The star of the show was an empty chair at a debate last week in the Toronto riding of Don Valley West—as the NDP candidate made a point to highlight that Progressive Conservative candidate Mark Saunders was absent.
“It’s stunningly disappointing,” Irwin Elman told CTV News Toronto while on the campaign trail on Tuesday. “I think he should be disappointed with himself with that decision, if it was the party who told him, because I’ve heard that.”
Liberal candidate for the riding Stephanie Bowman was also out knocking on doors. She says the other candidates were told Saunders was not participating just before the debate was set to begin last Tuesday night at Lawrence Park Community Church
“He said he wanted to focus on other parts of the riding where there were undecided voters, and I just think that was presumptuous of him to think he’s got the votes in Lawrence Park and the surrounding area,” she said.
“I have been taking my message to the door to talk directly to voters. I was also happy to participate in two all candidate forums including one with over 500 participants the previous night,” Saunders responded in a statement.
This is far from an isolated incident for the Tories, according to their opponents.
CTV News reached out to all four major parties on Tuesday to determine if they were keeping tabs on missing candidates from elections. The only party that answered by deadline was the Liberals.
A Liberal Party spokesperson says internal and external tallies estimate at least 60 PC candidates have been absent for local debates.
“[That’s] probably a bit of an underestimate,” said Wayne Petrozzi, professor emeritus in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Toronto Metropolitan University.
Petrozzi says this is not a new tactic for an incumbent government seeking re-election, but one he says the Tories are taking to “impressive” new extremes during this election.
“As long as we control the messages, we can try to keep our narratives tops in people’s minds,” he said.