Sears: Our election debates have become embarrassing failures. How did we sink so low?

Couldn’t agree more:

The consensus about the English debate appears to be that Justin Trudeau’s snarling performance lost it for him, that Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh landed a few effective blows, that Annamie Paul was the winner but it doesn’t matter, and that Yves-François Blanchet won the gold medal for angry petulance.

But the real losers were Canadians, and the folks that should have been removed from the debate stage were the debate organizers themselves. Their “debates” more resembled a rigidly staged game show, with a little “Survivor” added in the form of nasty loaded questions, designed to throw you out of the game.

The blame for the embarrassing debate failures this year is widely shared. The networks push their journalists to become stars of the show, and several played almost partisan and celebrity-seeking roles. The moderator had great difficulty with her role, displaying the exasperation of a newbie teacher attempting to corral a careening group of sugar-high kids.

The set designers should be retired. Flashy, plastic and ugly, the set looked like it was designed to play a starring rather than a supporting role.

How did we sink so low? Well, Canadian political debates have been on a long, slow decline. The newly minted Leaders’ Debates Commission was created to address previous criticisms. It will no doubt give itself a firm pat on the back in its next report, pointing to what will no doubt be impressive viewing numbers. A more sober conclusion would be that it is absurd to think that little more than an hour of direct exchange between five leaders in each language for an entire election campaign is an adequate fulfilment of their mandate.

The commission said they had considered two debates in each language, but were concerned that might “dilute” the viewership. What specious nonsense. Every insider knows why they folded on that essential question: the networks are still really in charge, and they do not want to give up the airtime.

It is indeed ironic that some of the most iconic debates of decades past were moderated with great professionalism by the commission chair David Johnston. He and the other commissioners might want to have a viewing of those past debates together, and then consider whether the flashy game shows they have created are an improvement.

So, where to begin again? First, some basic principles.

Debates are ideally between two contestants, maximum three. Debates are not 45-second sound bites; nuanced messaging requires time, at least 90 seconds, with two minutes reserved for opening and closing remarks. Journalists should not be encouraged to compete with the leaders for airtime, nor should they number more than two. Citizens’ questions are a condescending distraction by the debate organizers. They pretend to be a “vox pop” compliment to Canadians. They aren’t. And two debates in each language is a minimum.

If the networks are not happy with those parameters, show them the door. There are many universities and citizens’ organizations perfectly capable of staging serious, professional political debates. Parliament should grant a new commission an annual budget to fund the debates themselves, granting those groups asked to host sufficient funds to produce an intelligent, informative program.

The Leaders’ Debates Commission is part of the problem. Some argued at its creation that it was Liberal-tainted. If that were true, then the Liberal Party of Canada must be fuming at this year’s series of gong shows. Their leader got hammered. No, the problem is not partisan bias — it is professional knowledge. Retired MPs and professors are excellent counsellors on many files, but television production is not among them.

As a reset, let’s lay out the criteria for membership clearly, and have professional recruitment conducted by an outside consultant, the way we do most major public appointments today. Then let’s have a parliamentary committee approve a granular set of expectations and goals, as a mandate letter to the new commission.

It is deeply ironic that in an election unique in its limitations on the ability of parties and candidates to reach out to meet voters — and the ability of voters to come to hear a leader in person — that one of the few tools left to help Canadians come to a voting decision was such a disaster.

Let’s start over one more time, and try to figure out how best to avoid another campaign of flops.

Source: Our election debates have become embarrassing failures. How did we sink so low?

Actually, it’s OK to disagree. Here are 5 ways we can argue better

Not a bad list:

….Arguing morally isn’t easy, but here are five tips to help:

  1. Avoid thinking that when someone starts up an argument, they are mounting an attack. To adapt a saying by Oscar Wilde, there is only one thing in the world worse than being argued with, and that is notbeing argued with. Reasoned argument acknowledges a person’s rationality, and that their opinion matters.
  2. There is always more going on in any argument than who wins and who loses. In particular, the relationship between the two arguers can be at stake. Often, the real prize is demonstrating respect, even as we disagree.
  3. Don’t be too quick to judge your opponent’s standards of argument. There’s a good chance you’ll succumb to “defensive reasoning”, where you’ll use all your intelligence to find fault with their views, instead of genuinely reflecting on what they are saying. Instead, try and work with them to clarify their reasoning.
  4. Never assume that others aren’t open to intelligent argument. History is littered with examples of people genuinely changing their minds, even in the most high stakes environments imaginable.
  5. It’s possible for both sides to “lose” an argument. The recently announced inquiry into question time in parliament provides a telling example. Even as the government and opposition strive to “win” during this daily show of political theatre, the net effect of their appalling standards is that everyone’s reputation suffers.

The upshot

There is a saying in applied ethics that the worst ethical decisions you’ll ever make are the ones you don’t recognise as ethical decisions.

So, when you find yourself in the thick of argument, do your best to remember what’s morally at stake.

Otherwise, there’s a risk you might lose a lot more than you win.

Polarized politics could shatter Canada’s fragile ‘virtuous cycle’ of immigration

While I agree with the critique of some of the statements and approaches by those on the right, greater recognition of how both major parties practice identity politics and virtue signalling for partisan advantage is needed as highlighted in the yesterday’s articles by Terry Glavin (Why race and immigration are a gathering storm in Canadian politics) and Andrew Cardozo (Could all the parties just cool the rhetoric on racism and immigration?):

Support for diversity is fundamental to the Canadian sense of identity, our patriotism and our economic success – so much so, that it can be easy to forget just how exceptional Canadians’ peaceful view of diversity is among Western nations.

The United States sees hate crimes jump 226 per cent in counties that play host to rallies by President Donald Trump. The Paris banlieue suburbs are ghettos of disaffected non-citizens resentful of an antagonistic domestic culture. And in her masterful 2012 study of Canadian exceptionalism on immigration during the era of the Harper government, Irene Bloemraad – a sociology professor at University of California, Berkeley – wrote that it was “remarkable how peacefully Canada’s major cities have transitioned from being predominantly Christian and white to highly multicultural and multireligious.”

But Dr. Bloemraad’s critical finding is this: “What at first seems a paradox – high support for immigration in a country with very high levels of new and existing migration – becomes an explanation. Immigrants to Canada generally feel welcomed. Given the predominantly permanent nature of Canadian immigration, government policy promotes integration because it is presumed that both sides are together for the long haul. At the same time, integration does not mean assimilation, given the policy and ideology of multiculturalism articulated by the government. Finally, the overwhelming majority of immigrants acquire citizenship, making it hard for anti-immigrant politicians to gain a foothold. Immigrant votes have consequences for electoral outcomes.”

This is the virtuous circle of Canadian immigration policy. Government policy promotes permanent migration over temporary; Immigrants feel welcomed; affinity with Canada overtakes the country of their birth; immigrants quickly become citizens and vote; political power of new Canadian voters mitigates anti-immigrant politics; the next group of migrants feels welcome in turn.

But now, the delicate cycle fuelling Canada’s exceptional success in creating a diverse and peaceful country of well-integrated newcomers – cultivated in no small part because of conservative parties that are moderate on immigration issues – may now be under threat.

In a new EKOS survey, 40 per cent of Canadians said too many of our immigrants are members of visible minorities, reflecting that “racial discrimination is now an equally important factor in views about immigration [as] the broader issue of immigration.” (The EKOS survey of 1,045 Canadians had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

The results are more startling when attitudes to non-white migrants are broken down by party support. Of voters who prefer the Conservative Party, 69 per cent said too many immigrants are visible minorities. In contrast, the number of Liberal voters saying too many is just 15 per cent, with those who prefer the New Democrats at 27 per cent. That 52 percentage-point gap between Conservatives and Liberals was, as recently as 2013, only 13 points. There has been, it seems clear, a rapid politicization of opposition to non-white immigration.

This is a break from the past. Canada’s successful conservative parties were pro-immigration and celebrated diversity. The Harper government was laudably pro-immigrant compared with other centre-right parties globally, as were the Diefenbaker, Clark and Mulroney governments. In Ontario, the coalition that elevated Doug Ford to the premiership was notably diverse.

That makes sense, given our country’s long-time approach to immigration. As U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson said when he signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice.”

While politicians in the U.S. or Europe can run against migrant groups because they often don’t become citizens, immigrants to Canada do become citizens – and quickly. Conservatives can find support among new Canadians concerned about taxes or social policy, so long as their tone remains moderate on immigration and diversity generally.

Dr. Bloemraad concludes that “unless established immigrant Canadians completely turn their backs on would-be migrants, the significant share of immigrants in the voting population will likely mitigate radical anti-immigrant politics.”

Unfortunately, that might yet be happening. Max Bernier’s People’s Party received 11 per cent of the vote in diverse Burnaby, B.C., running on a slogan of “Canada for Canadians” and linking migrants with crime. Much of their support came from Chinese-Canadian voters. This is consistent with the EKOS survey that found just under one in five non-white Canadians felt there were too many visible minority migrants.

And it doesn’t require white nationalists with swastika tattoos to break the fragile virtuous circle. U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell is no racist, but he doesn’t hesitate to exploit immigration issues if it’s to the Republicans’ advantage, before and after Donald Trump was elected. The lesson from Europe and the U.S. is that if centre-right partisans succumb to anti-immigrant sentiment among potential voters, politicized hostility can create a vicious cycle of alienated migrants, assimilationist policy, low citizenship rates and fewer first-generation immigrant voters to oppose the next round of anti-immigrant campaigning.

Canada’s economic future depends on high levels of immigration, and continuing public permission for it requires great care by political leaders to avoid disrupting our unique and virtuous circle creating peaceful diversity.

For instance, when federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer inaccurately depicts a “crisis” of asylum-seekers, he also potentially inflames that specific issue and sours attitudes toward rule-following and highly skilled new Canadians. According to Dr. Bloemraad, support for all types of immigration can decline when issues of irregular migrants are in the political and media spotlight.

In Quebec, Premier François Legault has argued for a religious symbol ban, saying, “If we want to avoid things getting out of control as happened with Trump and Le Pen, we have to give something to those who are a bit worried.” His “something,” it appears, includes normalizing unconstitutional infringements of minority rights with the notwithstanding clause.

No political party should be complacent, either. More than one in four New Democrats and one in six Liberals raised concerns about visible minority immigration. In some by-elections, they could be tempted to play to this sentiment, too.

Any party using immigration as a political cudgel threatens the Canadian exceptionalism that allows us to enjoy peaceful diversity. Instead, parties need to compete to address the economic anxieties and sense of powerlessness of all Canadians who are struggling in our globalized world.

Source: Polarized politics could shatter Canada’s fragile ‘virtuous cycle’ of immigration Andrew Steele