Young Debaters Rate the Debate
By Amanda Taccone
June 15, 2004
Winning a debate comes down to effective communication, and as the four main
federal leaders squared off a second time, young Canadians, all debaters
in their own right, tuned in to see who had it down to an art.
The leaders had less than 24 hours to learn from their experiences at
the French debate, and young debaters believe that while each one made
important points during Tuesday night's English-language face-off, none
was an outright winner.
Wayne Chu, 21, is a member of the Carleton University Debating Society
in Ottawa and has been debating competitively for 7 years. "Overall,"
he said, "I don't think any specific leader won the debate, I don't
think there was any knock-out blow."
Chu added that he doesn't think any of the leaders were really good at
answering questions directly. Instead, he says, leaders continued quoting
from their party platforms, so there was no real exchange of ideas, as
there should be in a good debate.
Siva Vijenthira, 16, is a debater at the University of Toronto Schools
(UTS). She says that besides the fact that there was no clear winner,
she actually lost respect for the party leaders.
"Usually what we've always been taught in debating is that it's
all about clash, but I thought this had too much clash. It's always good
to have argument and different sides to each issue, but sometimes it seemed
like they were just arguing for the sake of arguing and not really listening
to each other."
The debate was formatted to allow for individual responses to questions,
one-on-one discussions, and "free for all" sections where any
leader could try to get a word in. The style of the discussions involving
all four leaders, however, often made understanding what was being said
Tyler King, 16, thinks that while all the leaders were able to get their
points across, having so many people speaking at the same time was distracting.
A debater at UTS and a supporter of the Liberal party, he's not sure about
the effectiveness of the "free for all" section of the debate.
"I definitely welcome the change where they started doing one on
one debates as part of their format. In that sense, I think it was less
effective when people were talking consistently at the same time, and
especially when a lot of the leaders seemed to be rather stubborn in that
sense and wouldn't stop talking once they had started."
Party leaders Stephen Harper (Conservative), Paul Martin (Liberal), Jack
Layton (NDP) and Gilles Duceppe (Bloq Quebecois) each took the time to
promote their own platforms and attack their opponents. And while there
was no consensus on whether any leader came out on top, several debaters
agreed that Duceppe had an effective debating style.
"I think Duceppe, even though he was minor in this debate, I think
he used his secondary party status well. He wasn't really being targetted
in terms of other parties putting down his platform and such, so he used
it to attack other parties without himself being attacked...I think he
did a really good job of asking those pointed questions," noted Alexandra
Aliferis, 13, also a UTS debater.
Chu and Vijenthira both agree that Duceppe played a constructive role.
Chu described Duceppe's style as one that made it obvious when another
leader was trying to avoid answering a specific question or discussing
a certain topic.
Layton, however, didn't get such glowing reviews on his presentation.
King said his debating techniques, language and gestures seemed strange.
Chu added that in his attempt to be heard, "he may have almost spoken
In the issues department, however, Layton didn't fare so badly. As Martin
was hounded about the sponsorship scandal and Harper was pressed to clarify
his views on same-sex marriage and abortion, Layton was able to introduce
his own issues into the forum
Aliferis believes that since he wasn't under attack, "Layton was
able to establish himself as a person with scruples," and she also
liked that he was the only leader who brought up an issue that is on many
young people's minds, the environment.
During the debate leaders addressed issues that varied from ethics and
accountability, minority rights and health care to taxes, military spending,
and funding for provincial and municipal programs. But in the end, if
the party leaders were trying to leave a lasting impression, they may
not be happy with what it was.
For Vijenthira, the trademark moment during the debate happened when
Martin's frustration surfaced during an exchange with Layton. "The
one thing that I remember was from Mr. Martin, when he said something
like 'Did your handlers tell you to talk all the time' to Mr. Layton,"
she said. "I thought it was an interesting part of the debate that
just captured the moment, all the seriousness was suddenly gone, and everyone
was just interrupting each other...and I think all of them could have
been more dignified in the end, although maybe Mr. Harper was too dignified."
So while the English language debate seems to have captured the spirit
of the election campaign, with a frustrated Paul Martin and a too calm
Stephen Harper still battling for the lead, none of the leaders' debate-night
tactics seem to have helped them find more votes.