Anything goes at Kensington Market’s monthly Pedestrian Sundays as long as it’s entertaining. Political debates, particularly those not involving American presidential candidates, can be on the dull side. So when three out of the four parliamentary hopefuls for the Trinity-Spadina ward (Conservative Christine McGirr was a no-show) came to meet the people, organizer and local musician Michael J (or Johnson if you want to be formal) put his own spin on things, including announcing the start of the discussion with a fanfare on his trumpet.
First J and a helper lugged a couch down Augusta Avenue for the comfort of at least a few of the audience members and put a blanket down on the street for others. One woman was polite enough to take her shoes off before she sat on it. Another breastfed her baby as the politicos took their first rather delicate shots.
There was a smaller blanket on each of their seats in the colour of the respective candidate’s party. This, it turned out, was a “superhero’s cape” that J insisted the candidates tie around their necks. Green MP-wannabe Stephen LaFrenie, who among other things is a mime artist, made the most of this, mugging shamelessly, and NDP incumbent Olivia Chow and Liberal Christine Innes bore it bravely.
The big news? All three are against nuclear energy. Honesty compelled Innes to admit that her party is exploring all power options. Nukes, it seems, could still be on the Liberal menu. In the absence of a Tory to gang up on, Chow blamed the Grits for laying the foundation of the current political mess, Innes blamed the NDP, and LaFrenie—his hands talking up a storm—promised to do better than everyone else. It wasn’t the stuff that banner headlines are made of.
Before the debate could start, though, a marching band of drummers had to thump its way through. LaFrenie boogied gently to the music. With a puppet show in a sack to one side and a reggae band to the other, the three tailored their party lines to fit a variety of questions about various issues, from the Oil Sands to Afghanistan to vaccination against genital warts. Michael J said heckling was encouraged, “but please be brief and try to be funny.” But there was very little yelling, humorous or otherwise, from the sidelines.
Half an hour in, Chow was looking at her watch, checking her BlackBerry, and talking to her considerable entourage. She had to go. Where? She didn’t say. She got in a quick plug for party leader (and her own partner) Jack Layton and hurried off. Innes, saying Chow has consistently been ducking all-candidates meetings, seemed to think there wasn’t much point in continuing. LaFrenie said he did. But as the two kept talking, sometimes almost painfully polite toward one another, the crowd began to vote with its feet.
A shame none of the candidates addressed the issue of Starbucks moving into the Market. Stopping the march of big-box coffee could be a surefire vote-getter.
All photos by Bill Taylor/Torontoist.