At least two candidates for the fall municipal election are disappointed the Downtown Business Improvement Association (BIA) has banned campaign booths during Party in the Park.
Louis De Jaeger is running for city council and previously ran as the federal Liberal candidate in the 2015 federal election.
De Jaeger asked the BIA on July 12 for the cost to set up a booth at the July 20 Party in the Park (PITP) event, which runs four Fridays downtown, July 6, 13, 20 and 27.
He was forwarded a letter signed by BIA president Alvin Bartel dated June 19 addressed to the City of Chilliwack explaining how they decided to deny the requests from candidates for booths because of limited spaces, meaning they were unable to guarantee “equal space and fair treatment.”
“While candidates are welcome to attend the events and visit with guests, we do not encourage the handing out of printed materials and will not allow campaign messages on stage or through event promotion,” Bartel wrote.
De Jaeger said he is very disappointed given already low voter turnout in Chilliwack, going so far as to call the decision “suppressing the vote.”
As a former member of the BIA, De Jaeger said he recalled them allowing candidates at PITP specifically to deter candidates showing up, as happened in 2014, handing out promotional materials that ended up all over the ground.
And during the federal election in 2015, De Jaeger said he was allowed a Liberal Party booth at Canada Day festivities.
“But to change a policy to be preventative to something that hasn’t happened yet from a policy that was already working is confusing,” he responded in a letter.
“Looking at the big picture in this city, candidates willing to put their names forward already have a tough time reaching out to voters, and this restriction adds yet another wall to hurdle especially for candidates that might be new to Chilliwack, considering the new 2018 restrictions on donations to campaigns.”
The existing “tough time” refers to De Jaeger’s dismay that the City of Chilliwack does not retain a registered voter list as do most other communities.
BIA executive director Kyle Williams responded to De Jaeger saying that the decision was not an easy one, adding that the BIA encourages voter engagement and fair opportunities for everyone.
“That, however, is where we felt we could run into problems,” Williams wrote. “While we have lots of space at the Party, it is not unlimited, and we needed to be able to guarantee that if we allowed one candidate into the event in the first week, that we’d be able to allow all of them in by the fourth week.”
Sitting city councillor Sam Waddington, who announced he is running for mayor, “got creative” to use Williams’ words, by leasing a vacant space along Mill Street in the heart of PITP.
Waddington, too, said he was disappointed by the BIA’s decision given how hard it already is to engage what seems to be an increasingly disinterested electorate.
“If you look at the ways that voters can engage the public, there are very few opportunities,” he said.
As a bit of a loophole in the BIA’s decision, Waddington said he planned to open up his campaign office for the remaining two PITP evenings if anyone wants to use it to talk to potential voters.
“We’ll see what format that takes, maybe setting up a table, and I will be reaching out to all of the candidates that have officially announced,” he said.
The last two PITP events run July 20 and 27 downtown.