Published: Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Debates not great: Candidates should be out pounding the pavement
It's T-minus 40 days and counting before we chose the cast of 24 characters that will attempt to govern the city for the next four years.
For the 60% of folks who habitually donít bother to vote in local elections; be patient for six more weeks as the snow will come soon enough and you can then hibernate until the Tulip Festival next spring.
As for the other 40% of us who actually care about the future of our city and show it by voting, we should say thank you to the record number of candidates, 125, running for mayor and council.
But with so many folks running, it can be challenging for community, interest or cultural groups to host meaningful debates.
Do you invite everyone who is running? What about opening and closing statements? Do we allow free-for-all open debate segments or pre-select head-to-head candidate exchanges? Is there a moderator who can move the debate along, manage a difficult crowd and still get us out of the room before 10 p.m. when our permit expires?
Debate logistics are challenging when you have 20 people running for mayor or 10 vying for a council seat. This difficulty was self-evident Monday evening at council and mayoralty debates hosted by the Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group (OTAG).
At times it resembled a council meeting. Andy Haydon did his best Clive Doucet imitation and stormed out of the chamber named in his honour. And a few questioners acted like councillors as they hurled pointed and personal ďallegedĒ questions at the candidates. Callers to local talk radio and many posters on the ottawasun.com website and the #OTTvote Twitter stream, were, to my surprise, sympathetic to Andy Haydon and the cast of other candidates who are allegedly being ignored by the media, community groups and ó letís complete this convoluted conspiracy motif ó the Bilderbergs and Dr. William Bellís Massive Dynamic corporation from the TV series Fringe.
While I empathize with those running, neither they nor voters should ascribe any fiction or fairness into oneís freedom to seek office and freedom of speech.
Debates ó of which Iíve participated in my fair share and done quite well ó are actually one of the worst fora for convincing voters or changing minds. They are usually over scripted, spliced into isolated theme envelopes and jammed with partisan supporters of various candidates.
If you want to earn the privilege of representing your community or city, get off your butt, develop a campaign flyer and go pound the pavement and knock on doors, itís the bare minimum to even have a shot at placing, let alone winning. Serious candidates in this day and age should also have a website and be communicating ó not broadcasting ó with voters through one or more social media platforms.
If you want voters to consider listening to you (their option, not your right), you better start reaching out intelligently, consistently and persistently. For example, Saturday mornings at the supermarket parking lot and weekday morning visits to OC Transpo stops are just two of a dozen activities to be added to your itinerary.
Elections are not some utopian sandbox where everyone gets the same space, grains of sand or marbles to play with. They are competitions of ideas, innovation, organization and discipline Ö a.k.a.: democracy.