The English Debate

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter I’ve been randomly firing off things about the 41st Canadian Election, including various bits of propaganda. I’m not blogging about it much, because I’m more interested in the immediacy of things on Twitter. But I will say that compared to the mayoral election in Calgary the MPs really don’t get social media. Nenshi built a win by responding and debating with the electorate. The MPs and candidates in the federal election sort of just use Twitter and Facebook as a sounding board or giant megaphone. Very little engagement, even from fringe candidates in the Green Party or REALLY fringe candidates in things like the Marxist-Lenninist Party.

Most of the main twitter feeds for local ridings are dead here in Calgary, though the #elxn41 twitter hash tag has a solid flow to it.
All this being said, I took a movement to listen/watch the English Language debate during spare moments here at the office. If you missed it on TV you can watch it on the CBC website. It’s two hours of your life, but it’s worth listening too. If you’re lazy like a lot of voters, or just really busy, or just hate the sound of the politician’s voices here’s my personal synopsis on their over-all performace.
Stephen Harper
Harper was his typical blank-ness and monotone with non-answers or answers built on the backs of previous governments. Some dodge the question. Kept calling the debate and democratic process ‘bickering’.
Michael Ignatieff
Ignatieff was solid, but occasionally stuttered, and had one moment of glaring dodge the question ( about his poor attendance record in the commons ). Really hammered on the lack of trust with the conservative government, and the nature of democracy and debate.

Jack Layton
Layton rambled various socialist policy off, and basically played a game of ‘play the Conservatives and Liberals against each other’ ( NDP policy for 40 years ) and attempt to look superior as a non-bickerer.

Gilles Duceppe
Duceppe rambled and interjected non-sequitors and random sovereignty statements, often very off topic. On occasion he lobbed some zingers into the debate that were worth while.
Elizabeth May
May wasn’t invited, but commented from the sidelines in an online chat, and sounded like a combo of Layton and Duceppe, sort of a whiney younger sibling forced to eat at the kids table. Normally I’m a Green supporter, and she’s usually decent and has things worth hearing, but this time felt scripted and meh.
Over all impression of the debate: same old, same old, nothing new to see here. I was hoping to see Ignatieff come out like a berserker and rip appart the competition. What I got felt toned down, though he was excellent about tearing into Harper on his horrible record in Parliament when it comes to thwarting the democratic process.
I also had to do about 30 drop shots because Harper kept saying ‘coalition’.

The Internet loves a straw man

Straw Man Argument : A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

For most of the life of my blog I have opened with the definition of a word. I left this practice behind about a year ago, but I am reviving it today not for a word, but a debate tactic. The Straw Man Argument has a long and illustrious history online. Your typical online discussion ( argument ) flows like this:

  1. Someone makes statement in a blog and provides some form of information or justification for a position.
  2. People disagree with that statement, and find a component element in the blog post to refute the entire blog post. They then attempt to invalidate the whole with the part.
  3. Debate shifts from the topic of the post to the minutiae contained within the post.
The Straw Man Argument is a standard in the political world as well. The media and politicians love to sidetrack people into these largely pointless debates around components of a statement in order to invalidate ( or distract ) from the original matter at hand. Friday [September 03, 2010] on #yycvote ( myself included ) fell under the sway of the Straw Man.
Mediamindjen posted a challenge to mayoral hopeful Naheed Nenshi on her municipal politics blog. It was a challenge based on unclear statements made by Nenshi and his public relations/marketing team across multiple media outlets. Nenshi, in an interview with Fast Forward, is quoted as saying he would be disclosing donors as he got them. A week later Fast Forward posted another article indicating that in May, when Nenshi announced his candidacy intentions, that he would “immediately” ( yes in scare quotes ) announce donor lists. On Mr. Nenshi’s website it states he will disclose his donors when “campaigning begins”. In the Calgary Herald he is quoted as saying “weekly” as far back as late May. Nenshi started asking for money on April 13th, 2010 via his pre-campaign announcement video on YouTube. On Twitter a member in Nenshi’s camp ( and Nenshi himself ) stated they would disclose donors on September 20th.
Now this is the heart of Mediamindjen’s blog post: We have a mayoral candidate, who is running on a political platform heavy on transparency issues being anything but transparent. If anything Nenshi and his team, either through obfuscation or incompetence, have managed to make themselves very opaque in the media when it comes to their campaign finances.
What did people from Nenshi’s camp pick up from Mediamindjen’s post? Her admittedly napkin calculations on price-point for direct mail campaigns. This then became the debate for a good part of the day while this issue was trending on Twitter. Price point. Clever use of a Straw Man Carter_bbold, I must commend you.
But the point still stands, we have Naheed Nenshi campaigning on a platform of transparency, being anything but clear in the media. Nenshi started campaigning in April as far as I am concerned. The moment he started up a Facebook group and twitter stream geared towards his political intentions his campaign was on in my opinion. The moment he announced his candidacy in May, it was official in the eyes of the public. When he submits his paperwork on September 20th, it will be official in the eyes of the law.
Now here is the question I have around all this campaign funding transparency issue and Nenshi: Has the 2010 campaign for mayor of Calgary started, and if so where is the disclosure that has been promised during the campaign?
For me, at a youthful 31 years of age, an arbitrary date for paperwork is not the indicator that a political campaign has started. Signage is a pretty good indication that the campaign is on. Facebook groups tend to say “yup, I’m politicking”. Regular participation on twitter and commentary on political opponents in the media sounds a lot like campaigning.
Am I taking crazy pills here or has Naheed Nenshi’s campaign for mayor started? If so, where is the transparency and why is there such resistance to transparency for the entire campaign, including the buildup to the day we all know Nenshi’s paperwork will be filed?  These two questions lead back to Mediamindjen’s original post, and it’s point.
How do you trust a candidate running on transparency policies when they themselves are not acting with transparency?