A great debate

Although this column represents a last chance to make a federal election prediction, we won’t be lighting up the crystal ball this time around. Even if this election hadn’t been deemed “too close to call” as of this writing by most pundits and pollsters, I’d be avoiding any pre-ballot pronouncements having sworn off such prognostication after failing to predict Americans would elect a candidate with neither prior experience with, nor any sign of interest in, public service to their highest office. A couple of years ago, I would have thought Harrison Ford about as likely to become Ontario’s premier as Doug Ford.

So instead I’ll focus this column closer to home, on the excellent all-candidates debate sponsored by the Minto and Mount Forest Chambers of Commerce at Pike Lake last week. The format of the meeting means the term “debate” is actually accurate to describe it, unlike most such gatherings, where candidates are confined to responding one at a time to a series of pre-selected questions. While the questions at this gathering of Perth-Wellington hopefuls were pre-vetted and posed by a moderator, some did come from members of the audience that night and others were the result of a locally-conducted survey.

All candidates had a chance to respond to each question posed, as is typical. However in this case, candidates were offered a chance for rebuttal of each answer, with the moderator selecting who got to join the debate. It made for some interesting back and forth on several issues and allowed the audience to watch the candidates think on their feet, not just to deliver rehearsed remarks. Discussion was also well controlled and never devolved into the sort of unintelligible shouting matches, with candidates attempting to talk over each other, that marred the Oct. 10 English language federal leaders debate.

You might think allowing the candidates to engage in this fashion would have an impact on the pace, but moderator Murray Calder kept things moving briskly and took the candidates through nine questions during the two-hour session.

All-candidate meetings for all levels of politics have become generally banal affairs in recent years, as organizers have moved away from the time-honoured practice of setting up a microphone and allowing live questions from the audience, in a case of democracy losing ground to civility. Kudos to the organizers of this one for finding a way to bring debate back into local politics.

Now if we could just come up with a better way of forecasting the outcome.