In a response to a claim made by the Central Region Campaign Coordinator, of the Lakeland Riding, Nancy Mereska that race played a part in the Bonnyville Chamber of Commerce’s decision to not move that date of an all-candidates forum, Presidents of the Bonnyville & District Chamber of Commerce, Robyn Ducharme, says the chamber is “deeply offended.”
Traditionally, the chambers in various towns host a candidate’s forum in the weeks leading up to an election. Going off tradition, Ducharme explains the Bonnyville Chamber scheduled their forum after checking with other area chambers so that there was not a scheduling issue. However, the chamber did not check with the Manniwanis Native Friendship Centre in St. Paul, because that is not a typical venue for hosting an election forum.
Ducharme explains, “historically, across Canada, Chamber of Commerce’s host forums and we’ve hosted quite a few. Since I’ve been president in 2010, we’ve hosted quite a few forums for all of the different elections that have happened. They’ve been pretty successful and everytime we get a bigger and bigger crowd. We’re pretty proud of the forums that we’ve hosted.”
“When it came time to schedule this forum,” Ducharme explains the riding is very large, “we started contacting all the different chamber of commerce’s in all the different communities to make sure that we were not scheduling debates for the same days. All of the chamber of commerces in all of the communities are trying to get all of the candidate to each of their forums.” Ducharme says they did contact St. Paul during the scheduling process, “we contacted the St. Paul Chamber, all of the chambers, and we picked our dates, ours was October 5th. St. Paul Chamber picked the 29th of September.
“We thought we were fine, we sent out all of our invitations,” it wasn’t until later the chamber was made aware of a scheduling problem, says Ducharme, “it wasn’t until we were farther along that we were told of a forum being hosted by the Friendship Centre in St. Paul.” Ducharme says it’s not protocol to check with Friendship Centres, because they aren’t the usual hosts of these forums, “absolutely forums can be held with different community groups, they can host forums.” However, because traditionally chambers are the hosts, Ducharme says that was the only organizations they looked into to make sure there wasn’t a scheduling problem.
Ducharme says they weren’t aware of the second forum until one of the candidates notified them that they could not come. Ducharme then learned of the other forum but it was too late in the planning stage to make any changes. As it stands the Bonnyville Chamber forum will host two candidates and the Mannawanis Friendship Centre in St. Paul will host the other two on October 5th.
*Press Release from Nancy Mereska Central Region Campaign Coordinator Lakeland Riding.
Two all-candidate’s forums have been scheduled for the same night–Oct 5—Manniwanis Friendship Centre, St. Paul; and, Bonnyville Chamber of Commerce
Manniwanis Native Friendship Centre, St. Paul, (organizer, Jim White 780-614-0377) scheduled first—Sept 3rd, contacted all Candidates in the Riding, our NDP Candidate Duane Zaraska (587-986-9511) who is Metis committed to attending, as did the Liberal Candidate, Garry Parenteau (780-646-0763)
Bonnyville Chamber of Commerce, (organizer Tanya 780-826-3252—candidates contacted Sept 9), will not change the date of their forum saying, “it is silly to have two forums in one small town”. She is referring to the St. Paul Chamber forum on Sept 29th. Even though I reminded her that St. Paul sits in and is a major shopping area for SIX Metis Settlements and Native Bands; and, went over dates with her that were still open for them to move their forum, she would not budge. When I suggested that legally Mr. Zaraska has the right to be represented at the Bonnyville forum and could someone else represent him and read his speech, she said she had to talk to others and would get back to me. Tanya got back to me this morning to say that only the candidate is invited and he cannot have representation at their forum to read his speech.
I spoke with a counselor at Elections Canada and she said she could not find where it is an offense to schedule two forums on the same night in the same riding. I registered a formal complaint online—have not heard.
We feel this is pure discrimination against the Indigenous communities of the St. Paul/Bonnyville areas.