Friday, October 03, 2008

Canada, leadership debate, and the thoughts of an 'average Canadian'

Apparently, I can't help myself. Just one more post about this election, promise (fingers crossed behind my back).

The last two nights, I watched the Leadership Debates for the upcoming Canadian election. It was a great deal of fun. No, really. It was. There is nothing like a good old fashioned farce to keep me entertained. There was a great deal of laughing on my part, a few incredulous comments loudly addressed at the television, and a slight headache at the end of it all. This is my favourite part of any Canadian election and I wouldn't miss it for anything short of a nice ball of yarn.

I have some thoughts and some questions. I'm not interested in addressing specific party policy or discussing an individuals performance (except to say that allowing the Green party into the debate added a fun element to this election's debates). I just want to note a few generalities that really interested me.

To start with, I'm really glad I watched both language debates. The French debate was great. Something of the candidates' personalities are lost when their speech is translated into English. It's much easier to focus on the specific words and not get caught up in any potential charisma when you don't speak the language they are bickering (ops, arguing) in. It really helped me get a better picture of what this election's platform is for each party. The English language debate was more entertainment. It's much easier to enjoy those moments when everyone just talks at once without regard for the other person. Very disrespectful and damaging to that individual's image, but entertaining for the rest of us. I managed to get something very useful out of both debates, even if it was just a bemused smile.

On the topic of language, is the French debate usually first? I think it was last election. It really annoyed me that during the English debate, the candidates kept referring back to the French one. Mike Duffy (like a sports commentator for Canadian politics) said that only one million English speaking people watched the first one. Also the French debate didn't make the papers or local news stations out here, so if I hadn't watched it, I wouldn't have known anything about that debate. Good thing for the politicians, this behaviour only lasted the first 20 minutes of the debate. Also, in some ways, I think that the French debate helped them prepare for the English debate; the questions presented by the public in both debates were almost identical (which may tell us more about what the media wants to know than what the people want to know, as they said that the questions were carefully screened by the main news stations). To give francophones the advantage of having a more polished debate, shouldn't they switch it up a bit? One election French first, next election English first, and so on. Just a thought.

While I'm thinking about French, there was one question in the French language debate that I thought was fantastic: Say something nice about the person sitting to your left. What a great question. It completely caught them off guard. Now, I'm not going to name names here, but in general terms, their reactions fell into three categories. First, some candidates said only nice things about the other person. They said things that they admired in the individuals personality and specific party policy that they liked. This or these people avoided saying anything nasty or self centered. Good for him/her/or them. Second, this category of people or person talked about 'we did' and 'we share'. That is to say that they focused on policy that the person on their left and they shared together and that they liked. They also made a few digs about what they didn't agree on, but stuck mostly to the policy. The third category, and this I think is deplorable by the way, said almost nothing nice. He/she/ or them might say something like, 'yah, alright, they have trait X from their personal life that I like, but they really suck otherwise.' I'm exaggerating, slightly. This category just seemed to dive into attacks on the individuals character and policy, then switched the conversation over to what they personally would do right if their party was elected. That doesn't sound like they are saying something particularly nice about the other candidate; not to mention, they weren't suppose to be talking about themselves at all.

This question influenced me more than any other about who I will vote for this time and for the entirety that that or those individuals are leaders of their party/parties. It's a shame it never made it into the local papers.

In the English debate, a phrase came up far too often for my liking: "What Canadians want is..." If I'm not mistaken, EVERYONE, excepting the moderator, used this phrase. There are a few things wrong with this. First, the entity labeled 'Canadians' is not a single minded creature. It is in fact, not a creature at all. It is a group of individual people who each have separate values and wants, not always the same as the next individual Canadian. If we all had the same wants, we wouldn't need an election. Heck, if we were all of the same mind, we wouldn't need a government, we would just do what was right and save tones of money doing so. Canadians are a category not a specific substance (think Philosophy, think Aristotle who attempted to make clear this distinction in the most confusing way possible, a work known as The Categories). That brings me to the second point. I was born in Canada, I have Canadian citizenship, I even have a Canadian passport. I think I fall under the Category of Canadian. Not once did anyone mention my wants. I want more yarn. Honestly, I haven't bought yarn in months. I also want a new spinning wheel (my spinning wheel savings has gone to pay for my health troubles). I also want more research into Lyme disease. They didn't mention that either. These are my two biggest wants, and non of the candidates mentioned this.

It makes me wonder, when you say 'what Canadians want is...' are you describing what some members of the category 'Canadians' would like (remember, we are using Aristotle here. When talking about categories, you have the choice of some, all or none, some meaning one or more members of the set) or are you telling me what, as a member of the set 'Canadians,' what I should want? Maybe I shouldn't be wanting to know this, no one mentioned it during the debate.

Okay, take a breath. I still have two topics I wanted to talk about. Need some more coffee? Tea? Actually, I wonder if anyone is still here. I'm sure you all have your own political opinions, why would you want to waste your time reading mine? But then again, I like wasting my time writing my opinions, so perhaps someone might read them.

Next up is consistency. When it comes to philosophy, in my opinion, consistency is the first thing to evaluate in an argument. You look at it from two points of view: Are they consistent within the context of this discussion or argument (in this case the debate), and is what they say here consistent on the larger scale? Is it consistent with their previous works, stance, actions, &c.? In my humble opinion, only one party leader remained consistent in the context of these debates. I kind of wish that had been the Green leader, but she was a close second, which is really difficult when the stakes are so high, so good on her. The other fellows, well, sorry guys, you suck at this!

Consistency on the larger scale, some did better than others, but non of them really shone. In some ways this is a good thing. I'm fine with people changing their mind when they realize they were wrong. In other ways, with some individuals, coupled with their history, this sort of wavering makes them far less trustworthy. It's up to you to decide who you think did what.

And my last topic, a question about carbon trading. Several members of the debate mentioned this was the best thing we could do for the environment. I'm confused.

Now, I consider myself a fairly smart bird, and yet, this carbon trading has never made sense to me. It seems, and I could be wrong, that person or company X wants to pollute so they pay someone to plant a tree (over simplifying). X makes quantity Y of pollution in one week, but the tree takes hundreds of years to (what's the word here?) absorb(?) Y amount of pollution. So the pollution hangs around and does all sorts of damage until tree gets rid of it? I must have this wrong. I'll try again.

It's okay for a company to pollute so long as they pay someone not to cut down a tree elsewhere in the world. That doesn't work either because the tree has already done most of it's good work and cutting down the tree adds pollution. That tree is already there, maybe that person wasn't going to cut it down anyway. So this would be it's okay to pollute so long as you pay someone else not to? That can't be it either.

Basically, carbon trading seems to me to say, 'it's okay to pollute today so long as you do something now that reduces pollution in the future.' Is that what's going on?

Even if this carbon trading did work, and I'm not certain how it could, it's gotta be expensive to implement and even more costly to monitor (do the people monitoring this aspect of industry plant x number of trees every time they get in a plane to go to inspect a factory?). From the point of view of this little bird, it seems cheaper and more efficient to simply say, 'you wanna pollute, go for it, you can give the government (which goes into a specific fund for helping the environment only!) one dollar for every 500g of pollution. Voluntary tax, like speeding. Make that eco-fund a revenue neutral thing so that the government doesn't make any money off it - everything they take in in year 1, they have to spend on the environment in year 2, and so on. Less bureaucracy, less money wasted and more money going to help the earth.

But these are just my opinions. I tried to be fair to everyone involved. I'm not too worried about people disagreeing with me because only three people (one of them is me) will probably read the whole thing. It's kind of long.


Josiane said...

Thanks for sharing your views on the debate. Unfortunately, I didn't watch any of them, as I don't have TV at home. Now, I regret I couldn't go and watch it at my parents' place, because now I'm really curious to know who did/said what, and who you were talking about when you wrote this and that part of your report. Your perspective is really interesting, and I would love to be able to watch the debates with the points you discussed in mind. Well, I'm off to the Radio-Canada and CBC websites to see if the debates can be found in their archives...

Josiane said...

Oh, I forgot to add: you knew I'd read it all, didn't you? :)

teabird said...

I never heard of carbon trading. Good grief.
I can't think of anything sillier

- except for what happened in one of the recent American elections, where people in solidly-Democratic states traded votes with people in Republican states who wanted to vote for Nader, but didn't want to "waste" their votes.

So the voter in New York would vote for Nader, since New York was not in any danger of going Republican, and the Nader-lover in the Republican state voted for the Democrat, to try and change the balance to the Democratic candidate.

(This would not happen in Canada. It's our Electoral College that screws with peoples' heads like this.)

Be grateful. At least, in your debates, people didn't get credit for winking.