Manitoba Candidate sticks to claim she was excluded from debate
A battle of he-said, she-said erupts over how Conservative candidate Candice Bergen was invited
By Chris Glover
Monday, October 12, 2015
On Monday, Candice Bergen stuck to her story that she was excluded from an all-candidates debate to be held this Thursday, but organizers say not only was she invited, but she was invited to pick the time and date.
Over the weekend, Bergen sent an email to local media saying she was excluded from the debate to be held at Portage Collegiate Institute. She is now holding her own public event the same evening and time in Carman, Man.
The two versions of events hinge on a phone conversation that happened October 2 between Bergen's assistant and event organizers from the Portage Teachers' Association.
Bergen said she was excluded from public forum
Bergen said event organizer Larry Smith told her assistant they wanted to hold the debate on October 6 to coincide with the Southern Chiefs Organization Summit that was taking place in Portage la Prairie.
Bergen said her assistant told Smith she wasn't available on that date.
"He said, 'Ok, well thanks for letting us know, goodbye.' That was the last conversation that we had," she said.
Smith said Bergen's assistant said Bergen was not able to attend at any time.
"Unfortunately, Ms. Bergen wasn't able to attend as her schedule is completely full and that there was no date that would work for her,'" Smith said, recalling the exchange. "I basically said 'That's unfortunate,' and I wished them luck in their campaign and that was the end of the conversation."
He said no date was given because the debate organizers were hoping to work around Bergen's schedule since she was the incumbent and front-runner.
Bergen won the riding in 2011 with 76 per cent support.
"As part of our organization team, we hadn't discussed any possible dates yet, and we were certainly thinking probably closer to the middle of the month."
Smith was organizing the debate to be held at Portage Collegiate Institute and also would have served as moderator alongside fellow teacher James Kostuchuk.
On Sunday, Kostuchuk provided CBC News with emails that were sent to Bergen that said: "Any date Ms. Bergen is available can be accommodated."
Read the e-mails sent to Bergen's campaign
Bergen said she couldn't explain why the organizers would have been so flexible in the email exchange and then so firm about the October 6 date during their phone conversation.
"I cannot make sense of what they did or did not do. I would suggest even if you write the facts as such, let other people determine what the facts are. The proof is they did not put any dates in those emails," Bergen said.
"I will take a hit that I am responsible for, but this is not true. They did not inform of us of October 15. Why they are spinning the story this way or saying what they're saying, that's not for me to answer," Bergen said.
Bergen's campaign was miffed to learn the candidates debate was now scheduled for October 15 only after reading a story from a local paper. In that article, the campaign also learned the event would be organized by Kostuchuk.
"This is the very first time we had heard of any debate [on] October 15, and certainly the first time Kostuchuk's name had been brought into the conversation," Bergen said.
Kostuchuk ran for the NDP in 2011.
"Do you believe that it matters that James Kostuchuk ran twice for the NDP and that he obviously has a strong bias and nobody even told us that he was involved in this in any way shape or form," Bergen questioned.
Bergen said a debate is typically organized by a neutral party. She said knowing now that Kostuchuk is involved, she will not participate in Thursday's event.
"No, I wouldn't be a part of a debate — after everything that's gone on, why would I go to a debate that's been organized by somebody who has an outright bias?" she said.
Smith disputed that as well. He said the school has hosted several debates in the past with Kostuchuk because he's also a teacher at the school.
"Our goal is to try and get the students involved in the process," he said. "Absolutely not would there be a bias or any slant in that whole evening."
Bergen said she went above-and-beyond trying to engage with local groups during this campaign. On Sept. 9, she said her campaign sent an email to all the chambers of commerce in her riding inquiring about forums.
"So the first contact we had with any of the chambers was of our initiation," she said.
Bergen's camp gave a variety of dates that would work for them, but they were not able to nail down a date to debate with any chamber.
The Portage la Prairie & District Chamber of Commerce forum planned for Oct. 6 did not go ahead. The Morden Winkler Chambers of Commerce went ahead without Bergen Sept. 30.
Bergen said she has not participated in a public forum in her riding during this campaign.