I was at a debate last week at the University of Winnipeg, one organized by the Women's Studies department. It was a packed house, full of young voters wedged into the stairwell of Eckhart-Grammate Hall, the same young people politicians always say fail to participate in the process. Granted, some were taking notes for a class assignment, but still, it was a good turnout.No Tory, though, a trend across Canada that has seen Conservative candidates shun public events. Kildonan-St. Paul MP Joy Smith was supposed to attend but copped out. She also cancelled an appearance at another forum this week.I heard several students grumble about that as they filed out. I don't know why Smith chickened out. She's combative and well-spoken. She's a spotlight hog off the campaign trail. She would have made it a much more lively and relevant debate. Why didn't she show up, put up her dukes and make her case? The students probably would have lobbed the toughest questions at her, but, as it was, the crowd was painfully polite. The candidates spent more time promoting the sisterhood than really slagging each other off. This is Women's Studies for God's sake. It's not the Teamsters. What does it say about the Tories when they don't trust a veteran politician in the most tame of environments?Meanwhile, I just got an e-mail from the organizer of a debate tomorrow night in Winnipeg South Centre, where Tory Trevor Kennerd has failed to meet any of his opponents in head to head combat. This one was at Riverview School and we were planning to cover it. Turns out Kennerd has pulled out. The organizer said, as a constituent of Winnipeg South Centre, he finds it very hard to vote for someone to speak for him in Ottawa when that person can't even speak for themselves in front of a crowd.