Sudbury chamber excludes fringe candidates from election debates
Only candidates from parties with members in the House of Commons invited to debates
For the first time, the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce is only inviting certain candidates to its election debates this week.
The chamber has long been criticized for welcoming anyone whose name is on the ballot, but it says that's not what prompted the change.
Chair Bryan Welsh says this federal election only candidates from parties with members in the House of Commons will take part in its Sudbury riding debate on Wednesday and the Nickel Belt debate Thursday.
That means the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Green and Peoples Party of Canada.
He says the change was made after looking at how other chambers of commerce organize their debates and wanting to make sure the event has "umph."
"It's an unfortunate reality that we don't have the time to hear from all the candidates right now. We really just wanted to maximize the time to hear all the party representatives," Welsh said.
"The discussion around certain individuals being invited or not never came up."
But for years, one individual has repeatedly come up when some Sudburians have criticized the chamber's open debate policy.
David Popescu has run in almost every municipal, provincial and federal election for the last 20 years.
He has several times been convicted of hate crimes for comments he made during those election campaigns, targeting homosexuals and others.
Last year, incumbent Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger called on the chamber to ban Popescu from its debate for mayoral candidates, citing his "hateful" rhetoric.
But the chamber refused.
"I think it's a slippery slope when you go down that road for democracy," then chamber of commerce chair Michael McNamara told CBC in 2018.
Popescu, who is more focused on getting his message out during elections rather than trying to get votes, isn't happy about the move, but he doesn't see it making much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.
"I'm sorry they've changed their policy, because I think it's undemocratic," the 72-year-old said.
"That doesn't really stop the convicting power of God's word from taking affect."