Fireworks started right off the bat, when candidate Jane Scharf questioned the fairness of the questions participants were to be asked, and withdrew from the debate. This opened up a spot for candidate Andy Haydon (who hadn't responded in time to be an official member of the debate), but he declined the opportunity--but still joined into the debate, informally and periodically. Candidate Joseph Furtenbacher was also in attendance, but because he hadn't responded in time to become an official candidate (he said he wasn't invited, possibly because he joined the race late) [Ed. note: Mr. Furtenbacher contacted be to explain that he wasn't invited to the debate because invitations were sent out prior to his registration as an official mayoral candidate], he wasn't invited to participate, and simply sat in the seat vacated by Scharf--without participating.
And all that excitement was before the debate had even officially started.
Over the course of the debate, a large number of environmental issues came up, from protecting aquifers and sensitive ecological areas to water management to 'smart growth' and urban planning. Although no question was directly asked about public transit, it did come up periodically, and there was a significant discussion about cycling in Ottawa.
As for public transit, candidates spoke up about their plans. Incumbent Larry O'Brien spoke about his support for the current plan, as did Jim Watson; Mike Maguire and Clive Doucet each briefly mentioned their alternative transit plans; Andy Haydon very briefly mentioned his support for expanding Ottawa's BRT system, and called Ottawa's transit system Canada's best (citing ridership per capita to support his claim); and Robin Lawrance one again expressed his concerns for public safety with regard to the plan to build a tunnel. The only other speaker given an opportunity were César Bello--who didn't discuss transit plans, but did say he'd ensure no more transit strikes--and Charlie Taylor, who didn't speak much to public transit in general (but has in the past expressed grudging support for the city's current transit plan).
As I write this post, hours after the debate, I'm still not sure what to think about what I just witnessed. There were some good points made, but they were rare gems hidden in the personal attacks and ideological statements and slogans that dominated the debate. And, as was pointed out by Taylor, the whole thing was dominated with 'greenwashing', and many of the candidates were definitely speaking to the audience in front of them.
Still, the debate can be seen as nothing but a positive thing for this city. There were a couple hundred people in attendance (it was standing-room only by the time it started), and most of the audience were very interested in what was said. In terms of getting the environment on the radar for the mayoral race, as well, the event was a huge success.
Good news for those of you who missed the debate, but want to watch it: It will be on Rogers 22 in Ottawa this Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 8:30 p.m. Tune in, if you can; you won't be sorry.