Photo by Jonathan Goldsbie.
As a city councillor Adam Vaughan rarely missed a chance to argue with his opponents, but his decision to skip a recent debate on climate change has his NDP rival in the Trinity-Spadina by-election fuming.
The famously outspoken Vaughan resigned his council seat last month to run for the federal Liberals in a closely watched race that's expected come down to him and New Democrat Joe Cressy.
Local environmental advocacy group Toronto350.org invited both men to an all-candidates debate on green issues Monday night, and organizers thought Vaughan had confirmed.
The organization's president Stuart Basden says Vaughan's campaign sent two emails confirming his attendance, the second of which came on June 12, four days before the debate. Sent from a campaign email account the body simply read, "Confirming Adam for [Monday's] debate."
But on Sunday Basden was alerted that Vaughan would be a no-show. The bad news came not from Vaughan's campaign team but from CBC's the National, which was planning on covering the debate until they found out the NDP and Green candidates would be the only ones attending. Later in the day Vaughan's campaign confirmed he wouldn't be there, citing a "double-booking," according to Basden.
"We were obviously very disappointed," Basden said.
Cressy jumped on Vaughan's absence, claiming Tuesday that he bailed because he didn't want to defend Liberal leader Justin Trudeau's endorsement of the Keystone XL pipeline. On a trip to Washington last year Trudeau described as "steadfast" his support for the highly controversial 1,897-kilometre project that would bring oil from Alberta to the US Gulf Coast.
"It bothers me because on one of the key issues around accelerating climate change, which is the Keystone pipeline, the Liberals are in support of it and Adam refuses to talk about it," Cressy said. "Adam Vaughan and Justin Trudeau are the Keystone candidates in this by-election."
Cressy said the debate was particularly important because it was the last one before the opening of advanced polls, which are expected to see increased traffic because the June 30 by-election is on a Monday sandwiched between the weekend and the Canada Day holiday. Many voters are expected to take the day off.
A spokesperson for Vaughan said his absence had "nothing to do" with Liberal environment policy. Suzanne Cowan told NOW that "we had always had a conflict with that date." She blamed the mix-up on a campaign volunteer who she said had "mistakenly" contacted Toronto350.org and "given them the impression" Vaughan would attend.
Cowan said that Vaughan had a number of events scheduled on Monday, including an appearance with Trudeau and a post-provincial election "kickoff blitz" that couldn't be rescheduled because volunteers had already signed up. She said Vaughan was out canvassing when the debate was taking place at OISE.
In a phone interview, Vaughan insisted that he isn't shy about talking about the Liberals' climate policy. He pointed out that the NDP has backed a west-to-east pipeline from Alberta to Atlantic Canada, and on Tuesday the Conservative government gave conditional approval to the Northern Gateway pipeline in B.C.
"Every party has a pipeline," he said. "I don't think any of us are proud of having a pipeline. That's why we talk about each other's, not our own."
Vaughan argued that shipping petroleum products over long distances will be a necessary evil until governments address the "real issue," which is high energy consumption in urban areas. He said he supports initiatives like C40 Cities, a global network of municipalities that are working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
The by-election in Trinity-Spadina is expected to be pivotal for both the Liberals and NDP. Olivia Chow held the riding for the New Democrats from 2006 until March of this year, when she stepped down to run for mayor of Toronto. Cressy has close ties to Chow and her late husband, NDP leader Jack Layton, and was seen as her logical successor, but he's now facing a stiff challenge from Vaughan, a progressive who enjoyed tremendous local support in his two terms as a councillor for Trinity-Spadina.