GuelphToday received the following Letter to the Editor from reader David Gibson, in regards to the upcoming ward Q&As:
I was disappointed to learn that rather than host a public mayoral debate as it has in the past, the Guelph Chamber of Commerce is organizing a series of individual ward question and answer sessions.
CEO Shakiba Shayani, explained that “It's mostly an efficiency decision,” noting the online videos will allow a wider variety of people to access the information on a timeline that works for them.
As our community’s definitive voice of business representing almost 900 businesses and over 30,000 employees, it’s important that the Guelph chamber provides (its) membership and the broader community with an opportunity to hear the Mayoral candidates’ vision for economic prosperity. That’s how the chamber's press release promoted its 2018 mayoral debate.
What’s changed since then? Quite a lot, actually. Today, businesses and the broader community are ravaged by unemployment, closures, service reductions and greater economic uncertainty brought on by the global pandemic. Wouldn’t this be a critical time to hear the Mayoral candidates’ vision for economic prosperity?
Nor is it clear to how multiple online question and answer sessions, held on a ward-by-ward basis, are more efficient than a real-time debate. One that is historically well-attended and widely promoted in the local media. Wards are merely divisions of convenience. Guelph is one city with one Mayor.
Incumbent city mayors and councillors have an almost insurmountable advantage in Canadian municipal elections. Voting and community engagement in municipal elections has always been low and is trending further down. All candidates, particularly new and untested candidates, must work against these barriers to deliver their message to the voters of Guelph.
Whether by intent or omission, the chamber’s untimely decision works to perpetuate these disadvantages and sends an unfortunate message that majority of candidates who lack name recognition and resources need not apply.
I sincerely hope that the Chamber reconsiders their unprecedented decision. Otherwise, I encourage other Guelph community organizations to take up the torch and demonstrate a stronger commitment to the principles of democracy.