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I snuck a few shots with my iPhone during the forum on Tuesday at the WCGtv studios. (L-R) Moderator Bill Turner, candidates Ramona Coey, Vanessa Hamilton and John LoRegio.

JAMES O'CONNOR Enlarge Image

I snuck a few shots with my iPhone during the forum on Tuesday at the WCGtv studios. (L-R) Moderator Bill Turner, candidates Ramona Coey, Vanessa Hamilton and John LoRegio.

My microphone was too low on my lapel for the first segment.

A composite photo showing me, Sun civic affairs reporter Jillian Austin and CKLQ news editor Clay Young.

Enlarge Image

A composite photo showing me, Sun civic affairs reporter Jillian Austin and CKLQ news editor Clay Young. (JAMES O'CONNOR)

I choked on some really chilled bottled water and almost did a spit-take that could have showered the studio.

I had two questions and a backup third — if things ran fast — which I hadn’t planned on asking, but it received a great response.

Our planning session for Tuesday’s all-candidates’ forum on WCGtv — also sponsored by this paper and CKLQ radio — had everything timed out for a full hour. We thought the candidates — Ramona Coey, Vanessa Hamilton and John LoRegio — would have to be given time warnings and cut off in mid-sentence as they used all of their alloted minutes to give their opening statements and answers to questions.

But things started going south soon after I swallowed the water wrongly and we realized the hour-long show was actually ready to wrap up in 20 minutes.

That’s when the professionalism of host Bill Turner (a veteran broadcaster from CKLQ’s Feedback program) went to an unplanned break, allowing the media panel time to regroup a bit.

"Already, everybody much under their two-minute time limit," Turner said. "Alright, we’re going to take a break and when we come back we may certainly have some more questions from our panelists.

"Maybe a couple more questions."

I had a third question all set to go from the rehearsal, but it was one I didn’t think I would have to ask. But during the slightly panicky break during the forum, I also came up with a fourth, which would nicely help fill the hour.

My compatriots on the media panel — Sun civic affairs reporter Jillian Austin and CKLQ news director Clay Young — also did the same.

So after questions on downtown redevelopment, the time commitment expected of all part-time councillors, party politics at city hall, boarding houses, the potential for a brewpub in the historic fire hall and how to engage voters, it was my turn to ask my third question. The one I didn’t think I’d even get to ask.

That if the candidates had used the chance to squeeze every second of face time on the cable channel and the airtime on radio and get more print coverage the following morning.

So not expressly looking for a "gotcha" moment, I asked a question that would provide a gotcha moment.

"I’ve been kinda itching to ask this question of Vanessa since the last debate she was in, the forum for the last municipal election when you were running for school trustee," I asked.

"You were tripped up on a question about the mill rate and I’m wondering if you could (now) explain in very basic terms the mill rate?"

As her eyes shot daggers in my general direction, Hamilton replied: "This is like an exam here, thank you so much, James O’Connor."

But amazingly, she still couldn’t explain the mill rate.

It’s simply a multiplier used by governments to help determine taxation levels. That’s all she had to say. But she couldn’t.

And as a result of that — and for some of her other answers — she was taken to task in a Sun editorial by our editorial page editor Matt Goerzen in Thursday’s paper.

"Based on her performance during the debate," Goerzen wrote, "Hamilton came off as an intellectual lightweight who failed to do her homework before the big exam. The fact that she was — again — found wanting on a mill rate question leads us to say that if she hasn’t taken the time to understand the basic tenents of the job, she is simply not ready to make the big decisions on council."

Zing. I also have to question Hamilton’s sincerity in even running in the Meadows byelection in the first place.

An early quote when the Sun asked her if she was running indicated she was in it perhaps more for personal gain, not to represent the people of the west-central Meadows ward — way across town from where she lives.

"I’m excited. It’s a beautiful time of year to go out and talk to residents and businesses," said Hamilton, president of the Brandon-Souris NDP federal riding. "I’ve been itching to actually campaign so this is perfect for me."

Hamilton said the main role of a councillor is to look at the best interests of the entire city and be a team player with the other council members.

"I’ve been encouraged by many (NDP) members to run," she said.

Well, truth be told, she hasn’t exactly captured the hearts and minds of the Dippers in Wheat City, let alone any who could reside in the established, older residential ward.

And while she might be "itching" to test any campaigning skills she might have acquired since her failed run for school trustee in 2010, that doesn’t show a great deal of care and compassion for the folks in Meadows who simply want their lanes graded and gravelled, their potholes filled and their broken sidewalks fixed in days or weeks, not months or years. Or never, as is the case in many situations.

City council is still set up as a ward system, so candidates need to have a rich and compassionate understanding of the needs of their constituents.

Sure, councillors also need to have a grasp of wider-reaching issues come budget time, but on a day-to-day basis, they will be receiving calls about lanes and sewers, roads and sidewalks. Period.

And this time of year, taxes.

But I digress.

While Hamilton wasn’t a complete train wreck in the forum, I’m not sure where her political aspirations should lead her next. But I have to agree with editorial writer Goerzen when he wrote that the Meadows byelection is a two-horse race between Coey and LoRegio.

I found LoRegio to be very frank and open with his answers. He clearly has a good grasp on issues at city hall and has an understanding of what people in Meadows are looking for in a councillor.

My only concerns with him are whom he might form alliances with and if his lack of experience in elected office would pose a daunting learning curve.

And I really do have to wonder how the sales rep/columnist/reporter for the Westman Journal could be privy to sensitive and confidential issues at city hall without having an urge to leak them out to his main employer.

That being said, Coey has previous political experience as a school trustee and a background in economics. The stay-at-home mom, who is heavily involved in the minor hockey scene, had been expected to be a shoe-in in the 2010 municipal tilt, but lost to Coun. Shawn Berry (Linden Lanes).

So voters certainly have a choice on June 26, next Wednesday.

A gruff novice with a common sense approach and a resumé including media work and time at the Victoria Inn’s beer vendor who lives in a ward adjacent to Meadows.

Or a more polished person with some political experience and an advanced degree in applied economics from the University of Manitoba. She lives in the adjacent Linden Lanes ward and her residence will be part of the new Meadows-Waverly ward in the 2014 general municipal election.

And then there’s Hamilton. Somebody who really, really wants to be in the limelight, but who reminds me of someone who would really need her own mini-version of the federal NDP’s Orange Crush phenomenon to win this one.

By the way, in a brandonsun.com online poll in early June, Coey led the pack with 51 per cent of respondents, with LoRegio at 39 per cent and Hamilton with nine per cent.

A poll uploaded following this week’s forum showed Coey with 54 per cent, followed by LoRegio with 36 and Hamilton still stuck at nine per cent.

Online polls are really just a novelty feature for readers.

But I’d say these two polls — combined with the number of lawn signs Coey has and the election-day team she’ll have behind her to get out her vote — could be a harbinger of election night.

•••

Why do we care so much about this one byelection?

That’s a question I’ve been frequently asked in recent weeks.

Simply put, our city council has been in a bit of a mess at times and any change in membership could be key in helping it clean up its act and get back on course for the good of the city.

Meadows ward is also an interesting one, as it’s an older, well-established neighbourhood with a lot of folks who have called Brandon home their entire lives. Many of the tidy homes house second generations of families.

So they should know what they want in a city councillor.

And it’s summer. Never the best time for political junkies — such as this columnist — to get their fix, especially now that things are winding down a lot in Ottawa and a bit in the provincial capital.

•••

OK, folks, it’s called a publication ban for a reason.

Every media outlet in the country has been oh-so careful not to give out any clues as to the location of the community where nearly two dozen children have been seized amid charges that youngsters were assaulted with cattle prods, leather straps and whips.

But it’s apparently OK for a local Internet bulletin board to write what it wants.

Here are some phrases from mainstream media:

• "CBC can not use names or say where the situation happened due to publication bans."

• "The identities of the children are protected under a publication ban. The Canadian Press is not naming the accused and the small community where they live."

• "The Brandon Sun is not naming the accused or the small community due to a publication ban put in place Tuesday to protect the identity of the victims."

But on e-Brandon, one member on Wednesday gave information that clearly identifies where the community is and other identifying factors that this former law courts reporter suggests would be in contravention of the publication ban.

So how does eBrandon or other forums like it on the Internet get away with it? A local Crown attorney once told me that for sure, the Brandon Sun would be prosecuted if it broke a publication ban.

The reasoning was that we are widely read and are, well, a pretty easy target. Most Internet chat rooms or bulletin boards — even if they are treated like media and receive news releases and such from various levels of government — have comparatively limited audiences. And finding the real person behind the fake names used online can be difficult.

"It comes down to a matter or resources as well for us," the prosecutor told me.

That leaves me with mixed feelings. It’s nice to know that we are considered too large an entity to ignore, but I also hate to see people flouting the law that we have to abide by.

•••

I’m taking a week off to attend a conference in Winnipeg and to also get some work done around the house.

A modified staycation, I suppose. So as a result, I won’t have a column next week.

But our monthly guest columnist Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and our weekly contributor Shaun Cameron are on deck for next Saturday.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 22, 2013

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Does she have to kiss your glutous maximus, James O'Connor?

I do not know Vanessa Hamilton nor have I ever met her but from the letters that she has written in The Brandon Sun, Vanessa appears to be a STRONG, intelligent, tell it like it is, determined woman who is NOT afraid to express her opinion.

Are you THREATENED by her STRENGTH, James O'Connor or by the fact that she is a very strong, determined woman?

Have you not BREACHED some ethics in journalism by writing what you did in this article?

I thought that you were SUPPOSE to write an UNBIASED article and just state the facts regarding each individual.

What I totally DON'T LIKE and totally DISAGREE WITH is the POWER that you have, as a journalist, to SMEAR someone that perhaps you don't like or approve of for whatever reason.

Do you have a PERSONAL or a partisan reason for doing this?

I didn't think that this paper was called The James O'Connor Sun.

I thought that it was The Brandon Sun and I thought that your job was to provide the FACTS and then let the PEOPLE decide.

I have met Ramona Coey, only briefly, and I liked her.

Have YOU ever taken a stand and run for office of any kind?

Just the fact that Vanessa Hamilton put her name forward is a VERY GOOD thing which should be APPLAUDED and celebrated.

At the stroke of your keyboard you have DISCREDITED Ms. Hamilton for reasons UNKNOWN to the rest of us.

Perhaps you are envious of her STRENGTH and her strong opinions.

SHAME on you, JO'C!

Go, John LoRegio, go!

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My microphone was too low on my lapel for the first segment.

I choked on some really chilled bottled water and almost did a spit-take that could have showered the studio.

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My microphone was too low on my lapel for the first segment.

I choked on some really chilled bottled water and almost did a spit-take that could have showered the studio.

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