Sidney councillor to skip one all-candidates forum, objecting to entry fee

Sidney councillor Peter Wainwright said he would not attend a Sidney All Candidates Forum held by the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, citing his disagreement with the $35 admission fee and the availability of alcohol at the event.

The event is scheduled for Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. at the Mary Winspear Centre. The Peninsula Chamber is also hosting similar events for Central Saanich and North Saanich on Sept. 27 and Oct. 4, respectively, also with a $35 admission.

In an email to the Chamber, Wainwright wrote: “I value and support the work that the Chamber has been doing for our community. But, when I first saw the notice I had concerns that made me uncomfortable about the event and caused me to question whether I should participate.”

Wainwright said he could not recall any occasion in the past 30 years where people had to pay to attend an all candidates forum in Sidney, and he was “strongly opposed to the idea that people pay to have access to politicians (even if they’re not elected yet). Charging for admission goes against my principles.”

He also said “the Sidney election campaign is already showing evidence of strong opinions and heated comments by some,” adding alcohol would risk fueling that environment.

He said he would attend the free forum hosted by the Sidney Community Association, and would meet with individuals or groups that contact him.

Disclosure: The Peninsula News Review and Black Press is sponsoring both forums and will be reporting on both.

Denny Warner, executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, said in an email that the Chamber had previously hosted all candidate forums that were open to the public, with space rental, equipment and refreshment costs subsidized by members of the Chamber. However, Warner said past events were mainly attended by non-members and “many of the issues discussed were not the issues of primary interest to our members.” Therefore, their board decided two years ago that they would only host events that “provided clear value to our members and would generate enough revenue to at [the] very least cover costs.”

“Most chambers of commerce organize opportunities for members to interact with candidates but very few chambers organize free public events,” said Warner.

Warner said the Peninsula Chamber began hosting ticketed all-candidates forums prior to the last provincial election. Warner said members often arrive to the event directly from work, so they appreciated having food and beverages available. There would also be no bar for the moderated portion of the event, only during the first hour.

Warner also said there would be no questions asked directly by guests. Instead, the moderator will pose questions submitted in advance or in writing during the event.

For comparison, the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce (GVCC) moderated a virtual candidate forum for the 2014 federal election, which was broadcast online for free. However, the GVCC also routinely hosts speeches by politicians with question-and-answer sessions from the crowd. On May 15, Premier John Horgan addressed the GVCC, where table sponsorship (for 10 seats) was priced at $1,350. These events were reported on by media outlets.

In a candidate’s guide produced by the B.C. government, “key election campaign activities” include “meet and greet” events like luncheons or fundraising dinners where the community “can listen to the candidate’s platform or position on specific issues and ask questions,” with a platform often provided by local governments, community groups, and local media.

“We regret that we didn’t more clearly communicate our intent and rationale for the change in format to the public and candidates earlier in this election process,” said Warner.

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