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Election chats a lively political forum

By David Sorensen

Elections are no time to discuss serious issues, Kim Campbell is famously reported to have said. Observers of the war of sound bites that characterizes the current race for Parliament might be inclined to agree with the former prime minister. But the students, faculty and interested observers gathered for a weekly election “chat” are more than happy to discuss the substance of the current federal election.

Organized by Dr. Alex Marland in the Department of Political Science, the chats are scheduled to continue every Wednesday from 1-2 p.m. in the Science Building, room 3024.

The students are well-versed in the issues of the day. The actions of the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan are analyzed, the merits of a carbon tax are tossed around. Assistant Professor Kelly Blidook, who is moderating the opening discussion, defers to an eager student on questions regarding Stéphane Dion’s Green Shift – the student is the self-proclaimed and acknowledged expert.

“In the news it’s sound bites, it’s lead stories, it’s a puffin pooping on someone’s shoulder, whereas you don’t get into a deeper discussion about the Green Shift,” explained Dr. Marland.

He said he was impressed with how the discussion focussed on macro rather than micro issues.

“It was Afghanistan, which is something the local media just doesn’t seem to even talk about. Here it’s Danny Williams and ABC all the time. But (the students) were clearly interested in talking about the Green Shift – there’s not much talk about that (in the local media). It just seems to be what has Danny Williams said lately to upset the Conservatives.”

Dr. Marland said the forum is a good opportunity for students to direct the agenda.

“Students are used to sitting there in a passive manner particularly in the first and second year, so this is an opportunity for the faculty to moderate and for the students to talk among themselves.”

While the students are largely directing the debate, Dr. Marland said he intends to push back against some of their points of view. He said he’s noticed a lot of negativity from students – they don’t like Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but they are also not enamoured of the other federal leaders. He’s going to challenge what he calls this “groupthink.”

“It was a sense to me that they are all bad options, but Harper is the worst of them all, but nobody really knows why,” he said. “I think they need to be challenged. They need to be challenged on what they are thinking certain things. There is a lot of groupthink that’s going on.”

The forum started last year with the provincial election and Dr. Marland said it proved so useful that it was obvious they should continue with a federal election in Canada and the presidential election south of the border in the United States. They’ll turn to the U.S. vote when the Canadian election wraps up.

Dr. Marland said the department is planning another event for the public the night after the election, Wednesday, Oct. 15. The discussion will go ahead in the Engineering Lecture Theatre, EN-2006, starting at 7 p.m. with some members of the political science department and local journalists doing a post-mortem on the results.
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