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COLUMN: Undecided in short supply at Okotoks political forum

The crowd was largely divided into two very defined camps, leaving precious few honest-to-goodness undecided voters in our midst.
The three Highwood candidates (L-R) Mike Lorusso (Wildrose Independence), RJ Sigurdson (UCP) and Jessica Hallam (NDP) during an election forum held at the Evangelical Free Church on May 17. The event was organized by the Okotoks and District Chamber of Commerce.

At last week’s candidates forum in Okotoks, incumbent RJ Sigurdson did a solid job of highlighting the accomplishments of his United Conservative Party over the last four years. His NDP challenger, Jessica Hallam, was equally adept at outlining her party’s policies to fix what she believes ails Alberta. 

They did such a good job that it's a shame their efforts over the course of almost two hours didn’t change the mind of a single soul that came out to the chamber of commerce-hosted gathering at Okotoks Evangelical Free Church. 

Perhaps I’m being too cynical when I suggest that not even one voter left the church leaning in a different direction, but given the crowd was largely divided into two very defined camps, I think I’m safe in saying there were precious few undecided voters in our midst that night. In other words, last Wednesday’s meeting was like every other candidates forum I’ve attended over the last 30-plus years. 

Before I go on, kudos must go to chamber executive director Dawn LeMaistre for organizing the event and to president Chelsea Besuijen for stepping in at the last minute to take on the thankless task of moderating the proceedings. 

In theory, these forums are intended for candidates to share policies and promises directly with voters to help them make an informed decision prior to election day. In reality, the vast majority of people who attend these functions have already made up their minds and are there to provide support, both moral and vocal, to their candidate of choice while also taking advantage of the opportunity to scoff at the competition. 

The partisanship started early as Hallam’s introductory speech was met with loud applause, which prompted the UCP contingent to get equally vocal every time Sigurdson spoke. The back-and-forth was enough for Besuijen to soon ask those in the crowd to limit their support to a single clap, which they complied with initially, but as the evening wore on, their adherence to the directive waned and the rumble after each answer intensified. 

I’ve long theorized that if you’re willing to give up an evening to go listen to political candidates, you’re almost certainly more invested than the average voter. And that investment often leads to an involvement with the party of choice, whether that’s door knocking, erecting signs or any number of other ways to further the cause. 

Cheering on the candidate at a public forum fits on that list, so many supporters dutifully show up to lend encouragement, meaning candidates at these events are either preaching to the choir or trying to sell something that those firmly entrenched in the other camp just aren’t interested in buying. 

Somewhere in that sea of partisanship there are undoubtedly a few honest-to-goodness undecided voters who are there to do their due diligence before casting a vote. They’re the ones that are quietly sitting on their hands as those around them hoot and holler following every predictable answer. 

Given these are really the only votes to be won or lost, a large venue to host these forums just doesn’t seem necessary. I suspect most living rooms would suffice.

Ted Murphy

About the Author: Ted Murphy

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