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MP Cheryl Gallant bails on debate

RENFREW - What was supposed to be a debate about policy and not personalities, grandstanding or spectacle was flipped on its head Saturday morning, as Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant stormed out of a live radio broadcast, stating she wouldn't participate in a debate in which one candidate is prevented from taking part.

"In my four elections previous, I have never participated in a candidate meeting where a candidate had been barred, and I'm not going to start now," she said. Then before a surprised crowd, she stood from her chair, removed her microphone, and left the building.

During an all-candidates meeting held by Valley Heritage Radio, moderator and radio host Bruce McIntyre asked all candidates to give an opening statement as a lead-in to the debate. Speaking last, the MP surprised everyone when she read a prepared statement, lambasting Valley Heritage Radio and debate organizers, and claiming Green Party candidate Rosanne Van Schie was misled in order to keep her out of the debate.

"Less than 48 hours before the planned debate, my campaign team learned that the Green Party candidate had not been included," she read. "Late last night, we were able to confirm that the Green Party campaign had been misled."

The incumbent MP stated they were in contact with the local Green Party, who had been told the debate package had already been set and sent out on Tuesday, April 12, and that it was too late for their inclusion in the broadcast. The Gallant campaign, on the other hand, received their package by email on Thursday, April 14 at 12:45 p.m.

"It is pretty clear that the debate organizers are not acting in the best interests of democracy," MP Gallant read. "To keep the Green Party candidate out, include a candidate with no party, no plans, and no policies and claim you want a event about the issues is absurd."

"To elevate spectacle over substance does a disservice to democracy. A democratic candidate meeting must be open to all candidates, with questions submitted from voters posed to all the candidates."

As the MP left, her supporters cheered and left with her, emptying about half of the chairs set up in the studio. Her campaign manager Brendan Mulvihill handed out a single copy of the statement she had read to the local media covering the event, and quickly followed the MP outside.

Left behind, the remaining members of the audience expressed their disappointment in the MP's actions, some suggesting it was because she was scared she was going to lose the election.

Mr. McIntyre was visibly angered by MP Gallant's comments, saying the Green Party had been given the same opportunity as the others to respond to the offer to take part, but unfortunately missed the Friday, April 8 deadline to accept the invitation. This was needed in order to set up the show, which was on a tight time schedule.

He said he had been in contact with Ms. Van Schie's campaign manager Gordon McLeod on Monday, April 11, and both had been made aware of the situation and were okay with it. Mr. McIntyre said he even spoke with Mr. McLeod this very morning (April 16) and both men agreed there was no attempt to deceive anyone.

"I don't like being called a liar," he said. "(Ms. Gallant) left, she called me a liar, she called this radio station a liar and I strenuously object to that."

Liberal candidate Christine Tabbert, independent candidate Hec Clouthier and NDP candidate Eric Burton, who all came out to participate, looked as surprised as everyone else by the MP walking out, but wasted little time in using the incident as further evidence the riding needed a change in representation.

Mr. Clouthier described the incident as a slap in the face to everyone involved, including the voters in the riding, and said it was an incredibly stupid move on the part of the incumbent.

"These all candidates meetings are job interviews" he said, and it is just incredible if one gets up and leaves without answering any questions. He suggested it may be because of the rough ride the MP received at two previous all candidates nights that she didn't want to get into another unscripted situation.

"It was political grandstanding at its worst."

Ms. Tabbert said it was highly disappointing the MP ran out rather than face questions, but it doesn't really surprise her.

"That's been the way she's been since the beginning," she said. "More and more people are disappointed and disgusted with this form of conduct," which has characterized the MP's representation of the riding.

"She's embarassed herself, her party. her leaders and last but not least us."

Mr. Burton said he was totally blindsided by MP Gallant's actions for leaving so dramaticaly, and for her conduct and lack of leadership over the past decade.

"After saying this should be about substance rather than spectacle, it is her that has created the spectacle," he said.

"I believe the voters of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke will hold her to account."

Contacted by the Daily Observer afterwards, Green Party candidate Rosanne Van Schie said she had wanted to participate, but had been told by Mr. McLeod they couldn't because they had missed the deadline to respond to the invitation.

She said neither of them had been aware there was a cut off date, or received a package afterwards, but weren't going to make a major issue out of it.

"I was surprised Cheryl Gallant refused to participate," Ms. Van Schie said. "That's completely different from what (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper did when (Green Party leader) Elizabeth May was left out of the leader's debate."

She said while disappointed she wasn't able to take part, or that she couldn't be accommodated, she will be subject of an hour long interview on Valley Heritage Radio April 30.

Mr. McLeod said he called April 11 as he had thought they were already confirmed to take part, only to discover they missed the cut off date.

"I felt the rules were the rules, and we abided by them," he said, admitting they would have liked to have been there to take part, but weren't going to make a scene about it. Instead, he and the candidate decided to use the time to rest and get ready for the second half of the campaign.

Mr. McLeod said he has spoken to Mr. McIntyre who told him a package had been sent out, but neither knows what happened to it.

He said he was contacted by MP Gallant's campaign team on Friday evening (April 15) who urged them to attend the meeting and together with their team make a fuss over the exclusion.

"They said they felt we had been lied to," he said, which Mr. McLeod said wasn't the case as far as the Greens were concerned. He was concerned about the call, so on the day of the debate he called the radio station to clear things up.

"I wanted to ensure we weren't in this thing of calling them liars," he said.

MP Gallant has received notoriety since first taking office in 2000, both for many verbal gaffes, and for not attending all of the all-candidates meetings during elections.

The next all candidates meetings scheduled include one in Arnprior April 19, Rankin on April 20 and Deep River on April 23.

Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

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