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How To Organize A Political Debate

Let's move forward despite dangers, in solidarity thanks to our love of the Common Good!
Let's move forward despite dangers, in solidarity thanks to our love of the Common Good!

1) Introduction

Why should we organize a political debate? What are the pitfalls to avoid? And how should we approach its organisation, in practice?

I'm far from an expert, but here are some suggestions.

2) What are the advantages of a political debate?

The first advantage of a political debate is that it stimulates voter's interest. The nicest democracy in the world is doomed to dissappear if citizens don't care about it. And in Canada these days, participation rates at elections are trending downward in a scary way, and the trend seems unfortunately stable.

The second major advantage of a political debate is that it educates voters quickly and completely. Indeed, a good political debate allows voters to assess all candidates:

- Intellectually: Are they aware of all of our country's worst problems? Do they have realistic solutions to propose? Are they able to summarize their thoughts and express them clearly?

- Morally: Are they courteous during the verbal fight? (If they can't govern their mouth and their emotions during a little debate, how could they govern a whole country? If they behave as if the other candidates are their enemies, instead of a party of climbers roped together thanks to their love of the Common Good, how will they be able to work as a team in Parliament?)

3) What are the pitfalls to avoid?

The first pitfall to avoid is electoral fraud: Not inviting all candidates. The people have requested to have all the choices on the menu, it's not the organizer's job to censor that menu.

A second very frequent pitfall these days is the pseudo-debate which is in fact a beauty contest. (Candidates cannot debate among each other as such.) This prevents the intellectual and moral assessment of candidates. Indeed, a candidate can lie through his teeth, since the other candidates cannot confront him to his lie. Moreover, candidates don't have to prove that they are able to govern themselves in the heat of battle, since there is no "heat of battle"!

4) How shold we go about it?

The organization of a political debate can be divided into its material, formal and temporal aspects:

- Material aspect: Personally, I still admire that little girl in High School who had organized a debate between all candidates in Louis-Hebert in 2006. She had simply picked up the phone, called all candidates, reserved a room in her school (after classes), and found one microphone. Yes, a single microphone that we passed from one candidate to the other, like a marijuana joint! Such a debate costs pretty well nothing to organize. (Strictly speaking, unfortunately, that poor little girl organized a beauty contest and not a debate, but none of her teachers told her about that common error).

- Formal aspect: It's not bad to start by going around the table so each candidate can introduce himself. Then, I like the "potluck" format. Each candidate contributes a question. (This question is chosen to make that candidate look good and all the other candidates look bad, that's fair play!) All the questions are posted on the Internet several days in advance, so the candidates can prepare (and the spectators can start to drool!). An other advantage of that format is organizer's don't have to rack their brains to find questions, even though it's probably a good idea if they contribute one question to give a "local touch" to the debate.

- Temporal aspect: Ideally, each candidate puts in front of him his smart phone with the "Timer" app, so all spectators can see. Each candidate has a "bank of minutes", which is valid for the whole debate. He can speak as long as he wants, as often as the moderator recognizes him, but when he's out of minutes, he has to be quiet.

5) Conclusion

A vote that has not been preceeded by good debates isn't a vote, but a hallucinogenic drug. Such a pseudo-vote becomes a "social drug" which numbs out citizens, so they won't feel the knife of tyranny slowly perforating their democracy.

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