Volume 96, Issue 74
Tuesday, February 11, 2003

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Introducing debate shows good form

University Students' Council presidential campaigns have typically involved boring "Q & A" forums, where the only element that sparks something resembling curiosity concerns how artfully the candidates can produce stale, repetitive answers.

Yesterday, the dull format of forums was revived – at least partially – by a novel idea: actual debate.

The benefits to students and to the election race itself were immediately illustrated, as candidates were forced to directly address what the others said and account for their own answers. This made it extremely difficult for them to be vague and fluffy, as is often the case in the standard forums the USC presents during elections.

It also becomes crystal clear which candidates can think on their feet and express themselves well and which are hopelessly lost in a sea of authentic discussion. Debate also lets the audience see who can best demonstrate their knowledge of the issues, and who should be donated to Western's medical sciences program because they are clinically brain dead.

Perhaps the most significant impact a debate has on the campaign is that it allows for a little mudslinging. Candidates did not hesitate to criticize their peers' campaign platforms, even throwing out some jabs that bordered on low blows. While this is not the most sophisticated form of public behavior – particularly for future student leaders – it definitely attracts attention and adds to what otherwise is a dreary election atmosphere.

Students are sick of hearing meaningless jargon and repetitive, worn-out answers time and time again. Direct dialogue between the candidates gives them the opportunity to dig deep into substantive issues and explore areas that are not normally addressed in a run-of-the-mill USC campaign.

All of the USC presidential forums should be a hybrid of the debat-style meeting held yesterday in the University Community Centre atrium. This would allow the average student to ask a question and honestly expect an answer. The debate style ensures the candidates do not let each other get away with dodging a question or answering it in an ambiguous fashion.

As candidates are forced to present themselves in a more natural, conversational way, students will not be blind to what lies behind all of the rhetoric.

Of course, people attending the forums that are members of campaign teams should be banned from asking, which are surely, loaded, unfair questions.

Altering forums to a debate format will not necessarily electrify the campus and double voter turnout. But, hopefully, it will identify the most competent candidate to those who do vote.



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