Reflections on October 2 All Candidates Meeting

Photo by Chris Stephen – Liliberry Home Decor

The Sidney Community Association was thrilled and humbled by the strong turnout of about 700 people in the standing-room-only hall at the Mary Winspear Centre October 2nd. Sidney residents clearly recognize the importance of this election! We were delighted to be able to host it. Our election committee spent weeks  planning this event as the centrepiece of the Community Association’s activity around the municipal election. (Other aspects are the “ballot” cards we handed out and distributed to coffee shops, our pre-show ad at the Star Cinema and election content on our Facebook page, website and in emails to members.)  The planning committee constantly asked ourselves, “What do Sidney residents want and expect from this All Candidates Meeting?”

Our primary goal was to let every one of the 11 candidates for Councillor and 2 candidates for Mayor present themselves so each resident could gain a clear understanding of what each candidate  was saying, and to help residents cast an informed vote for our next Town Council. We believe the community wanted fairness and equal treatment for each candidate in a respectful environment with good acoustics. With 13 candidates and under 2 hours, time management was a primary concern. We structured the evening with ample time for residents to meet the candidates individually and get their literature between 6 and 6:45 pm and again between 8:45 and 9 pm.

If there is something you want to ask one or more candidates that was not asked at the meeting, please contact the candidate(s) yourself. Contact information for all candidates is on the blue handout from the meeting, on our Who’s Running page, and on the Town of Sidney website.

Thanks to Partners (and where to watch/hear if you missed the event)

The Peninsula News Review for advertising the event, for editorial and news coverage. To watch the All Candidates meeting recorded by the Peninsula News Review (PNR), find it at www.peninsulanewsreview.com. Or on Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/PeninsulaNewsReview/videos/276728869613397/.

Radio Sidney recorded the evening. Click here to hear their podcast of the evening.

Mary Winspear Centre staff, especially the sound technician and those who did the setup and extra 100 chairs.

All Candidates for showing up October 2, co-operating with our volunteers and presenting themselves so well.

Sidney Community Association volunteers who made the evening work smoothly and all SCA members whose memberships and donations enabled us to take on the more than $1000 cost to host this event.

The audience of Sidney residents and neighbours who were courteous and attentive throughout. The many people who submitted questions.

Responses and Feedback

The evening was very successful. We appreciate the many, many positive and appreciative comments from members of the audience and candidates about many aspect of the meeting format and organization. However, we can always improve. We are keeping notes and researching the formats used by community associations in Saanich, which has even more candidates than we did, so we remember the details 4 years from now! Some suggestions:

Make sure all the publicity has the same times. Some people had only seen the “ballot” card and thought the program would start at 6 pm. The poster, the Peninsula News Review ads, our Facebook event all  gave 6 pm as a Meet & Greet with the candidates and 6:45 pm as the program start. We didn’t realize how many people expected the program to start at 6 pm. An announcement shortly after 6 would have helped.

Ask more questions/Reduce repetition.  Not having organized an All Candidates Meeting before with so many candidates, it was a challenge to predict the timing. We wanted each question to be answered by more than one candidate to demonstrate differences on the issues, but several people have told us it got boring when the same question came up a third time, especially as we announced that we had received 90 questions! (At least we had rejected the often-used format of having ALL candidates answer the same question!)

Select questions differently/ Explain selection. Several people who submitted questions objected to how we selected the ones we did ask, especially since the one they submitted was not chosen and others were repeated up to 4 times. So, how did we select the questions to ask? As of the morning of October 1 when our planning committee had its last meeting, we had received 51 questions from 31 people. Of course, several questions dealt with the same topic and it was easy to see  which topics were most important, eg. development, variances, parking, doctors, finances, public engagement, affordable housing, environment, safety on the streets. A few other questions were directed at only one candidate. We did not use any of these because we did not want to target any candidate more than the others and be perceived as unfair. We grouped the remaining questions by topic and chose the best based on what we thought most Sidney residents wanted to hear about and what would give every candidate an equal chance to state their position. We thought we had time for about 12 questions and selected that number. In hindsight, it probably should have been more.

The volume of questions to our email suddenly increased on October 1 after the last planning committee meeting and even more on October 2. We received 24 more questions between 9 am October 1 and 4:15 pm on October 2nd. The 2 volunteers who received 16 written questions at the table October 2 also had these 24 new ones from email. One of those volunteers has broad community involvement and was not part of any previous discussion of the questions. Their task was to compare the new questions to the ones we already had and to add or replace questions if later ones were better or added an important new dimension. Only one new question was added.

We welcome your feedback.