COLUMN: Forget formal debates, let’s see how you do in a zucchini boat race

Chilliwack school board candidate Margaret Reid and mayoral candidate Ian Carmichael faced off in the first zucchini boat race of the day at the Sardis Neighbourhood Market on Saturday, Oct. 1. (Jessica Peters/Black Press Media)Chilliwack school board candidate Margaret Reid and mayoral candidate Ian Carmichael faced off in the first zucchini boat race of the day at the Sardis Neighbourhood Market on Saturday, Oct. 1. (Jessica Peters/Black Press Media)
Candidates Richard Procee, Brian VanGarderen, Jason Lum and Willow Reichelt get busy making their zucchini vehicles at the Sardis Neighbourhood Market on Saturday, Oct. 1. (Jessica Peters/Black Press Media)Candidates Richard Procee, Brian VanGarderen, Jason Lum and Willow Reichelt get busy making their zucchini vehicles at the Sardis Neighbourhood Market on Saturday, Oct. 1. (Jessica Peters/Black Press Media)
Chilliwack school board candidate Willow Reichelt chose beets over carrots for wheels on her vehicle at the Sardis Neighbourhood Market on Saturday, Oct. 1. (Jessica Peters/Black Press Media)Chilliwack school board candidate Willow Reichelt chose beets over carrots for wheels on her vehicle at the Sardis Neighbourhood Market on Saturday, Oct. 1. (Jessica Peters/Black Press Media)
Candidates Amber Price, Teri Westerby and Margaret Reid were among the many candidates who took part in a fun event at the Sardis Neighbourhood Market on Saturday, Oct. 1. (Jessica Peters/Black Press Media)Candidates Amber Price, Teri Westerby and Margaret Reid were among the many candidates who took part in a fun event at the Sardis Neighbourhood Market on Saturday, Oct. 1. (Jessica Peters/Black Press Media)
Teri Westerby and Lisa Morry choose a zucchini for the base of Westerby’s entry in a zucchini boat race at the Sardis Neighbourhood Market on Saturday, Oct. 1. (Jessica Peters/Black Press Media)Teri Westerby and Lisa Morry choose a zucchini for the base of Westerby’s entry in a zucchini boat race at the Sardis Neighbourhood Market on Saturday, Oct. 1. (Jessica Peters/Black Press Media)

People often ask my advice on how to vote on election day, because they think as a reporter I would know these things.

Let me tell you, I do not have the answer to whom anyone should vote for. In all honesty, I’ve been attempting to follow three municipal elections closely — Abbotsford and Hope for work, and Chilliwack as a voter.

That equals nearly 90 candidates that I need to have a basic understanding of, so that I can relay information to the electorate and also be an informed voter.

There is a lot to consider: Past experience and future potential; personality and demeanor; conflicts of interest and beneficial attributes.

Can they speak well on behalf of their community? Advocate for those who need a voice? Hustle a bargain for J.Q. Taxpayer?

Can they… decorate a zucchini and race it down a wooden ramp?

Yes, this is where I found myself on Saturday morning, getting those important answers for myself. I found out Friday night that a farm market at a church down the road had invited all of the Chilliwack candidates for some clean, friendly competition. First of all, this is just so Chilliwack. We also still have dew worm races and other assorted old-timey fun.

I knew I wouldn’t miss this for the world. I’ve been focusing so much on covering work election issues, that I’ve dropped the ball in my own backyard.

So it was time to forget questions about tax relief under the theatre lights, or online arguments about reading materials for kids. It was time for me to see these candidates where the rubber, or the carrot wheels, hit the road.

I went for the good times and laughter, and surprisingly came away armed with some definite opinions.

Their task at hand was to create a vehicle out of a zucchini and assorted vegetables and then get that vehicle down the wooden ramp, ideally faster than your competitor.

There were beets, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and more. And then there were wooden dowels, stickers, ribbons and pipe cleaners. This gave the competitors a chance to show their creativity along with their basic engineering skills. They had 30 minutes to create their vehicle, and the diversity among the final projects was amazing to see.

The candidates had shown up in various states of readiness. Carin Bondar, a school trustee looking for re-election, had a fanny pack of various utensils for paring and shaping. Richard Procee, a produce seller looking for school board election, arrived with a knife in hand looking eager to slice and dice.

Many of the candidates brought along their children and spouses, who offered friendly advice, volunteered as runners for supplies, and were just a general cheering squad.

Some candidates took the time to mingle with the vendors at the market. Others dialed in and focused on the task at hand. Some seemed unsure. Others carved away like it was the final episode of Top Chef. It was fascinating to think these are the future leaders of my community.

I had joked online the night before with Jason Lum, a councillor up for re-election, that it was an important event for my decision making.

“I’ll be basing my votes on the outcome of this race, Lum!” I wrote on his post about the event, to which he joked back that he’d be bringing his A-game.

But I hadn’t expected that, at least in part, this event will help drive my vote. I hadn’t expected that at all.

Over the course of an hour, I found myself observing people through the lens of sportsmanship, teamwork, kindness, ingenuity, and creativity. Who was a good sport? Who dove right in and got messy? Who was easily frustrated? Who spoke to competitors in a friendly way? Who was kind to organizers? Who let their kids lend a hand?

I left before all of them competed, so I won’t truly base my decisions on this event. That would be ridiculous. And this column should in no way help anyone decide how to vote. Besides, this little event won’t matter a hill of beans tomorrow.

What does matter is that people cleared their busy schedule, read the instructions, showed up with a smile and took the fun like a champ. Of all the candidates I spoke with, they all said it was the most fun they’ve had on the road to election day, Oct. 15.

You could even say the campaign trail handed them zucchini, and they made zucchini boats. Funny, wobbly, decorated zucchini boats.

I guess my best advice wherever you are is to find a down-home, country-style event and see if your local candidates wilt, bolt or bloom.

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jessica.peters@abbynews.com

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Election 2022