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Parish shares tips on holding all-candidates meeting

By Carolyn Purden

With a provincial election looming on Oct. 6, some parishes might think about holding an all-candidates meeting on social justice issues. A parish in Pickering did that, and is happy to share its experience in putting on an Aug. 29 forum where all the candidates in the riding will discuss the pressing issues of homelessness and hunger.

The forum was organized by the newly formed social justice committee of St. Martin, Bay Ridges, which is chaired by Scott Riley. “We’re not seasoned pros,” he says. “This is the first time we’ve ever done this.”

First, the committee identified the boundaries of the Pickering-Scarborough riding where the church is located. This is important for the distribution of advertising, notes Mr. Riley.

Next, it had to secure a venue within the riding. This would give the committee credibility when it tried to book the candidates. “We opted not to hold it in the church — we have no idea how many people to expect, and St. Martin’s is parking-space challenged,” says Mr. Riley.

The choice was the East Shore Community Centre, owned by the City of Pickering. The centre supplies the chairs and tables, but the committee has to supply the sound system.

With the venue and date set, the committee tried to identify the candidates. It was surprisingly challenging. The incumbent is not running again and each party’s political riding association wanted to wait until after the May 2 federal election to choose its candidate. This took from four to six weeks.

“It takes a lot of persistence to identify these names,” says Mr. Riley, especially since party websites do not appear to be regularly updated. “(Sending an email) to the general mailbox is a good first step, but I couldn’t rely on getting an answer, so if there’s a phone number, make sure you phone,” says Mr. Riley.

Of the four party candidates, three were enthusiastic about the topic of the forum. The fourth, at time of writing, has declined the invitation, but Mr. Riley says the invitation is still open.

The Green Party does not have a candidate, so the committee approached the Whitby-Oshawa candidate, and he agreed to attend to discuss the Green Party’s views.

The forum needed a moderator, and when the committee’s efforts to find one were unsuccessful, they turned to the diocese, which found a well-qualified person. The format of the meeting will be questions from the moderator, which have come from the diocese’s Social Justice and Advocacy Committee, followed by audience questions.

As they come in, audience members will be given a slip of paper and asked to write down their questions. A team of people will collect and collate them. “Not everyone feels comfortable standing up in front of a group of people and asking a question,” says Mr. Riley. “If anybody wants to ask a question directly, I’ll give them a microphone.”

Advertising was the next concern. The committee communicated with local newspapers and asked Durham Region and the City of Pickering to advertise the event on their websites.

Six weeks ahead of the event, the seven committee members got in their cars and delivered flyers to grocery stores, libraries, community centres and clinics throughout the riding. They also informed two local charities concerned with homelessness and hunger about the forum.

Finally, Mr. Riley says, the most important thing is to pray. “Christ is the motivation for all of this. It’s important to offer prayers and ask for guidance.”