10/06/2015 01:00 EDT

Pierre Poilievre, Democratic Reform Minister, Skips Ottawa Candidates Debate

The Conservative Party failed to send a candidate to an election debate Monday organized by Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson — not even Pierre Poilievre, the top Tory who serves as both minister for democratic reform and regional minister for the National Capital Region.

Local issues were at the forefront of the night’s agenda in a city where the federal government is the area’s largest employer. Poilievre, running again in the riding of Carleton, had earlier declined an invitation to participate.

Still, the event brought approximately 200 residents to city hall.

Watson shared a picture of the empty lectern that was reserved for a Conservative representative in case the party changed its mind.

Green Party candidate Jean-Luc Cooke, who showed up to the debate, told CTV News it’s a parliamentarian’s “requirement” to hear and represent their electorate.

“You are supposed to speak with the people and understand their problems,” he said.

The three candidates who showed up: Cooke, Liberals’ Catherine McKenna, and the NDP’s Emilie Taman discussed a variety of issues from affordable housing to the city’s tourism industry, according to 1310 News.

Marian Currie, Poilievre's campaign manager, told The Huffington Post Canada via email that party candidates have participated in “dozens” of debates “in various forms” across the city.

“As we get closer to election day, our priority is to be out on doorsteps, discussing our low-tax, balanced budget plan,” she said.

Poilievre repeated the same message to Ottawa radio station 580 CFRA last week, likening door knocking to “hundreds of thousands of job interviews” for the party.

“It’s on those door steps that we meet people, hear their concerns and that is our priority,” he said.

Poilievre was appointed minister of state for democratic reform in July of 2013. He was also named minister of employment and social development and regional minister for the National Capital Region in February.

Conservative candidates have reportedly been told to avoid all-candidates debates and meetings. But strategist Tim Powers explains that sometimes it’s just easier to not show up, avoiding the possibility of making mistakes which could snowball into bigger controversies for the campaign.

“Debates can be places where inexperienced politicians get themselves in trouble, or experienced politicians—thinking there isn’t as much attention—reach too far and find themselves having to clean up messes,” Powers told Metro News.

Last week, another high-profile Conservative made headlines for missing a debate directly related to his ministerial portfolio.

Ed Holder, the minister responsible for science and technology, was criticized for missing a debate focused on science policy and funding hosted by Western University.

His campaign justified the absence to the London Free Press by saying Holder has already attended a handful of debates and has himself also knocked on “thousands” of local doors.

With files from Ryan Maloney

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