Happy City’s All-Citizens Forum called for discussion between candidates and voters on Wednesday night.

The forum, held at St. John’s City Hall, was designed to facilitate “more of a dialogue than an… adversarial debate,” said Bui Petersen, one of the organizers.

Before it got underway, he told participants not to argue with the candidates, but to talk about any topics they thought needed to be addressed before the election on May 2.

“I’ve been here eight months and this is the most involved I’ve ever been in the community,” —Jennifer Broadbridge

“The point is,” Petersen said, smiling at the voters, “be nice to them.”

This “be nice” style of communication is a far cry from some recent debates that have had limited question periods and a lot of shouting amongst candidates.

At Happy City’s most recent attempt to get people talking, however, the candidates weren’t there to address one another. For the most part, they sat in small groups to talk and, perhaps more importantly, to listen to what voters are concerned about.

Voter concerns

Jennifer Broadbridge, 23, is originally from Mississauga, Ontario and says it’s ideas like this forum that make politics “so much more accessible” than she’s used to. “I’ve been here eight months and this is the most involved I’ve ever been in the community,” she said.

Broadbridge has a point. No topic was too small, and participants were encouraged to suggest as many discussion ideas as they wanted.

The topics people were most concerned about included poverty, affordable housing, healthcare and transportation.

Kimberly Yetman Dawson, who recently moved from Ontario to the St. John’s South-Mount Pearl riding for work, wanted to talk about affordable housing and homelessness. She said she hasn’t been to any of the candidate debates but wants to learn the Newfoundland and Labrador take on all of the issues presented before she votes.

“I’m disappointed that there’s not more candidates,” she said, “but I like the format.”

Government concerns

The candidates who attended included NDP candidate Ryan Cleary for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, and Green Party candidates Rick Austin for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl and Robert Miller for St. John’s East.

The forum gave candidates an opportunity to talk about their own experiences and reasons for running in the election without the usual debate about other parties’ shortcomings.

“I’m disappointed that there’s not more candidates,” —Kimberly Yetman Dawson

In a discussion about government responsibility to citizens, Austin mentioned his concern about his childrens’ rising tuition costs, saying, “I want my kids to have the same opportunities and the same quality of life that I had.”

Later, in the discussion about affordable housing, Cleary talked about the number of senior citizens he’s recently met who can’t afford to heat their homes.

For those who showed

Although turnout was low, Happy City’s efforts to foster political discussion in St. John’s certainly gave a small number of people the chance to see this election as something they can easily engage in instead of watch from the sidelines.

Happy City’s mandate is to “inform and encourage the discussion surrounding development and growth in St. John’s.”