Jack Knox: Less talk, more listening for federal election candidates

The voice on the phone sounded panicked. “You must have left the front door unlocked,” she said. “Somebody has been in the house.”

“Oh no,” I replied. “Did they leave zucchini?”

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“Worse,” she said. “Election campaign literature.”

My heart sank. Campaign literature is political zucchini. You don’t see it at all until September, and then suddenly it’s everywhere, strangers showing up on your doorstep and foisting it upon you as though they’re doing you a favour.

“Swallow this,” they intone, fixing you with a creepy Children of the Corn smile. “It’s good for you.”

The federal election campaign hasn’t officially begun (that will happen some time between now and Sept. 15) but the parties already have their messaging down — the talking points you’ll hear repeated, again and again, until the Oct. 21 vote. They know what they want us to hear.

Less voluble is the other side of the conversation: what we want to tell them. Our priorities, not theirs.

That’s why a handful of local bodies, including the City of Victoria and the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, came up with a different spin on the traditional election forum. Just as they did in the provincial election, they are inviting candidates from the four south Island ridings to the Victoria Conference Centre on Wednesday to hear a panel of civic leaders talk about what they see as the community’s priorities. A “listening session,” they call it.

Paul Nursey, the CEO of Destination Greater Victoria, will talk about the labour shortage. Victoria Coun. Jeremy Loveday and Jeff Bray, the CEO of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, will address affordable housing. Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps will tackle two topics: climate change and reconciliation. Chamber CEO Catherine Holt will also address two subjects: affordable, accessible child care and transportation.

Holt said participants will be specific about what they want from the federal government — what programs they want expanded, which projects they want funded.

In her case, she’ll tell the candidates that the chamber sees child care as an economic issue and the feds, who spend about $150 million a year in that area, need to step up in the manner of the B.C. government, which is spending $1 billion over three years.

She’ll also say Ottawa, which has a program that helps fund public transit infrastructure projects (in Greater Victoria, it’s being used to buy B.C. Transit 10 electric buses) should provide similar incentives that would allow private-sector transportation companies to modernize their fleets.

Candidates will each get a couple of minutes to speak at the end of the forum, but the real idea is for the would-be members of Parliament to listen, not talk. Moderated by CBC Radio’s Gregor Craigie, the event, which goes from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., is open to the public.

Of course, just as the candidates’ priorities might not match those of the panelists, your concerns might not mesh with those of the panelists. Or, frankly, with what we at the Times Colonist think you want to know. That’s why the newspaper, too, is shifting its approach this year, asking readers to help guide our election coverage.

The TC is asking you to help set the agenda. We want to know:

• What information will help you cast an informed vote?

• What do you want candidates to be discussing?

• What would you ask candidates if you had the chance?

The easiest way to reply is by filling out the form at timescolonist.com/election. You can also email your answers to election@timescolonist.com with the word “Questions” in the subject line, or call 250-380-5228 and leave a voicemail message.

Please let us know which riding you live in and include your name and contact information so we can follow up, if necessary.

You’re going to be fed a lot of information over the next few weeks, some of it nutritious, some rancid, some full of empty calories but sugar-coated to make it taste better on the way down. You should at least get a chance to have some input into the menu, so that there’s more to digest than the ubiquitous zucchini being shoved inside your door, whether you want it or not.

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