With no Glenn Thibeault in attendance, much of the expected drama was lost in the first all-candidates debate Tuesday afternoon ahead of the Feb. 5 byelection in Sudbury.
“One of the questions in the box is, where is Glenn Thibeault?” said CARP president Hugh Kruzel. “I can only say the invitation was delivered.”
Thibeault, it was announced in a news release at 12:30 p.m., was instead attending a smudging ceremony at Cambrian College at 2 p.m. with Liberal Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Zimmer.
“This is a photo opportunity only,” the release from Cambrian said. “Thibeault and Zimmer will not be taking questions from reporters.”
So it was left to the seven remaining candidates to debate - Green David Robinson, New Democrat Suzanne Shawbonquit, Progressive Conservative Paula Peroni and independent Andrew Olivier, along with fringe candidates James Waddell, also independent, Jean-Raymond Audet, People's Hope Party, and John Turmel, who's best known for holding the record for most election losses at 85.
In the absence of Thibeault, the fringe candidates largely dominated the debate with outrageous statements that were slightly amusing at first, but soon grew tiresome.
It was Turmel who made the biggest impression, playing the accordion before the debate began, and offering a concert to anyone who would have him. He shouted non-stop during his responses, railing about the evils of paying interest on debts and talking about his past as an illegal casino owner.
Sponsored by CARP, organizers did their best to maintain order, but it was near impossible. For example, when Olivier was trying to answer a question about rising hydro rates, he talked about his mother paying $1,200 a month for power, a fact that may force her to sell her home.
“What is it, a grow-op?” Turmel shouted, at which point moderator Gerry Labelle warned him he would be ejected if he interrupted again.
Olivier got a few laughs himself during his opening remarks, when he said he knew what everyone was asking themselves.
“No, I'm not recording this,” he said, a reference to his release last week of recordings he had with prominent Liberals who were trying to induce him to withdraw his candidacy and support Thibeault.
Elections Ontario and the OPP are investigating the recordings as possible violations of the Elections Act.
Shawbonquit, who likely stands to gain the most from the Liberal scandal, promised a different kind of politics if she's elected.
“I'm not interested in shady deals, and I have never pushed anyone aside to get ahead,” Shawbonquit said. “This riding deserves better.”
“This election is about making sure Sudbury has a strong voice at Queen's Park.”
For her part, Peroni said her background as a school board trustee, and the fact she has run in the last three elections for the Tories “should show you that I am no quitter.
“I'm the one candidate who is not new to this barbecue,” she said, adding “I think we're all disgusted with what has taken place in this city.”
Robinson talked about the need for the province to get serious about climate change by introducing a carbon tax, which he said would create jobs and would help seniors.
“Every vote you give the Greens” sends a message that people want action on climate change, he said. “The fact is a carbon tax is needed and is necessary.”
Olivier said he was determined to change the cynical attitude people have about politicians, promising to be “pure and honest” if he wins Feb. 5.
“We have to make sure that everything we say, everything we do, we're accountable for.”
In his closing remarks, Kruzel urged voters to get to the polls and cast ballots en masse.
“We cannot afford to have poor turnout in this election,” he said. “This is something we will live with for three-plus years. Choose wisely.”