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Sunday 24 Oct 2021

Tennis 40 – Debate love
David Simmonds

Source: halifaxtoday.ca

It’s the fault of Justin Trudeau. If he hadn’t precipitated the federal election, there wouldn’t have been a debate among party leaders. That would have avoided a viewing conflict between the debate and the remarkable win of Leylah Fernandez to advance to the US Open women’s singles final.

Tennis with grace.

In swift succession, Ms Fernandez took the scalps of three of the top ranked players in the world; she did it with grit and grace. With grit, she pulled off come-from-behind wins that showed she had deep reservoirs of fortitude and self-belief. With grace, she thanked her family and the spectators for her success.

After losing the final, she extended her condolences to New Yorkers who were marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. She also added a dash of wit and diplomacy, putting in a plug for Canadian maple syrup as the secret to her success. All in all, she showed remarkable poise for someone who has just turned 19 years of age.

There I was, flicking back and forth between the tennis and the debate, saying to myself that I had to watch the debate in case I missed an aha moment where Jagmeet Singh pulled off his beard to show it was just a stage prop; where Erin O’Toole came wearing moccasins rather than sneakers, as a gesture of reconciliation; where Annamie Paul acknowledged she was going to lose her bid for election and with it the leadership of the Greens; where Yves-Francois Blanchet admitted he liked to go camping in the Rockies; where Justin Trudeau acknowledged that, although he said he had the backs of Canadians, he never said he had their fronts.

My channel flicking became so intense I was on the verge of placing Trudeau in a baseline rally and expecting Ms Fernandez to outline her policy on affordable housing. I had to choose one or the other. Life is complicated.

I chose tennis. I am glad I did. The debate was awful.

It was a frenetic mishmash of formats, with insults flying back and forth. No one had the opportunity to make an uninterrupted presentation of his or her party platform. No one offered measured analysis of an opposing positions. 

The biggest flap of the night involved not one of the leaders, but the moderator. One question from the moderator to Blanchet implied the Quebec language and culture statutes might be characterised as racist. That didn’t sit very well. 

There were at least three things wrong with the debate. One, it needn’t have happened in the first place. Two, the format was too complicated and restrictive. Three, the leaders didn’t treat each other respectfully. 

As to the first point, Trudeau called the election on his own initiative, not when he had lost a confidence vote and not when the other parties showed they would no longer support him. His major consideration had to have been that the timing was right for the Liberal party. He deserves the criticism he has received for calling the election during the Covid-19 resurgence and the Afghanistan crisis.
It is interesting to note that our new governor general (GG) did not, so far as we know, challenge Trudeau to show her that parliament wasn’t working. She could have told him to go back and make it work. She could have invited O’Toole to form a government if he could.

Instead, we got an election by Liberal party request, even though we have a statute that commits us to fixed term elections. Was GG advised there was sufficient precedent to require her to accede to the request by Trudeau? Was GG told it was best to let Mr. Trudeau bear the political consequences of making it?

As to the second point, having five people on stage to debate one another and answer gotcha-style questions from eager to perform journalists, as well as members of the public and the moderator, was inevitably going to cause the debate to collapse of its own weight. The public deserves a decent presentation and comparison of party platforms. Is it time to give the debate regulation authorities a freer hand in setting standards?

As to the third point, it is within the power of our current leaders, under pressure from all of us, to dial up the civility meter. If they need a role model, I suggest they could take some lessons from Leylah Fernandez.

Political system flaw.

Hundreds of years of British parliamentary tradition notwithstanding, there is something odd about a system by which party leaders ask us for our vote, but we can’t give it to them.  Instead, we vote for a local candidate as their proxy. The only option open to us is to join the leader’s party and hope the leadership is put to a vote by party members.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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