Tuesday 19 November 2013
Clashes of personalities are inevitable, and occur in all forms of gatherings, whether at a small family thanksgiving dinner, or large as a group of strangers watching a hockey game in an arena. The November 16th debate was no different than any other public meeting. A group of students organized a debate and invited a number of candidates, including me, and sent out the format that they felt serves the purpose of the debate, addressing the 2013 Toronto – Centre by-election’s issues, giving the invited candidates an opportunity to expose their ideas, share their visions, and demonstrate their abilities to the electorate.
The group of young individuals watching this debate probably had the shock of their lives, when they witnessed adults acting like children, without any consideration for those who gave up their valuable time in the middle of Saturday afternoon to be there, either to participate in the debate, support their candidate, or just watch, listen, and learn
I have to point out that regardless of a person’s state of mind, the presence of a trigger can cause the sort of behaviour we saw, and is predictable when considering the public venue, the individual’s mental pre-disposition, likely due to his or her previous painful or pleasurable experiences. That is why it is pivotal for any debate organizer to comprehend the feeling of exclusion that is felt by candidates at election time.
In this particular instance, nine candidates out of eleven, were present and I assume they were invited, since I received my invitation from the organizers. Although the organizers provided their format to the candidates in advance, two candidates chose not to comply. Unable to contain their frustration, they exhibited anger to attract the audience’s attention.
One in particular created such a commotion that the organizers were forced to shut down the debate all together, just shortly after it started. As a result, the four other candidates, including me, who do not represent main parties, and were anxious to expose their ideas and intellects to the audience, did not even get the chance to introduce themselves, let alone explain where they stand when it comes to their constituents. This caused the audience to have mixed feeling regarding who to blame: two noisy candidates among the nine, the organizers, the format, or all of the above!
Interestingly enough, if we observe this small group of candidates as a sample of our society, we can learn a lot from their behaviours. There were three who were given special status, main party candidates, then there were four who followed the rules to a tee, and lost their rights and privileges, and finally there were two who yelled and shouted to other candidates, organizers, and audience, and they did not stop there, when they clicked it up a notch or two, by adding fuel to the fire, exhibiting unusual behavior which one might see in children or those adults who are under the influence of mind-altering drugs or alcohol.
I do not want to over analyze the incident, but from this unpleasant experience, we all must learn how to prevent similar situations from happening again. Although, each debate has its own characteristics, audience, timing, etc., the organizers should not exclude any legitimate candidate from participating in their event; and the reasoning behind that is simple common sense. These debates attract up to a couple of hundred people, of which a large number of the attendees are supporters of the main three parties. Therefore, there is a little chance to make a significant difference in the result of the polls, based on the performance of mainstream party candidates.
From a practical point of view, these debates usually last for two hours. For the sake of argument, let us say ten candidates choose to participate. That means there are twelve minutes for each candidate, which has to include opening introductions, closing remarks, time allocated for the facilitator’s introduction, questioning, and remarks. If each candidate is given two minutes to answer each question, there will be enough time for four questions. As a matter of fact, if debate organizers invite all candidates, giving them equal time and opportunity to speak, main party candidates will benefit from it, by having less opportunity to embarrass themselves! And everybody wins. Organizers gain a reputation for being fair and just, candidates are happy to express themselves, and the audience has good sources to help them make up their minds, and as a bonus, everybody enjoys the show!
This, then, begs the question: why do some organizers make the situation more difficult for everybody? What are they afraid of? What do they gain from excluding confirmed candidates? Quite honestly, I have gotten to the point of questioning the level of intelligence of those who decide to prevent certain candidates from taking part in public debates! All it takes is a few more chairs and tables, a little bit of patience, and few minutes of the main party candidates to be shared with others.
Based on my past experience, the organizers and facilitators of “All Candidates Debate” can succeed and achieve their objectives with a high mark, if they follow a few simple rules. Invite all candidates, arrange their sittings in alphabetical order, in a row and behind tables, and give equal time for each question to every candidate. If anyone is skeptical of the possibility of what was mentioned above, they can watch the 2012 Toronto – Danforth by-election on YouTube, which was a much more heated campaign than this one. This may seem to be an obvious solution, but not everyone is that logical, and that is why it needs to be said. As a matter of fact, Mr. John Richardson, who facilitated the last debate in 2012, was critized by members of one main stream party, because its candidate was not given more time than was given to the other candidates!
I strongly advise the organizers of the two upcoming “All Candidates Debates” in Toronto – Centre on November 20th and 21st, to call all candidates and invite them to their debates. It is not too late! And if they want to go with their plan as is, I advise them to be prepared to shut down their debates, since I predict that the same two candidates who forced the Saturday debate to end prematurely, will show up at their debates.
Intelligent people do not repeat a bad experience, and wise men and women avoid unpleasent experiences all together, by watching and learning from the others.
P.S. By the way I waited for two days to see and hear some form of news from the media, and their silence compelled me to write this piece to inform the public about some of the realities of the unfair process of discrimination and exclusion from “All Candidates Debates” in our so called “Democracy!”