Right and left agree

By Joshua Johnson

It was to be a battle of former political leaders as Preston Manning and Dr. Ken Nicol met in a public debate on democratic reform Tue., Mar. 16. The two prominent speakers addressed a crowd of roughly 70 people at the University of Calgary’s Rozsa Centre, exploring the issues behind voter apathy and touching on electoral reform.

Those looking for a heated exchange were disappointed however, as the two put partisan politics aside for the evening and found themselves on common ground throughout the discussion.

Founder and former frontman of the grassroots Reform Party, Manning argued Canadians need to rediscover the meaning of democracy itself.

"Democracy in its heart is not about process and structure, it is an ideal," said Manning, who felt changes with- in the government could foster a better relationship between elected representatives and their constituents.

Chief among his reservations was party discipline, which Manning described as a way of forcing politicians into supporting policies they do not believe in.

Manning also described a need for political parties to reform themselves.

"Political parties have been reduced to marketing machines that fight election," he said, suggesting parties adopt major issue campaigns instead.

Dr. Nicol, the resigned leader of the Alberta Liberal Party and a sitting Alberta MLA, agreed with many of Manning’s ideas and pushed for electoral reform.

"The first-past-the-post system that we use is one of the things that frustrates people no matter where you go throughout this province," he said, supporting a preferential ballot system where candidates are ranked in order of voter preference instead.

He also challenged the role of the media, saying that because it tends to be profit driven, news coverage focuses on minor conflicts rather than broad issues.

"The media [doesn’t] have the options that a free and democratic process should have," said Dr. Nicol, encouraging people not to use news rep- orts as their only source of information.

Both Manning and Dr. Nicol agreed voter apathy among youth is particularly disturbing. Manning argued the majority of today’s youth may not be concerned with mainstream political issues, but are still passionate about issues of their own, such as globalization and the environment. It is up to politicians, said Manning, to concern themselves with these topics.

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