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Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

My experience at a local debate

This morning I went to a debate for the candidates of Thunder Bay-Superior North (my riding). The debate was hosted by LUSU, so naturally most of it was focused on how the candidates can help students. There were plenty of questions about student loans and debts, jobs after graduation, taxes, etc. I used the debate as an opportunity to actually familiarize myself with the candidates, one of whom will represent me in Ottawa by the end of this election.

The four candidates were Brendan Hughes (Green), Bruce Hyer (NDP), Don McArthur (Liberals), and Bev Sarafin (Conservatives). Naturally I'm biased toward the left, and this presents me with the question: if I think the Green Party or the NDP would do a better job than the Liberals, should I vote for one of those candidates instead of voting for the Liberal candidate, thus splitting the Liberal votes and enabling the Conservative to get elected?

Watching the candidates speak, I was able to get a sense of how they'd do in the House of Commons, as well as their stance on the issues. All were articulate; all tried to emphasize their personal connection to the region and their commitment to being our voice in Ottawa. Great. But what good is a voice unless it says what I want it to say on my behalf?

After opening statements and two prepared questions, the moderator (Doug West, a professor of political science at LU) opened the floor to questions. I asked the third question:

Copyright reform has received much attention since the introduction of Bill C-61. Critics of the bill point out that there has been a lack of open, public consultation and that the bill may be unenforceable without raising privacy concerns. The bill's emphasis on technological protection measures has wide-ranging implications. For students and teachers, it may interfere with access to materials for assignments and lessons. What can you do to provide fair and balanced copyright reform?

Each candidate had two minutes to respond to the question. I was unimpressed with the responses. For the most part, I think that my question was unanticipated, especially coming from a student-focused debate. But that's good: these people should be able to improvise on the spot. Otherwise, they'll be eaten alive during Question Period.

  • Bev Sarafin essentially said that if she gets elected, then she'll be willing to discuss which parts of the bill (she called it "Jim Prentice's bill") I find dissatisfactory. Apparently she missed the day in school where we learned that you tell people how you're going to fix things first, then you get their vote. Not the other way around.
  • Brendan Hughes was the second to respond, confessing a lack of knowledge on the bill but expressing a desire to learn more about the issue. I applaud his willingness to learn and understand that not everyone can be intimately familiar with every single issue, but it does seem like he was unprepared to answer my question.
  • Don McArthur actually addressed the question, calling for provisions that enshrine fair use in law. He specifically cited that Canadians should be able to copy music from a computer or CD to an iPod (a practise that, right now, isn't actually legal). For a two-minute response, I suppose it was fair.
  • Bruce Hyer was the only one who seemed to have a prefabricated response at the ready. I'm not surprised, since the NDP has been on the ball with copyright from the beginning. However, since it was a prefabricated response, it was heavy on the NDP and light on the Hyer. He denounced Bill C-61 and praised fellow NDP member Charlie Angus, telling us to refer to his website. While it's good that he was prepared, I would have liked to hear more than a party line.

I'm still not certain for whom I shall vote. I liked Brendan Hughes; he spoke well when it came to clarifying that the Green Party isn't a one-issue party. They simply take the environment into account in all their policies, not just as a separate issue. I thought that was a good point. However, I don't know if I like Elizabeth May. The more I think about it, the more Stéphane Dion seems like the best of the current choices for prime minister.

Maybe the English-language debate tonight will help me decide. Election Day is October 14. We shall see.