The Democratic Deficit At Home
Date: Monday, June 21 2004
The Democratic Deficit At Home
By: Tristan A. Downe-Dewdney
President, Canadian Nationalist Federation
June 18, 2004
I had the pleasure of participating in a candidates? debate on the 17th. The experience was a rich and rewarding one. It was an eye-opener. In some respect I was disappointed. However, there were points to be happy about.
Walking away from forty-five of positive debate and strong questions, the strongest subject of the night seemed to be the democratic deficit.
When I was first invited to the debate, I was told that I would be part of an all-candidates debate. I was very happy for the opportunity. After all, this was my first election and I would be in a theater talking to a large crowd. Soon came the debate setup. I read over this document quickly and paid little attention to the bit about my being part of a second group. If this was how they were going to organize it, so be it, I thought. After all, I imagined they had arranged something fair.
Soon I received an email from fellow riding candidate Asif Hossain. He was quite upset and pointed out that we were being made second-class candidates. Upon review of the situation, I saw that he was right. Indeed, the first four candidates were the ?ones most likely to win.? This was not right. Then, as we discussed the issue more, we realized that we were the youngest candidates as well. How dare they sideline us!
Asif took the initiative to demand better from the organizers. Their response was disappointing to say the least. It is as follows.
For the record
Mr. Asif Hossain has made these arguments personally to both Mr. Brown and myself throughout most of this day. In addition has had his friend Adam (forgot his last name) call me also "deeply troubled" and further he complained to the SAC of the University of Toronto, the Vice President of which called and again made the same complaint. I have spent an two hours on this and I would like this to end here... but I also realize that what I would like is not necessarily what I get.
My response to Mr. Asif Hossain has been:
1: It is our dance, we hired the hall and we invited people to come and dance with us -- but the deal is: we get to decide the dance programme -- it is our priviledge as the organizers. I invite the SAC, Mr. Asif Hossain or whoever else is interested, to organize their own forum and run it as they see fit.
That was not good ? the email went on talking about how even being invited was a compromise on their part.
When the four of us arrived we lobbied the organizers directly ? pointing out how we had been marginalized, and how unfair it was. They repeated, ?this is our dance, and we?ll make the decisions.? Ah ? fair minds at work. They even suggested that we could easily be dropped entirely if we continued on pressing for change.
Well, we could always talk to the first-slate candidates. After all, these were the responsible would-be representatives of our riding. I was able to talk to Olivia Chow of the NDP. I told her that we were concerned, and that we wanted to know what she would do on our behalf. She told me that she would ?defer? her decision to the organizers. What an activist! The Conservative Party?s David Watters had given me the same line. In fact, only the Green Party?s Mark Viitala had stood up for us. He was willing to help us. However, circumstance was such that the debate started just as we might have formed a final plan of attack. I admit that the Marxist-Leninists had a point with their idea to raid the stage and seize the microphone.
We waited for the first debate to end. When it did end, our next set of fears were realized as an intermission was provided. Half the audience stood and left right then. David Watters and Olivia Chow took this opportunity to leave. Mr. Ianno, the Liberal candidate, also left ? I suspected he was running off like the other two.
The four of us, planted where and when the organizers had planned, spoke out about the democratic deficit. ?I we never take time, how can we have time?? I asked of the audience. All four of us expressed our disdain for being treated as second-class politicians. We all talked about how youth show little interest in politics. We argued that if society wanted to include them, they would need to see options. We were youth, and we were being sidelined. How could this amount to an exercise in democracy?
It is worth noting that we did talk about our respective platforms - and with a degree of dignity that was sorely lacking from the first slate. Our debate was civil. We answered the questions given by the audience directly and honestly. There was no lying ? no spin.
The organizers threw together a defense at the end, explaining their weak position to the audience.
This had been a failure to present real ideas in a truly open forum.
The organizers had failed us ? they treated us with disrespect and indignity.
Three of the first slate of candidates (NDP ? Olivia Chow; Liberal ? Tony Ianno; Conservative ? David Watters) were not willing to help us at all. Mark Viitala of the Green Party was the only member who was willing to put in the effort. He even had gone so far as to offer his time to our platforms, filling in for us rather than speak for his own party. I had told him that would be inappropriate ? as he deserved what time he had for his own cause.
The party supporters (half the audience) departed without even hearing our opening statements. That was a harsh insult. Here were people so zealous with their party lines, that they were willing to occupy half the seats ? seats that could have gone to real voters, with real questions ? and then leave having done their part, supporting and mocking the ?most likely? candidates.
I must note however that there were those who stayed. They applauded us all. These were the people that should have been given priority seating. There were riding members that had been turned away from the door earlier, as all the seats had been filled.
Tony Ianno returned halfway through our debate to listen-in. Afterwards he told me that he would have traded positions if he could have. Perhaps ? he was under a lot of fire from the Conservative and NDP candidates. Then again, he could have just been be pushing for our votes in the case that we dropped out.
When we were out in the lobby, a number of people came up to me, thanking me for what I had to say. Some wanted more info on my party; others wanted to know more about me ? the candidate. I was glad that these people?s horizons would be expanded. I just wish that all those who opposed our equal speaking rights could have cast self-righteousness and selfishness aside. I wish that more people could have seen the options available to them.
Next election we?ll know better.
The other two candidates who were on the second-slate and argued for justice were Nick Lin (Marxist-Leninist) and Daniel Knezetic (independent).
I should also note that all candidates has received an email from Asif Hossain asking for them to stand up and take a stand in the interest of the democratic ideals we hold dear.