This is the weirdest all-candidates' debate I've ever been to. Then again, this is Kensington Market.
We're in the middle of Augusta Avenue on a car-free Sunday afternoon. Four candidates for the Ontario legislature sit closest to the sidewalk on faded plastic orange chairs. Early bird audience members have scored similar seating. The rest of us stand in semi-circle in numbers that grow to 100 at times, far outnumbering the Krishna troupe doing their Hare Hare up at the corner of Oxford.
The moderator brings the meeting to order with a few gladiator blasts on his trumpet. Later, he pins a red cape on these three men and a woman who want to do combat on behalf of the residents of Trinity Spadina. This is better than some of the stuff I saw last night at Nuit Blanche.
Rosario Marchese, who has represented the riding for the NDP for the past 17 years, summons his trademark righteous indignation about Mike Harris-induced havoc and the Liberals' failure to fix things. But it's his Liberal opponent, Kate Holloway, in whom I'm more interested. It's not that she has much chance of up-ending the Marchese machine. It's because of her past.
She used to be an organizer for the Green Party of Ontario, a fact prominently displayed on her Liberal campaign literature. Evidently, someone in the Liberal Party thinks that bio is a vote getter. Holloway is also a businessperson who founded Carbon Zero, a company that offers carbon offsets to travellers and through which it funds renewable energy projects.
She, like the other candidates, is slightly discomfited by the hurly burly of this unorthodox political meeting in which the moderator demands that each candidate name one thing that's wrong with their party. "I'm not a member of the caucus," she says. The crowd guffaws at this attempt at political upward mobility.
On occasion, she resorts to policy freelancing, as if she were running as an independent rather than as a member of Team McGuinty. Regarding improved public transit, she vows not to blow money on "subways to Vaughan," as if that's not the plan of her very own Liberal Party and particularly of the finance minister Greg Sorbara, a more powerful figure in the government than the premier himself.
Asked if she's in favour of nuclear expansion, she replies blithely, "I'm in favour of more renewable energy," conveniently ignoring the fact that the Liberals plan to embark on a major nuclear expansion.
Apparently seeing a few chinks in Holloway's enviro armour, the Marchese camp has its campaign minions here distributing campaign propaganda highlighting the Liberals green shortcomings -- which as well as the $40 billion nuke plan includes a failure to deliver on their promise in the last election to phase out coal.
Holloway appears not to score that many votes here. The crowd, asked to indicate their evaluation via applause, gives her the most tepid review of the four.
When I approach her after, she's not in a mood to chat, complaining that she spent a ton of time with a fellow NOW hack last week only to see almost nothing end up in print. She asks how we decide which ridings to cover. "Are you seeing how many NDPers you can get elected?"
Not at all, I assure her. We decide on the basis of whether the outcome in an individual riding is in doubt and whether readers outside the boundaries would be interested.
Having temporaily mollified her, I ask her why she left the Green Party. "Because I wanted to get things done and because the Green Party is not ready to govern."
How can you run for a Liberal Party that wants to go even bigger into nukes and some of whose plans -- subway extention to Vaughan -- you don't support?
She proudly offers that the Liberals have devised the most progressive legal instruments for getting alternative energy suppliers onto the provincial power grid.
Futhermore, she says she'll put the people before her party. "Rosario Marchese doesn't have a list of achievements he can point to," she says. "Wouldn't it be better to have a fresh voice at Queen's Park who's not afraid to be conroversial?"
Well, it would certainly be a great source of news to have a rookie backbench MPP going head to head with the most powerful people in her own Liberal government. As for whether that would improve life in Trinity Spadina, it's far from clear.