December 16, 2019

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Tory candidates insist they're not muzzled

Deny national media report party brass has banned debates, forums

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/8/2015 (1570 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Despite a simmering national controversy, several local Tory candidates and senior campaign workers say they've not been advised to avoid media interviews or decline debates.

Kildonan-St. Paul Conservative candidate Jim Bell, who has spoken several times to the Free Press since the campaign began nearly a month ago, said he's been offered no advice or direction from party headquarters to sidestep media requests or to eschew debates.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files 
Jim Bell, the Tory candidate for Kildonan-St. Paul,  says he has not been told to shun debates.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files Jim Bell, the Tory candidate for Kildonan-St. Paul, says he has not been told to shun debates.

"Right now, that's a non-issue," he said.

The former Winnipeg Blue Bombers executive said he hasn't been invited to a local all-candidates forum yet. If he is, he'll seek advice from his team and consider the invitation, though he expressed a willingness to participate.

Saint Boniface-Saint Vital Conservative candidate François Catellier said the same.

"I've never been afraid of debates," he said.

But, if an invitation comes in, he'll need to weigh it against other priorities, including the chance to spend the evening door-knocking, which typically allows a candidate to reach 200 voters. Catellier declined a debate organized by the Université de Saint-Boniface and its students association. The event is slated for Sept. 30 during the day. So far, only Liberal candidate Dan Vandal has confirmed his participation.

In an email to the debate's organizers, Catellier's campaign said the number of invitations Catellier has received "greatly exceeds the amount of time we have available."

"We're definitely disappointed with his response," said Joel Lafond, head of the university's students association.

Two senior staffers in local Conservative campaign offices said no edict against interviews or debates had reached them.

In Winnipeg, Tories are battling to hang on to five ridings and are playing defence amid strong challenges, mostly from the Liberals.

This week, criticism erupted, mostly in Ontario, about Conservative candidates refusing media interviews until after the Oct. 19 election, failing to respond to requests for information or pulling out of local debates, a practice that's been common in past elections. On Wednesday, the Toronto Star reported some Conservative candidates were advised by party brass not to attend all-candidates meetings or speak to reporters during the campaign.

On Thursday, local candidates may have been on their best behaviour, eager to prove national criticism wrong. But, even before reclusive candidates made headlines, most local Conservatives were relatively accessible. Some are even ending their well-established debate boycott.

Provencher Conservative MP Ted Falk has agreed to attend an Oct. 1 debate organized by the Steinbach Carillon and the Steinbach Chamber of Commerce. In the 2013 byelection in that riding, Falk shunned all debates and was criticized for his reluctance to speak to reporters.

"We just think now with the longer campaign period, it gives us a little bit more time to do the things we were pressed for time for the last time," Falk told the Carillon this week.

"Also, I guess I'm probably a little better versed at what the issues are. I think there's just more merit in participating in a debate and it falls into our priorities this time."

The exception is Winnipeg South Centre Conservative MP Joyce Bateman, who has done few interviews with local media outlets since the campaign began nearly a month ago. Instead, her campaign typically offers brief written statements that have little bearing on the questions posed.

She is in a battle to keep her seat, facing chalenges from Liberal Jim Carr and New Democrat Matt Henderson.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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