Controversy has erupted between the Mannawanis Native Friendship Centre in St. Paul and the Bonnyville Chamber of Commerce over an all-candidates forum.
On Thursday, September 3, the centre planned announced a forum for Lakeland’s candidates to be held Monday, October 5. The centre said they contacted all candidates, and heard back immediately from Liberal candidate Garry Parenteau and NDP candidate Duane Zaraska, but did not hear back from Conservative candidate Shannon Stubbs, despite repeated attempts to contact her.
On Wednesday, September 9, Bonnyville’s Chamber of Commerce announced they would hold a forum on October 5th, directly conflicting with the friendship centre’s plans. NDP candidate Duane Zaraska contacted Bonnyville’s Chamber of Commerce, but they refused to reschedule.
Mannawanis Friendship Centre Board of Directors member Jim White says he’s baffled by Bonnyville’s decision.
“I can’t understand why they would be told by the Liberals and the New Democrats that they were confirmed for St. Paul for the Aboriginal one, and why they would schedule theirs on the same date,” White said. “The only thing I can think of is [it’s] just totally disrespectful, and don’t want the Aboriginal people participating in the electoral process.”
White also says that he still plans to push ahead with the centre’s forum.
“We’re trying our hardest to integrate the people that are moving into our communities into mainstream society,” White said. “As you’re aware, Elections Canada and most of the parties are pushing for the Aboriginal people to participate. I’ve even heard ‘you’re a special interest group’. Well, [the] Chamber of Commerce is also a special interest group, that represents the business community. So, to me, that’s a special interest group, and I don’t think any one group should have a monopoly on candidates or the electoral process. And if we want to talk to [the candidates], we’ll talk to them.”
Bonnyville’s Chamber of Commerce released a statement, saying no other dates were available.