subject to charges of selective questioning.
And that’s the way we would run ACMs