Protocol and decorum

Ed Smith
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I wish I had words appropriate to describe this next situation.

Words, that is, that didn't contain bits of profanity, or worse. Words that allowed you to look within the deep recesses of my mind and give you an idea of how I feel about the situation in question.

Unfortunately, our language has not yet evolved to where it can do that.

The event of which I speak took place in Gander on Aug. 22 and was widely advertised as something to watch for. Indeed, it was.

Was it the spectacle of Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his knees on the main runway of Gander International Airport, begging forgiveness of all residents of this province for the shameful way he's been treating us?

Perhaps, like me, you missed that one.

Was it the natural calamity of Gander Lake being swallowed by an enormous sinkhole which took it and the Flyers Club into another part of the universe?

Losing Gander Lake would have been bad enough, but the loss of the venerable Flyers Club would have made CNN news five days running.

Anyway it doesn't hold a patch on the way Harper has been sucking us dry.

Finally, was it the unbelievable sight of a commercial airliner from across the ocean landing at the airport in Gander with a spruce tree sticking out of its fuselage?

Don't think so, although I was told many years ago that this actually happened. Seems his approach was just a little low. I wasn't there. I didn't see it. But since our house in Gander was directly under the final approach of large aircraft, I used to duck whenever I heard them coming. Nothing to lose.

I know, I know - get to the point.

The occasion, as practically all of you know, was that marvelous five-star production of the Liberal leadership debate.

Now, I hasten to point out that I didn't see that in its entirety, either, but I did catch a few clips from the evening news. Just as you don't have to eat a whole barrel of apples to see if they're rotten, so I'm sure at least a few moments were fairly representative of the whole show. This is just to let you know.

I wanted to hear and at the same time watch the Great Liberal Leadership Debate. I realized immediately that the fourth word did not apply. I'm not sure what the format was supposed to have been, but calling it a debate was like calling the Second World War a discussion.

Debates are held according to rules and procedures. Any that I have ever seen, even in the U.S. of A., have been held with at least an apparent respect for opponents. People give the other persons the opportunity to say what's on their minds. Interrupting happens but constant shouting down does not.

I tuned in to absolute mayhem. Five people were each trying to outshout the others. The four men were doing their best to verbally drown out what the one woman had to say. Once they succeeded.

She didn't seem to be the least intimidated by the other four. From what I could see and hear above the cacophony of sound, there was no reason that she should have been.

It seemed to me that there was somebody missing in that whole thing. I kept listening for the voice that said something like, "Gentlemen and lady, please!"

"Mr. -, you have the floor for the next 90 seconds. Would the rest of you do him and the rest of us the courtesy of listening?"

Or, "Lady and gentlemen, if you refuse to observe the proper etiquette associated with political debates, I will have no choice but to terminate this discussion until you agree to do so. There will be a three-minute break during which you can decide."

Or, "Ladies and gentlemen in the audience, would you, by your applause, indicate which of the following options you would prefer:

Option 1. That the debate continue in its current format, which is the mad dog approach;

Option 2. That the debaters agree to follow the accepted rules of debate.

Option 3. That we turn out the lights and go home."

I heard nothing at all from anyone attempting to impose some order on the proceedings. I admit there may have been something I missed. It may be that this was the accepted format of the affair in which everyone went at everyone else hammer ding-dong. If so, whoever made that decision needs his/her/their head(s) examined. More than once. Preferably with the aid of a CT scan machine.

If the idea were to do it for only part of the debate, what earthly purpose could it serve other than to determine who had the strongest, loudest and most irritating of vocal chords in the Liberal party? I have my opinion, of course.

And then another disconcerting thought intruded its unwelcome self into this whole mess.

If one of these people does succeed in becoming leader of the Liberal party, and then goes on to become premier of the province, what kind of a fiasco could we expect to see in the House of Assembly on a daily basis if this is their understanding of what debating is all about?

Worse still, what if one of them becomes Speaker of the House? Can you not see it, based on at least part of that Great Debate in Gander?

"Hon. Members, the NDP member for Signal Hill, the PC member for Green Bay and the Leader of the Opposition have the floor. There will be no throwing of objects across the house. Observers in the visitors gallery should choose your targets with care."

Can't wait, myself.


Organizations: Flyers Club, Gander International Airport, NDP

Geographic location: Gander, Gander Lake, U.S. Signal Hill Green Bay

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