Friday, April 22, 2011

Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar Conservative MP Kelly Block 'dodges public debates'; similar stunt pulled in 2008 federal election

For the second straight federal election Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar Conservative candidate Kelly Block has been caught ducking debates with her opponents.

As first reported here, Block failed to meet a recent deadline to inform organizers if she will attend an all candidates forum hosted by the Riversdale Community Association on April 28 at the St. George’s Senior Citizens’ Centre.

The NDP, Liberal and Green Party candidates have confirmed their attendance.

According to a StarPhoenix article published on April 20, community association president Doug Ramage found out Block wasn’t attending from a TV reporter.

Ramage said all candidates were contacted on April 4 and given a range of four days to choose from. The community association heard back from everyone except Block.

Ramage went so far as to visit Block’s campaign office. “It started off as, ‘Absolutely not, as her schedule was predetermined weeks in advance,” he said. Then, they said they’d try squeezing her in. “We were left assuming she would do her best to make it.”

Josh Boyes, Block’s campaign manager, apparently told reporter Janet French that Block will be in Biggar at a volunteer appreciation pizza party, followed by a door knocking blitz in the community.

“We’re left wondering if this was planned in advance in order to avoid (the forum) or if this was simply just the only time they could run that,” Ramage said.

It was about a week ago when Block’s campaign set volunteer appreciation events in Rosetown and Biggar on April 27 and 28 respectively, Boyes said.

“We understood there was a possibility of a conflict, but it was just that we had a number of (possible forum) days and we weren’t sure which day he was going to come back to us with,” Boyes said.

Boyes said he didn’t propose an alternative forum date and time to the community association and that request likely got lost in the “craziness of the campaign.”

(Or, maybe they just didn’t want to attend so chose not to respond.)

Boyes said Block would be willing to participate in forums that fit into her schedule.

(But didn’t he just say he never offered the community association any alternative dates?)

Boyes insists Block is open to questioning and is happy to defend Conservative policies and platform on doorsteps, in the campaign office and on the phone. [Riversdale meeting minus Block (StarPhoenix, April 20, 2011)]

Just not at public forums, though, where her campaign team can’t control the message. reported Boyes saying the date of the debate was changed on April 13. [All Candidates Forum for Saskatoon Rosetown Biggar Riding (, April 19, 2011)]

It appears Boyes is wrong.

On April 20, Ramage said in an email the date was changed on the 12th, and that all candidates are sent the same emails by way of blind carbon copy (BCC).

“What is missing from Boyes’ story,” said Ramage. “Is that when I originally spoke with Josh Boyes and Kelly Block, I told them the debate would be either the 27th or the 28th (the 28th was the backup date, that we ended up having to use).”

April 12 also coincides with around the same time Boyes states the volunteer pizza party and door-knocking blitz was organized for Rosetown (27th) & Biggar (28th) in the StarPhoenix article, said Ramage.

“Boyes and Block knew the debate would be either the 27th or 28th as those are the dates I presented them with,” said Ramage.

The community association is non-partisan and thereby not for or against any of the candidates and encourage all of them to attend, said Ramage.

The Riversdale Community Association clearly went above and beyond to accommodate all candidates. Everyone was treated the same. Unfortunately, they came up against a candidate that didn’t seem to want anything to do with the forum and made sure no solution could be found.

Boyes is a former president of the Saskatoon–Wanuskewin Conservative Party Association. He was also Block’s campaign manager in the 2008 federal election when the candidate avoided debates then, including one in Biggar, which led organizers to cancel it.

Block’s communication manager, Carol Reynolds, said at the time her door knocking schedule was busy.

“This is not a directive from the Conservative party,” Reynolds said. “She will be spending the bulk of her time getting to know residents.”

Reynolds defended the decision as “strategic,” arguing Block has to get out to see as many constituents as she can, the StarPhoenix reported. [Block passes on debates (StarPhoenix, October 3, 2008)]

The StarPhoenix editorial board blasted the decision saying “it defies credibility for Ms. Block’s campaign officials to suggest that she has a better chance of connecting with more residents in the far-flung constituency by knocking on one door at a time than she would at a centralized public forums attended by dozens of people at a time.”

The editorial board noted that Ms. Block in Saskatoon and Wascana candidate Michelle Hunter were among more than 17 Conservative candidates -- including cabinet ministers Diane Finley and Helena Guergis – who had so far ducked all-party debates across Canada.

The number of Conservative no-shows was simply too large to ignore.

The board suggested it was an attempt by the Tory national campaign to keep a tight rein on candidates -- especially rookies whose inexperience might lead to embarrassing pronouncements.

“For a party that got into trouble with Elections Canada for funnelling money to local candidates’ campaigns to purchase advertising deemed to be national ads for regulatory purposes, it’s damaging to send a message to voters that their candidate is but a mere pawn in a game far removed from local control or accountability,” said the board.

“It’s bad enough when a party’s candidate does no more than spew out packaged pablum prepared by the national office, that has little to do with local issues.

“But it undermines the entire democratic process when candidates refuse to participate during an election campaign in public events that give voters a chance to assess their ideas in the context of what’s being offered by other parties, especially when the party in question has not yet released a full platform that can be useful for comparison purposes.” [Tory candidates have obligation to share views (StarPhoenix, October 6, 2008)]

Like Saskatchewan’s other 12 Conservative MP’s, Block seems to be little more than an empty shell, a mouthpiece for the Prime Minister’s Office and the Conservative Party of Canada.

Block does excel in one area though: wasting taxpayers money on mail outs to constituents.

A Board of Internal Economy report on individual MP spending shows Block’s office spent $67,358.15 on taxpayer funded mail outs in 2009-10, the second highest total among Saskatchewan Conservative MP’s. Most of that money was blown on nasty, partisan flyers sent to constituents’ homes.

Since the summer of 2009, Block has sent out at least 37 of the controversial flyers as well as calendars, oversized mailings and booklets outlining the party’s tough on crime agenda and reckless tax cuts.

Block sends out so many flyers that sometimes constituents receive two different ones on the same day.

The black and white flyers usually say nothing about Block’s activities as an MP. Their purpose is twofold: To praise Prime Minister Stephen Harper and promote the Conservative brand and to create fear and demonize the opposition parties.

Saskatchewan’s 13 Conservative MP’s blew an astounding $607,608.94 on mail outs in 2009-10, an increase of 32.14 per cent over the previous year.

Since 2006-07, spending on mail outs by Saskatchewan Conservative MP’s has risen 125.75 per cent.

Records indicate that since the Harper Conservatives took office in January 2006, the cost of printing by all MP’s has increased a whopping 148.68 per cent going from $5.94-million in 2005-06 to $14.77-million last year.

Kelly Block taxpayer funded fearmongering flyer (Rec'd Nov. 25, 2010)


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