For the art of debate

If Yukoners were hoping an arts debate would make the election campaign more theatrical, they were wrong. Last night's all-candidates forum on the arts had the best lighting, but little drama. All four men continued to agree with one another on most things.

If Yukoners were hoping an arts debate would make the election campaign more theatrical, they were wrong.

Last night’s all-candidates forum on the arts had the best lighting, but little drama.

All four men continued to agree with one another on most things.

Possibly the night’s best performance went to Green Party candidate John Streicker.

He tried to start an aggressive discussion, bluntly criticizing the exclusion of federal leader Elizabeth May from televised debates and hammering the Harper government’s lack of transparency and respect for public participation.

“I wish what we had was real honesty in politics,” he said.

The Conservative government’s meddling in arts organizations put Ryan Leef on the defensive.

“While I support the arm’s-length aspect of it, I still think Canadians want and require a proper oversight of a corporate body that receives $100 billion in taxpayers’ money,” he said.

The Harper government did not apply pressure to these groups, he said, adding the audience question was too general to warrant a specific response.

Streicker cocked his head, puzzled.

“So, I’ll supply some specifics then …” he said, listing multiple examples of partisan appointees, removals, suppression of communication with media and the removal of Linda Keen from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

“Thus removing the safety mechanism that Fukushima needed,” he said.

The crowd erupted with applause and laughter.

Smiling, Leef shook Streicker’s hand.

Asked about cuts to organizations, like the Department of Canadian Heritage, that helped Canadian artists promote their work abroad, Liberal Larry Bagnell was moved to tears.

“I was there the day people were laid off,” he said, dropping his head, his face growing blotchy.

“It was hard.”

Kevin Barr consoled him with a pat on the back.

The only professional performer of the group, Barr’s decision to read directly – and obviously – from a script was possibly the biggest disappointment of the night.

But when he left his notes to discuss the oppression of First Nation culture his stature grew.

Referencing how he’d once hidden his own heritage from people, he noted that, without time to heal and without federal support to relearn traditional ways, Canada cannot take pride in First Nation culture without hypocrisy.

“My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they awaken, it will be the artists who will give them their spirit back,” he said, quoting Louis Riel.

Dressed in a black suit, Leef stood out amongst the art crowd.

At times, he seemed to struggle to connect with them.

He spoke of his Yukon upbringing and dabbles in poetry, noting it was an outlet to express the great beauty of his home.

It was hard to leave for post-secondary school, he said.

Photos littering his dorm room were not enough, he said. He had to spray Pine Sol to revive memories of home, he said with a sheepish smile.

If elected, Leef vowed to remain independent of the party line.

“I’ve been on the record since I started this that I’m going to Ottawa to represent Yukoners,” he said. “I’m not going to Ottawa for a job. I have a job here, I’ll always have a job to come back to.

“I need to be able to come home and hold my head high. I am not a career politician, I am a career Yukoner.”

“I think it went really well,” said Michele Emslie of the debate, which was attended by more than 60 people.

“I think we got through everybody’s questions, so I think it reflected everybody’s concerns.”

But when it comes to helping the arts community, the most revealing action came at the very end of the night.

Almost three hours after the debate began, less than 10 people remained at the Old Fire Hall.

Larry Bagnell and John Streicker were among them, helping stack and put away chairs.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

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