Mel Arnold might have wished he’d actually skipped the Vernon Performing Arts Centre forum Monday.
It was clear right from the get-go that many in the crowd of 500 had set their sights on the Conservative candidate and apparent whipping boy for every perceived wrong initiated by Stephen Harper. The first question from the floor challenged Arnold’s decision not to attend all of the forums in North Okanagan-Shuswap.
“We have a busy schedule and multiple requests for forums,” he countered, adding that he is spending considerable time knocking on doors.
“That’s where we really hear what’s important to people.”
Agitation grew as the issue of Syria arose and specifically, Canada’s bombing of ISIS insurgents. Through a volley of hecklers, Arnold defended the government’s military actions.
“Our government has joined an international coalition to work at the source,” he said.
And the jeering intensified as Arnold spoke of the refugees flooding into Europe and the tragic death of a young boy.
“We have to stop that festering evil (ISIS) in its tracks.”
The curve ball question of the night came when an audience member asked the candidates what they thought of the job done by retiring Conservative MP Colin Mayes. It was a balancing act as Arnold needed to be respectful of the party’s long-time local flag-bearer while demonstrating that he’s his own man.
“I know how much Colin put into the job. He represented every one of you,” said Arnold. But his comments contrasted sharply to those from a few residents who spoke of not being able to access Mayes’ office or not having phone calls returned.
Among them was Jacqui Gingras, NDP candidate who organized rallies against Bill C-51, the government’s anti-terrorism legislation.
“Many people have had concerns about Colin’s office being locked. When you could speak to someone through a crack (in the door), the reason given was the high risk of terrorism in Vernon,” she said to a rolling wave of laughter.
On a side note, Green Party candidate Chris George brought down the house with his description of Mayes’ tenure: “He’s done at least as well as the rest of the Conservative caucus.”
Now there were some pointed questions directed towards Gingras about where she stands on the gun registry, and Liberal Cindy Derkaz about income splitting, but hard balls kept being tossed in the direction of Arnold.
Obviously there are some voters who are tired of the Conservative government and will do anything to prevent re-election, including acting worse than a group of children.
These antics are likely to continue during the upcoming forums as some NDP and Liberal supporters see the tight three-way race nationally and smell blood. Arnold will either buckle under the pressure or the hostility will galvanize local Conservatives to stand their ground and hold on tight until Oct. 19.