Can any ground be gained debating?

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 16, 2013

Brandon Manitoba debate
Photo. Tim Smith – c. 2013 Brandon Sun

With a full slate of campaigning in view for local candidates, and a return visit by both Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair over the last couple days, it has caused me to sit down and wonder about a local candidate’s choice to bail on debating in favour of campaigning in the riding. It is undoubtedly a game of chance but one Conservative candidate Larry Maguire seems content to play, and he is not alone.

This week it was shared by local organizers of the Brandon Friendship Centre debate and the Brandon University debate that Maguire would not be attending either one. The first in lieu of what appears to have been campaign trail work with members of CPAC, the parliamentary channel, in tow for the day, and the second due to a scheduling conflict.

I can give the benefit of the doubt on the first one as knowing how time-consuming campaigning is and the narrow window of television production this one may have been out of the cards from the start. As well, debating is usually perceived as being directly related to special interest groups in one way or another and sometimes can cause a candidate to slip up and go off the party rails in a response. The questions posed are calculated, scripted messages and a good panel member, as I have dealt with in the past knows well the points to push to send an answer off the rails from a candidate’s perspective. These debates, however positive for exposure and coverage are a fish bowl for the person in the hot seat, and a very time-consuming endeavour when time is of short supply.

Having served as a candidate in the provincial election of 2011, we participated in no less than eight debates in a narrow four-week window of time. Of those eight debates, there was full attendance by all candidates at six of them, if memory serves me correctly. The one with the weakest attendance in that go-around, coincidentally enough, was the Brandon Friendship Centre debate, which again seen smaller numbers than the other groups will bolster in both audience support and opportunities to get the message out. By no means is this detracting from the group, or the unique opportunity to share in discussion, it is merely an observation of how candidates feel their time is best spent while out on the hustings.

As a result of candidates being MIA at these events it allows for the others to hone in their sights and take points at will, with their opponents having no rebuttal to the argument. In the end, that miss hurt one local candidate, while the other was elected so the science is not exact, but I will let you figure out who benefited from the opportunity as it was presented.

From a candidate’s perspective the fewer debates the better. Debating is a necessary evil of the process but in the end most elections are won in one location only, on the doorstep. Debating is like roulette, you don’t want to be the first guy to pull the trigger and back out, but once the door is open usually others will take the opportunity to call out the missing member. Depending on the traction of the message, political points can be gained from the process. Whether there is enough to get elected remains to be seen in Brandon-Souris but there is undoubtedly enough to have a card in hand for a future play.

The key to harnessing any sort of win out of a debate is to be sure you aren’t the first candidate to blink. The moment you expose yourself to your opponent, as the Conservatives have in this riding, or you come off as disengaged in the process by not attending the all-candidates type functions like a debates, you leave yourself vulnerable. Such was the case this past week where it seems the party let their candidate down, while others swooped in to pick up the ink and another moment in the spotlight to share on the issues.

With only a handful of debates left to go and the chamber of commerce debate being a ticketed session, it appears there is only one more opportunity to see all the candidates in action at no cost.

The Brandon Sun and Westman Communications will host an all-candidates forum on Nov. 21 at the Keystone Centre. This one falls a couple of days before residents go to the polls on Nov. 25 to put the latest election instalment to bed. I truly think when the dust settles, many of us will miss the rush and overall national attention to the issues at play in Brandon-Souris.

This has been a show worth watching for a change and for those in politics, that is a good thing, depending on what side of the outcome you are on.

Shaun Cameron Political Columnist


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Shaun Cameron is a content contributor. A veteran of print, video and television, Shaun is a professional post-secondary employee by day, and a filmmaker and amateur writer by night. Check out more of my work in the menu bar above.

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Shaun Cameron has worked in media for close to two decades. His work has been featured in print, internet, video, radio and television publications. A proud father of two, Shaun lives in Brandon, Manitoba with his wife Karol.

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