Following the Debate on Twitter

Apparently our wise and benevolent party leaders had some kind of a debate this evening.

debateI expect that it went something like this.

In keeping with my goal of engaging with this election purely through social media, I didn’t watch the televised debate.  Instead, I followed its impact on Twitter.   In doing so, I learned a few things.

Firstly, the parties are waking up to the power of social media.  All three main parties kept up a steady stream of message-reinforcing tweets throughout the debate.

Secondly, elections are not optimistic events.  Around half of all the tweets from the parties and their representatives were attacks on each other.  And nearly all the tweets from everyone else to #ondebate were complaining about the behaviour of the debaters.

I didn’t see a single instance of someone tweeting “ah, one of the candidates just made an excellent point and changed my mind on an issue of policy.”

Because it seems that debates aren’t really about bringing Ontarians together to make good plans for the future of the province.   Instead, we treat them more like a team sport.  There are endless attempts to score points, and prevent the opposing team from doing so.  And then afterwards there will be the predictable stream of claims that our preferred candidate ‘won’ the debate.

But I don’t want a candidate to win.  I want Ontarians to win.

I believe that elections are a little like job interviews.  When I’m interviewing a candidate, I want to know two things.  Are they competent enough to do the job, and do they have enough integrity that I’d want to work with them.

I don’t know everything about what it takes to run a province, but if a candidate spent their entire interview badmouthing the other candidates, and then immediately bragged that they had ‘won’ the interview, then I certainly wouldn’t hire them.

The one thing that we do learn from debates is what issues politicians think that we care about.

I care deeply about our environment, about affordable housing, about a strong social system, a fair justice system, and quality healthcare.

I also care that we are represented by leaders who can work effectively with each other, who recognize their own limitations, and who recognize that they are hired to serve the needs of their constituents.

So far, none of the party leaders have given me a good reason to vote for them.  I’ve seen many discussions on Facebook and Twitter in the last couple of days about the best way to register a protest vote – whether to abstain completely from voting, or refuse the ballot, or vote for a third party.   One thing this social media experiment is telling me is that we’re experience a high degree of cynicism with the existing status quo.

It could be worse, I guess. We live in one of the richest, healthiest, safest, fairest societies in the world.  And we do have the opportunity to engage with the political system to a degree unheard of in many parts of the world, and for that I am profoundly grateful.  I hope this weeks political discussion can be about more than expressing dissatisfaction – I hope it can be genuinely productive.