Debates, Democracy and Debates About Democracy

Debates As  A Tool For  Election Strategy


The Federal election (or non-election) of 2011 will be remembered for many things. One of the most interesting aspects is the focus on Candidates and Leader debates. What are  they for? Whose interest do they serve? Should all candidates on the ballot be allowed  to participate. Does it matter  whether somebody is a “party candidate?” If so, which party? Should only those  party candidates that have Official  Party status be allowed  to participate?  For that  matter,  should  candidates on the ballot  be required  to participate?

What About Candidates Who Do Not Appear In Debates?

Candidates do not appear for one  of two reasons:

1. They are excluded

2. They refuse to appear

Those  who are excluded from debates, often feel  that  their exclusion hampers their  ability to  run as a candidate.

Those who refuse to attend debates often do so for reasons related  to their campaign. But,  are the debates to serve the interests  of: the parties, the candidates or the voters.

Democracy is not  a spectator  sport.  It requires public participation. This participation requires  that people to vote. But,  it also requires that voters have the opportunity to engage  with their candidates. To put it simply: the debates are  a  part of the democratic process  that belong to the voters. Incredibly, the  parties seem to think that  the debates are part of their  campaign strategy which are to be manipulated  for  their  benefit.

Examples  of manipulation include:

– the failure of candidates to  appear  at debates they have been invited to. It is a rare event to find a Conservative Candidate appearing at a debate in Toronto. For example, on April 15 Toronto Centre Conservative Candidate Kevin Moore failed to appear at an All Candidates Debate. On the other  hand, Independent Candidate Bahman Yazdanfar had  to work hard  in order  to be included.

– the Party Leaders seem to have forgotten that in a Parliamentary democracy their primary obligation is to their constituents. Jack Layton has  refused  to participate  in the Toronto Danforth All Candidates on April  28.

If  nothing else,  the  opportunity to appear at an All  Candidates Debate is free advertising and allows a candidate  to  be  compared  directly to other candidates. Without the ability to be compared  to other  candidates,  one is nothing more than a name on a ballot.

Your thoughts?

The next poll will solicit  your thoughts on whether Candidates  should be required to attend debates.


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4 thoughts on “Debates, Democracy and Debates About Democracy”

  1. My impression is that all-candidate debates are venues for a couple of hours of talking points, proclaimed and deflected. Things distill down to eloquence, personality and entertainment and whether a candidate is acceptable to the voters’ preconceived notions. With some candidates — the national parties’ leaderships and the otherwise famous — we already know what to expect and they probably don’t need to show up. (Save for media whoring and fanboy adoration, etc.) With other candidates — like Tories in Toronto — other realities of our parliamentary democracy kick in and make it reasonable for them not participate in a debate. In a parliamentary democracy, sometimes a candidate is not only ‘a name on a ballot’ but also ‘just a bum in a seat’ — I’m looking at you Harper Coalition Party. 🙂

    All-candidate meetings/debates should be for all registered candidates. Independent candidates are a truer species of democratic candidate and should always be encouraged to participate.

    National debates should include any leader of a party that has candidates in, let’s say, 90% of the national ridings and, let’s say, 5% of popular vote in the previous election regardless a 0 seat count. Elizabeth May should have been allowed to participate. The consortium should have bowed to a parliamentary policy not vice versa. I don’t think a strong local party like the Bloc Québecois should be allowed to participate in a national leaders debate regardless of percentage achieved in the previous election.

  2. Independent Candidates and the Candidates of the so called “fringe parties” often have to fight hard to be included in debates. You are absolutely right when you say:

    “Independent candidates are a truer species of democratic candidate and should always be encouraged to participate.”

    The exclusion of Elizabeth May from the leaders debate is certain to generate a serious discussion about the role of debates in future elections.

    Thanks again for your comment!

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