The Downtown BIZ is drawing criticism for its decision to exclude three candidates from its upcoming mayoral debate.
The BIZ invited five candidates – Brian Bowman, Gord Steeves, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Paula Havixbeck and Robert-Falcon Ouellette – but not the other three registered candidates: David Sanders, Mike Vogiatzakis and Michel Fillion.
The three excluded candidates said they were surprised and angered by the snub from the Downtown BIZ.
"I was so angry (Thursday morning) I walked down the street to the BIZ office where I ran into (executive director) Stefano Grande and told him, ‘I want to talk to you,’" Fillion, who lives and works downtown, said.
The Downtown BIZ debate is set for Sept. 10, from 5-7:30 pm in the gallery of the Manitoba Hydro building on Portage Avenue.
Grande said the decision was made to invite only five candidates because of time constraints and because it would have been unwieldy and ineffective to include all of them.
"The reality is, there are only three, four, five top candidates," Grande said, adding the five were chosen based on the policy statements they’ve made to date.
"There could be 15 candidates and we couldn’t put on an effective forum with more than five," Grande said, adding any decision to add more candidates would be made by the BIZ board. He said mayoral debates held in previous elections also excluded candidates.
The first mayoral candidates forum of this election campaign was hosted by the St. Boniface Francophone Chamber of Commerce in mid-June and all candidates – seven at the time – were invited and participated.
Vogiatzakis said the BIZ is demonstrating the same privileged attitude that plagues city hall – deciding who is important and ignoring the rest.
"I’ve been invited to 15 different forums and debates between now and election day and those groups don’t have a problem with inviting all the candidates," Vogiatzakis said.
"I was invited to meet with the BIZ next week and I just assumed I was invited to be in the debate too," Sanders said.
Sanders said he was told he was not invited because the decision on the five to invite had been made before he registered his campaign.
"That shouldn’t make a difference," Sanders said. "There’s still plenty of time."
Being excluded rankled Fillion, adding he’s a Downtown BIZ member whose business, an entertainment talent booking agency, pays a special levy to the BIZ.
"Of all the candidates, I am the only one who lives and works downtown... I’m a member of the BIZ, yet they exclude me," Fillion said. "I have lived downtown for eight years. No one understands the issues better than I do yet I’m not allowed to participate."
Grande said the BIZ is meeting one-on-one with all the candidates to find out their positions on downtown issues, adding the excluded candidates will also be given an opportunity to answer the same questions put to the other five at the debate.