COVID restrictions have squashed any hope of an in-person all-candidates forum before the upcoming municipal and provincial elections, but the Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce is hoping to move everything online without a glitch.
The chamber will host MLA candidates from both of Prince Albert’s provincial ridings in a virtual forum on Thursday, Oct. 15, at 6:30 p.m., followed by mayoral candidates on Tuesday, Oct. 27 and ward councillor candidates on Wednesday, Oct. 28.
Chamber CEO Elise Hildebrandt said it’s not how they envisioned hosting such an event, but she’s looking forward to it as a learning opportunity. She’s also not worried that moving the event online will decrease the turnout.
“You can literally watch this from anywhere, and there’s no cost,” she said during an interview on Friday. “You have to have the internet, but if you have Wifi, you can get in, so I believe this is going to open up the door to the public.”
A live broadcast will be available for viewing on the Prince Albert Chamber of Commerce Facebook page. Residents can submit questions through Facebook, or email them ahead of time to email@example.com. Hildebrandt said the chamber also has a special phone line set up so residents can text their questions in during the event. The line is 306-961-3333.
“Obviously, Facebook and social media is very public, and I recognize that maybe somebody doesn’t want their questions with their name attached,” she explained. “We’ve now set it up so that they can text in their questions, keeping in mind that we may not have enough time to answer all of them.”
While the Chamber has moved a lot of their events and meetings online since the start of the pandemic, Hildebrandt said they’re still learning new things every day. She said it’s still and extremely fluid situation, but the Chamber is prepared for quick changes.
The biggest may involve scrapping or expanding portions of the ward councillor forum on Oct. 28. If Prince Albert sees a surge in candidates, they may schedule the event over two days instead of one. However, any councillor who gets in by acclimation will not be in attendance.
The Chamber plans to stick with its familiar question and answer format, as opposed to running a formal debate. Hildebrandt said most audiences want thoughtful answers rather than arguments, so that’s what the Chamber is trying to give them.
“We feel with a forum that we can give the question out and everybody gets an opportunity to answer,” she said. “I don’t believe that any one of us wants to sit in and watch a bunch of people argue. I can do that at home at my kitchen table. I don’t need to do that at any sort of political event.”
Hildebrandt also urged voters to get out and vote at all the elections, despite public health conditions. She said this is the one chance residents have to make their voices heard, and they need to make the most of it.
Information about all candidates can be found under the Election 2020 tab at www.princealbertchamber.com.
The Chamber will also host two forums for reeve and councillor candidates on Oct. 29 and Oct. 30. Candidates from the RM of Prince Albert will be in the first forum, while candidates from the RM of Buckland will be in the second.