If I had to pick a winner in the Penticton Herald’s all-candidates forum, it would be Dan Ashton. An informal poll of other media people who watched the two-hour meeting unanimously agree.
And so it should be.
Unless you’re Donald Trump or a mayoral candidate in Penticton, being the incumbent is an advantage. With Ashton having served in the Legislature for the past seven years, he obviously knows the issues because he was there.
Reviewing the performances of MP Richard Cannings in the 2015 Herald forum and again in 2019, Cannings was far more relaxed and polished the second go around because he had the advantage of being in Parliament for a full term.
On Tuesday from an empty room at the Lakeside Resort, Ashton was knowledgeable, confident, humble and respectful.
He delivered the only knockout punch of the evening responding to a question of NDP challenger Toni Boot on whether she would pay for a byelection to fill a vacancy as Summerland’s mayor.
The short answer: no.
Boot said she’s not in the same economic stratosphere as Ashton. (An MLA makes $115,000 per year to start. The cost of a byelection, if necessary, reported to Summerland council on Tuesday at the request of Coun. Richard Barkwill would be about $15,000.)
For the record, Doug Holmes, who was not approved as an NDP candidate, said he would pay for a byelection to fill his spot on Summerland council if elected MLA.
Using one of three opportunities to offer a rebuttal, Ashton told Boot: “When you make a promise to the people who have elected you, you make a promise to the community and when things change, you have to think back on what you said.”
I watched the meeting at home on Wednesday because when moderating, you’re attempting to be as fair, neutral and in 2020) safe to all candidates.
I don’t think any of the four candidates lost any votes from their base. But, nobody — Ashton included — likely added votes.
The event was probably most beneficial to Keith MacIntyre (Libertarian) and Ted Shumaker (Green), only because they would benefit from the exposure because they don’t have the financial machine behind them like the BC Liberals and NDP.
If there was a "things that make you go hmmm" moment by Ashton, it was when the candidates were asked who they would vote for in the U.S. election if they were American. Ashton didn't fully distance himself from Donald Trump instead stating he wouldn't vote for either he or challenger Joe Biden.
Shumaker, who stumbled at times due to his inexperience, saved his best for last, offering by far the best closing remarks of the evening. He also helped Ashton a bit by making a case for the fact this election is unnecessary. Shumaker repeatedly stated that the minority government was working well together and they could have easily waited another year to vote.
Thanks to co-sponsors the Lakeside and South Okanagan Real Estate Board, media panelists Joe Fries and Chelsie Powrie and our Herald volunteers for making the event a success.
It’s — as far as I know — the only Penticton meeting where the candidates are in the same room (safely distanced from one another). I believe much interaction is lost in Zoom meetings and the audio is often weak.
But don’t take my word for it. If you live in Summerland, Peachland or Penticton, you can watch it at pentictonherald.ca. The second half, I think, was more interesting than the first.
I saved the last word for a friend of mine — a man in his 80s from out-ot-province, unfamiliar with all four candidates and B.C. politics. He watched the event from his home.
His neutral observations: “Shumaker was an absolute delight, MacIntyre is a future politician, Ashton is way above the rest, the Iceland anti-drug policy (suggested by Schumaker) deserves an editorial.”
James Miller is managing editor of The Penticton Herald.