Editorial: Campaign managers shouldn’t be asking all the questions

I’ve railed on about how students politics is slowly atrophying. The second SUBStage forum has confirmed that for me once again.

Students with questions for the candidates, it seems, were in limited supply. Unlike yesterday’s SUBStage forum, a line failed to form in front of the microphone as soon as the general question period began. There’s many likely reasons for this: two of the races at the second SUBStage forum are uncontested, and therefore aren’t that interesting to the general student population; the forum was scheduled at 12pm instead of 12:30pm, failing to coincide with classes being let out and therefore making it more difficult for students to attend; the races present are arguably less glamorous than the ones that appeared at the first SUBStage forum.

One person arose from the crowd, however, to form his own one-man line and ask the majority of the questions to all the races: Jimmy Thibaudeau, campaign manager for vice-president (external) candidate Adam Brown. While he did claim to be trying to fill dead space in between questions, and he did address questions to multiple races, Thibaudeau spent an awful lot of that airtime directing questions towards the vice-president (external) candidates.

While not exactly against the rules, the ethics of having a campaign manager for a specific race address the majority of their questions to the race their candidate is in are incredibly suspect. Campaign managers are constantly striving to make their candidate look good; it’s their job, after all. Thus, they’re likely to ask fluff questions to their race as an opportunity for their candidate to reiterate their platform points and look good on stage.

And of course, Thibaudeau did exactly that. Nearly all the questions Thibaudeau fielded were easily answered by Brown through reference to his platform; little critical exploration of either Robert Bilak’s or Brown’s platforms or positions occurred. Questions like this don’t uphold democratic accountability; they just flood the forum with information that anyone can easily find on a poster or a website.

Jimmy thibaudeau is singlehandedly preserving democratic accountability at the SU. Someone needs to buy him a drink #ualberta #uasu #uasuvote— Rowan Ley (@RowanLey) February 28, 2019

The only substantial question that Thibaudeau asked was about the vice-president (external)’s role in deciding the U of A’s next chancellor, and what values the candidates would focus on in selecting the new chancellor. This is a great question for testing candidate’s values outside their platform points, and these are the kind of questions that should have been asked.

What irked me most about Thibaudeau’s conduct was that he waited several questions in to announce to the audience that he was indeed a campaign manager for one of the vice-president (external) candidates. Again, there’s no rule against this, but given Thibaudeau’s obvious conflict of interest, he should have made this fact clear as soon as he asked his first question to the vice-president (external race). How could he have treated this lack of transparency so casually?

Look, I get it. Behind the scenes, elections can be cut-throat. Intense PR, marketing, and communications strategies go into these races, and campaign managers will do anything to make their candidates look good. If Thibaudeau wants people to trust his candidate and buy into the Brown campaign, dishonesty doesn’t seem like the most logical way to go about this.

Thibaudeau didn’t save the forum by asking these questions; he just made pointless noise, and disrupted actual democratic inquiry.

Andrew McWhinney

Andrew McWhinney is a fifth-year English and political science combined honors student, as well as The Gateway's 2019-20 Editor-in-Chief. He was previously The Gateway's 2018-19 Opinion Editor. An aspiring journalist with too many opinions, he's a big fan of political theory, hip-hop, and being alive.

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