Strahl’s absence at candidate meetings draws questions

During every election campaign, a candidate will occasionally bow out of an all-candidates meeting because of scheduling conflicts.

But none have done it so often, and with less explanation, than Conservative candidate Mark Strahl, pushing what would otherwise be a routine occurrence to the level of a campaign issue.

During every election campaign, a candidate will occasionally bow out of an all-candidates meeting because of scheduling conflicts.

But none have done it so often, and with less explanation, than Conservative candidate Mark Strahl, pushing what would otherwise be a routine occurrence to the level of a campaign issue.

Each of the candidates was asked for their views on missing all-candidates meetings at an all-candidates meeting hosted last week by the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce.

Strahl repeated his answer that in trying to reach all parts of the huge Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon riding, he had made “prior commitments” that prevented him from attending an all-candidates meetings in Hope, and one hosted by UFV students in Chilliwack.

This week, the final week of the election campaign, Strahl missed another all-candidates meeting with students at the Chilliwack Secondary School, which prompted the following email from a teacher.

“At the time of our organizing the event, his office declared that the date and time worked for him, so there could not have been a prior commitment,” the teacher said. “It is unfortunate that almost a thousand staff and students were unable to meet the candidate who is perhaps most likely to become our next MP.”

But Strahl’s campaign manager Matthew Barker said there was a “misunderstanding” with the school, because he had talked to one of the student organizers and was adamant no commitment was made to attend the CSS meeting.

He said Strahl had a “prior commitment” that prevented him from meeting with the students.

However, Barker would not specify what the prior commitment was or where it took place. He also would not specify what prior commitment kept the candidate from the UFV all-candidates meeting.

Asked if this was part of an election campaign strategy, Barker replied: “Our campaign strategy is pretty straight forward – it’s to speak to as many people as we can.”

He pointed out that Strahl has attended three all-candidates meetings during the campaign, toured the riding twice, meeting “thousands” of voters, and conducted a telephone townhall to answer public questions.

“He has debated the issues with his opponents, and he’s answered questions from the public by email, phone and mail,” Barker said.

Asked if he felt Strahl was coming under unfair public scrutiny because of the view that he leads the pack of election candidates, Barker replied: “Mark has shown himself to be a capable candidate with a platform that meets any kind of scrutiny.”

On Thursday, the Strahl campaign issued a news release announcing the candidate will attend a rally with Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Abbotsford airport Sunday night.

Strahl said in the release that Harper’s visit “shows that he doesn’t take traditional areas of Conservative strength for granted, and neither do we.”

“We are working hard to earn every vote in every part of our riding,” he said.

rfreeman@theprogress.com