Campaign Confidential: Debates
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Campaign Confidential: Debates

Torontoist Environment Editor Chris Tindal is currently engaged in a federal by-election campaign. This weekly column is an attempt to offer a behind the scenes glimpse into what it’s like to be that mysterious Other: a politician.
tindal_cc2.jpgLast night was our first public all-candidates debate in this campaign. Hosted by the Bay Corridor Community Association in the Sutton Place Hotel, it was extremely well attended by an engaged audience. For those of us who recognize that interest and turnout in by-election campaigns is often quite lower than in general elections, this was a very encouraging and welcome sign.
The format is similar from debate to debate, and almost always involves opening statements, questions (from the floor, or the organizers, or both), and closing statements. Each candidate rarely gets more than one or two minutes to speak at a time. That’s positive in the sense that it forces us to be concise and allows for many questions to be asked, but it also tends to produce somewhat shallow “soundbite” answers.
Last night was truly an “all-candidates” debate, in that all of the registered candidates were invited and participated. In addition to the four major party candidates (El-Farouk Khaki for the NDP, Bob Rae for the Liberals, Don Meredith for the Conservatives, and myself, Chris Tindal, for the Greens), Liz White of the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada participated. According to Wikipedia, we can also expect a Canadian Action Party candidate (who came by our office to say hi a few days ago) and a candidate, which should be fun.
One of the things that really struck me about our debates in the last election (there were about 12 of them) was how some candidates would play out the exact same script over and over again. As in, Michael Shapcott would say “Bill Graham never did X and did far too much of Y,” and then Bill Graham would respond by saying “Michael knows darn well that I did lots of X and almost no Y!” And then the next night they’d play out exactly the same exchange as if it had never happened before. This type of scenario seems to unfold when one candidate repeatedly says something that isn’t true (or, at the least, that another candidate doesn’t agree is true), forcing the other candidate to repeatedly correct (or refute) them in the same way.
If you missed last night and want in on this action (in my geeky opinion, the debates can be both informative and entertaining), there are a few more debates coming up over the next few weeks:

Saturday, February 23, 5:00 p.m. – Citizen’s Income Toronto All-Parties Forum (issue-specific event to discuss the idea of a Guaranteed Liveable Income) at St Luke’s Church, 353 Sherbourne Street
Wednesday, February 27, 6: 00 p.m. – St. James Town Debate at Saint Simon the Apostle Church, 525 Bloor Street East
Thursday, February 28, 7:00 p.m. – Candidates Debate at Rosedale United Church, 159 Roxborough Drive
Sunday, March 2 – Cabbagetown Debate – Time and Location TBC
Wednesday, March 5, 7:00 p.m. – Candidates Debate at the 519 Community Centre, 519 Church Street
Monday, March 10 – Regent Park Debate – Location and Time TBC
Tuesday, March 11, 7:30 p.m. – All Candidates Debate at the St.Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East

Photo by Shaun Merritt