Thursday, 27 March 2014

Debate or Schoolyard Brawl?

I tuned in to watch a debate last evening and instead I witnessed a schoolyard brawl.

The first of what I imagine will be an endless stream of Toronto mayoral confabs to take place between now and October, aired yesterday afternoon on CityTV and we the citizenry of the GTA came away poorer for the experience.

I can't imagine what the braintrust at CITY were thinking when they developed this ridiculous format. Basically, here's what happened. Moderator (and I use that term loosely) Gord Martineau introduced a topic of interest, let's say transit. Each candidate was given a short period of time to make a statement elucidating their position. When all five were done, a cowbell rang and the free-for-all began. (At one point the useless Martineau even hollered the word "Go" as if this were a WWF match.) Everybody screamed talking points and slogans over the other with neither the debaters nor the audience able to discern who was saying what and when. He who screamed loudest usually came out on top in the scrum, and that person was invariably the bully of an incumbent. Rob Ford was allowed to spew his invectives and endless streams of mendacities that rarely went unchallenged by the others simply because the rest were so intent on trying to get their positions out into the ether. Even the media questions were easily lobbed softballs that permitted the mayor to belch his half a dozen previously rehearsed talking points and did not allow for follow-up questions by the reporters. Ford was grinning and puffing in mock triumph by the end knowing that very little damage was inflicted on him by his challengers, and the people of Toronto were left wondering is there a real candidate that can take on this straw man of a mayor.

I have a bit of knowledge in the art of debate. It is one of the many skills taught to me in synagogue youth group, and I am grateful for the experience. A debate is supposed to be an even-tempered, yet truthful exchange of differing opinions backed up by incontrovertible facts. Each participant is permitted a period of time to present their arguments, followed by uninterrupted periods of rebuttal by their opponents. Questions from the floor should be permitted follow-ups and challenges especially when lies are dispensed, and moderators should live up to their titles and step in when the discussions get out of control. A debate should never be a rugby scrum whereby everybody piles on all at once, and the winner is determined by who emerges from the bottom still breathing.

I have stated on many occasions that because I live one kilometre outside of the city of Toronto, I do not have a vote in the upcoming election. But that doesn't mean it doesn't affect or impact me as a concerned citizen of the GTA. My initial feeling very early on in this marathon of a campaign is that I am of an "ABF" mind....Anyone but Ford. I was hoping to hear something...anything....from last evening's debate to help me in my quest for a candidate. Instead, all I got was a lot of nothing from the challengers, more Ford headlines, and one less opportunity for the media to show this mayor for the fraud and failure he is. It is the first time in months that I actually thought that Ford could win reelection.

The only good news is that it is still very early in the campaign. But the debate coordinators better get their shit together so that this debacle isn't repeated. The bar set for election to the highest office in the city should be much higher than was on display last evening. The citizens of Toronto deserve better from all involved.

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