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Leaders’ debate needs changes

Posted on October 1, 2019 by Sunny South News

Grumbling, posturing and general disillusionment with the leaders’ debate format in the current federal election could be solved by repurposing an idea kicked around at the advent of the internet.

Mirroring arguments now woven throughout our society, the debates, it is said, are more style over substance, confrontational, and, that oldie but goodie — “they don’t speak to me.”

And they mostly don’t, but how do we best rectify this? A better question is why so few and why just the leaders?

Why not a dozen more issue-centered debates, involving not leaders but informed officials from each party, speaking to groups and individuals specifically keyed into an issue.

It happened on last month, when the Canadian Federation of Agriculture hosted a forum of the parties ag ministers or critics in a moderated discussion that was broadcast on the internet.

If ag is your issue, that was the place to be. Blasting through myriad issues in a head-to-head leaders’ forum might give voters an idea of how a future prime minister can handle him or herself.

But it rarely informs the electorate — a task parties have mostly given up on in favour of micro-targeting voters.

As the internet’s ability to connect people was just being understood 20 years ago, some argued that it be employed to improve democracy.

Even at that stage, why couldn’t citizens log in to the parliament for say an hour each day, and simply vote yea or nay on proposals debated and amended by elected legislators? In perhaps a telling sign — and with attention spans being what they are — the idea dropped off radar.

However, revamping the idea to create a system of specific sectors and groups in mind could re-engage voters who are likely to turn out when their particular issue isn’t being discussed.

The current age-old system of trotting leaders up on stage to spar may see large and overarching matters get covered in well-practiced sound bites.

It’s good theatre, yet it leaves all of us waiting for hours to hear a snippets about specific issue. It magnifies sometime minor programs, and fails to give a whole view of problems and potential solutions.

That’s a structural problem in politics in general and should be addressed.

There are about three dozen federal ministries and just about as many days in a typical election period.

As it is, competing campaigns launch flurries of announcements that leave the public and the media scrambling to untangle it all.

Policy rolled out is also at the whim of how they can After elections, policies and legislation is formed as a massive raft of initiatives tied together to meet the needs of often competing interests.

Why shouldn’t voters hear from party decision makers, not just the leaders? Staging such debates wouldn’t put undue pressure on those taking part. Incumbent cabinet ministers or those likely to earn critic portfolios in opposition are often in good stead to be re-elected, and they’ll be the ones doing to grunt work of issue management over four years, anyway, not the party leader.

Simply put, solve the problems with leaders’ debates, by leaving the leaders out of it.

This editorial originated in the Medicine Hat News.

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