The real debate

It’s amazing what the lack of national media can do for civility.

It’s amazing what the lack of national media can do for civility.

The federal candidates debate in Castlegar on Tuesday, held at the Fireside Inn in front of a crowd of 75 engaged voters and not a single television camera, was an example of how democracy ought to function.

For two hours, the four people vying to be the next MP for BC Southern Interior discussed substantive issues, took questions directly from voters and — gasp! — even agreed with each other once in a while.

The audience, to its immense credit, was well-behaved but not shy. Ordinary members of the public put tough questions to the politicians and wouldn’t accept non-answers in return. The crowd occasionally burst forth with cries of “Answer the question!” when candidates tried their best to dance around some of the more pointed queries.

How refreshing.

The candour, the substance and the public engagement was especially striking as the local debate came immediately on the heels of the federal leaders’ debate in Ottawa.

There, the questions came from the public but only through recorded videos pre-screened by the broadcasters’ consortium. There, the candidates routinely failed to address the questions and repeatedly launched into their simplistic talking points instead. There, there was no common ground to be found, just mud to be slung. There, the nationally relevant Green Party was excluded.

The leaders debate was dripping with all of the elements that turn so many Canadians off of politics. The local debate, by contrast, was a breath of fresh air.

While there was an audience of about 120 at the leaders debate, they were not allowed to ask questions directly or interact with the candidates. One imagines things might have gone a bit differently in Ottawa had the format been more similar to the town-hall style of the discussion in Castlegar.

But the real difference in Ottawa was the bank of television cameras surrounding the leaders’ podiums. Most people act differently when a giant lens is staring them in the face, but politicians undergo a particularly nasty transformation. Common decency and honest discussion go out the window in pursuit of the perfect soundbyte.

But strip away the made-for-TV antics, put politicians in front of real people with real concerns and a real appetite for real answers, and the results can be enough to restore one’s faith in democracy.

– Castlegar News

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