Editorial: How to tweak a debate

It's best to have candidates go head-to-head

About these all-candidate meetings.

 …I can already hear the groan. 

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If you read this space last week, you’ll know some in this office have had enough election talk. And judging by the response we got from reporter Alan Campbell’s column, he’s not alone. But before you flip the page, let me say this isn’t about who brought up what issues. Rather, it’s more of a verbal head scratch about why we even have them (and I’m not saying we shouldn’t).

In the past nine days, six all-candidate meetings have been held in Richmond. Each had it’s own flavour, but there were also some common threads. So, what worked, what didn’t, and how we can make them better?

What works is simply face-to-face engagement. It’s not like we don’t know the party platforms, who the leaders are and some of the key issues. What’s missing, often, is a sense of connection, a sense that this process impacts me personally and, moreover, there’s something I can do about it. I was truly impressed with the people who came out, their thoughtful questions, their genuine concern, and sense of democratic responsibility. These types of events encourage that. 

That said, there’s plenty of room for improvement. I moderated three of the meetings and am well aware that some excellent questions from the audience didn’t get asked; some candidates sounded no different than the ad I heard on the radio on the way over; some candidates didn’t get their fair share of airtime; some candidates don’t show up and others weren’t invited; still, others got away with saying things quite at odds with their past records.

So, here’s my two cents worth. 

- Prioritize questions from the floor. Organizers certainly have the right to prepare some of the questions, but I don’t think it was any coincidence that the room was decidedly more energized when the questions came from the floor.

- Offer more chances for candidates to actually debate as opposed to recite their party’s line. It happened a few times, but not enough. Many comments went unchallenged.

- Let audience members ask some of their questions directly. The practice of lining up at a mic seems to have gone out of favour as organizers want to vet and control. Granted, someone may ask something inappropriate, but that’s where a moderator comes in.

Frankly, I’d rather take the chance of things going a little haywire than sapping energy from the room. We shouldn’t be trying to create a spectacle, but apathy and boredom are our biggest nemeses. And people become bored and apathetic when they don’t have a voice. Finally, kudos to these candidates. Yes, there was reciting of party lines, but there was also a lot of passion and genuine purpose.

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