Cambridge Chamber's personal questions come under fire by candidates

Municipal candidate interviews by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce have crossed a line, says after they were asked where they were born, their thoughts on the Catholic church and how many times they've been married.

'I regret allowing this form of interrogation to take place,' candidate Sandy Falkiner says

Some Cambridge candidates say they've been asked personal questions during interviews with the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. (Carmen Ponciano/ CBC)

Some candidates in next month's municipal election are criticizing questions being asked by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce during personal interviews for a planned video series about potential council members. Some of the topics are too personal, say critics, including being asked where they were born and whether they've ever struggled financially.

But the president of the Chamber said the questions weren't inappropriate and no one is forced to answer them.

In an open letter Tuesday, Ward 6 councillor candidate Sandy Falkiner says she was advised moments before her taped interview that the interviewer "wanted to do things differently and wanted to get personal with the candidates."

In the letter posted to the Facebook group Cambridge Citizen Discussion on politics, Falkiner says she was not prepared for the questions that were sometimes presented to her in rapid succession.

"I fail to understand how whether my family struggling financially when I was growing up, or how many times I have been married, or whether I believe in a supreme being, or whether I felt the Catholic church properly dealt with the abuse of children by priests, has anything to do with whether or not I can make sound judgments if elected as a councillor," she wrote.

"In hindsight, I regret allowing this form of interrogation to take place."

Questions 'maybe different and unexpected'

Falkiner says she also no longer approves the release of her taped interview and she won't take part in future Chamber events. 

Greg Durocher, president and CEO of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, says he has heard from a few candidates who were not happy with the line of questioning.

"What's really interesting and a little bit perplexing, to tell you the honest truth, is there's some candidates who had no problem with it, believe that they were suitable questions. Maybe different and unexpected," he said. 

Durocher declined to share the questions because he says candidate interviews are ongoing and revealing the questions would give an unfair advantage to candidates who are yet to be interviewed. He did say some of the questions circulating on social media are not the questions being asked of the candidates.

He confirmed one question to the candidates asks, "Do you come from a white collar or a blue collar family" and another asks if there's ever been a time they've had to struggle financially.

"We're trying to get an opinion on how people deal with difficult struggles, debt, making decisions around financial aspects," Durocher said. "It's all about finding out who the person is ... people are seeking public office."

Candidates asked: Where were you born?

Another question that has raised red flags is: "Where were you born?"

"Why not? What's the problem with that," Durocher said.

Durocher said he has been asked, what if the candidate replied they were born in another country? 

"When we were talking about the question of where were you born, it wasn't whether or not we would put a stigma to the candidate because they weren't born in a particular country of our choice," he said. "That certainly wasn't in our context. It was, hey, where you born? I think that's appropriate."

The plan is to finish interviews, then post them to the Chamber's website and YouTube channel. That process will take several weeks, Durocher says. 

They will reach out to the candidates who have already completed their interviews. If anyone says they don't want their video posted, the chamber won't post them, Durocher says. 

Candidates respond on social media

Other candidates have also spoken out about the line of questioning on social media.

Regional chair candidate Jay Aissa said he won't take part in an interview, which was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

"None of the questions coming from the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce to our municipal candidates has anything to do with matters of public policy as they relate to public policy," Aissa wrote on his Facebook page.

"I will happily answer any question that has reference to how our region operates or how I intend to lead our regional government, but I will not be subjected to questions that have nothing to do with the administration of our local issues."

Ward One city councillor candidate Ryan O'Hagan posted on his Facebook campaign page that he will cancel his interview with the chamber.

"When I was invited to interview, I expected to answer important questions about business, taxation, and development - key issues that must be addressed by the new council in October," he wrote. "It's clear that these are not the questions being asked."

Cliff Eggleton, also a Ward One candidate, responded to a post in the Facebook group "Cambridge Citizen Discussion on politics." He said he had his interview and answered the questions.

"I really had nothing to hide or that I'm ashamed of so I really didn't mind but I can see how this could go south real fast," Eggleton wrote.

Regional chair candidate Rob Deutschmann said on Twitter he didn't have a problem with the questions.

"I think it's important for voters to get to know their candidates," he tweeted. "As an elected politician we will be making decisions based on the info presented to us. What forms our decision making process is a relevant issue for voters."


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Cliff Eggleton as a candidate in Ward Two.
    Sep 19, 2018 9:12 AM ET