Yesterday, Lisa Raitt carried out a blitz of Milton, Oakville and Burlington in the form of three rather hastily organized 'public consultation' meetings. She booked the small meeting room at the Milton Sports Centre for ours, which was announced less than a week in advance. All of which told me that she really didn't want or expect much of a turnout.
That, and the panicked looks on the faces of those running the registration desk.
The room is supposed to have a capacity of 35, but there had to be 50 or 60 jammed in, with at least a dozen standing in the back. Apparently it was the same at the other two meetings. And from the comments I heard and the questions that were asked, hardly any of them qualified as Conservative supporters. Not any more.
Her staff was there, of course. Former local Conservative Riding President Pat White was in the crowd, as well as a younger guy who seemed pretty partisan, but it was generally the same as what I've heard reported from the other two meetings: mostly critical, several neutral, and only a very few supportive.
Some got downright angry.
The event certainly drew the finest people. Some of the local personages who showed up were Donna Danielli, Colin Best, Mike Cluett, Mike Grimwood from the Rural Residents' Association, Joan from MiltonGreen, local reporters, and probably more I didn't recognize.
There were a few people who wanted to talk about energy and the environment, including one denier who droned on and on (they cut him off when he started quoting Lord Monkton). Other than him, the consensus was that that the Conservatives haven't done enough. Lisa took the opportunity to launch into a defence of the tar sands and 'clean coal', citing her Cape Breton roots as the reason for her affection.
We had one representative of an engineers group who spoke rather eloquently about AECL and the need to retain Canadian intellectual property. Apparently the AECL people completely swamped the other two meetings.
There were several very critical comments and questions on the HST - even Pat White said the timing was bad, and nobody was buying the line that the Federal government hadn't applied pressure to the provinces to harmonize. And then there were the usual random issues: income splitting, investment rules for horse farms, cheap imports, regional transit, Glenorchy Conservation Area, gun registry, family farms, pension reform and Nortel.
I asked the first question about prorogation. Lisa and her staff all know who I am, so I don't generally want to pound her too hard at these things and get dismissed as a Liberal partisan. Besides, I don't hold grudges, and she's always very friendly with me. So I just thanked her for holding these meetings today, and then I asked her how she was going to be filling the rest of her time over the next two months. She said that she'd be spending a lot of time in her constituency office and some in Ottawa - and then she said that she gets invited to a lot of local events like ribbon cuttings and Rotary functions, and this will give her a change to attend a lot more of those.
Seriously. Rotary lunches. Your MPs at work.
That seemed to break the ice on the issue because after that there were a number of critical comments about prorogation. The most intense came from Mike Grimwood, who really laced into her about it and wouldn't let it go. His best quote: "Why even bother with public meetings when the PMO makes all the decisions anyway?"
She didn't really address any of these concerns directly, even at later meetings where she just said that she would take our concerns back to Ottawa. But really - what is there to say?
Couple of funny moments: she still can't pronounce Nassagaweya and tried to laugh it off (note to all Halton candidates: if you can't pronounce Nassagaweya, you're as good as dead in the rural wards). She knew I was running for Council and congratulated me before the meeting, saying how much fun it was campaigning, and engaging in a little girl talk about all weight I would lose door-knocking.
Afterwards, she offered me this final piece of advice: "Don't read anybody's blogs but your own".
Thanks, but I'll not only read others' blogs - I'll even keep taking comments on my own.
(for a review of the Oakville meeting, check out Matt and Ashley's blog)
UPDATE: The Champion has a brief article about the event. I didn't count, but there's no way they fit 100 people in that room. I know - I rented the same room for a Liberal meeting tonight. Like I said, the room has a capacity of 35 and is only about 750 sq.ft. That would be like fitting 100 people into the main floor of my house. No way.