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Debate is fascinating—the formal discussion on a particular topic in which opposing arguments are put forward. Skills go beyond just debate and have applications you can utilize throughout life.

But why is debate so alluring? Debate has intrigued Christy and Tharindu, members of the University of Manitoba Debate Club (UM Debate), for quite some time, taking part in some debates back in middle and high school.

“I really like the competitive aspect,” says Christy, “and I think debate as a skill enhances your critical thinking skills, your speaking, and how you present yourself.”

Unfortunately for Christy, she was hit with the reality that the university didn’t have a debate club. So, to rectify the situation, she created a club, becoming the founder and now president of UM Debate. But before you can start a club, you need to find at least ten joining members, so she got to work, getting help creating the Bylaws and Constitution, which was enacted on the 14th of February, 2022.

Modern forms of debating and the establishment of debating societies in the Western world occurred during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, but it can be traced back to ancient times, the Pnyx at the Athenian democratic assembly. Debaters such as Demosthenes, Plato, and, more recently, Christopher Hitchens have challenged ideas and brought new thoughts. Debate has grown over the years, whether it’s politicians on the election trail or the debate scene on YouTube. Debate is everywhere, and at UM Debate Club, members are given opportunities to develop oracy abilities and learn critical thinking, communication skills, and confidence.

Another significant advantage to practicing and learning debate is exposure to fresh and diverse topics and new perspectives. It also allows those with a passionate interest to improve their arguments in selling the idea. Tharindu, who enjoyed watching CBC Sunday Morning with Terry O’Reilly and CBC Debaters with Steve Pattison, was inspired and compelled to develop his arguments and linguistic skills. He participated in high school debate, and when he was accepted into university, he knew he had to get involved. Despite being unable to attend formal debates due to the pandemic, in 2022, returning to full in-person learning, the group was tasked with rebuilding, getting membership up and getting activities started.

When approaching a topic for debate, Tharindu says in debate tactics, you always try to take your opponent at their best, not their worst.

“Some people think, oh, it’s a technicality you can get them on, and that doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in debates, and it doesn’t work on judges. You want to take your opponent at their best and really try to get the big picture of what they’re trying to say. You’ve got to refute that big argument if you actually want to win and score points.”

“There are two styles,” says Christy, “CP, which is Canadian Parlimentary and BP, British Parlimentary. One is two teams of two, and the other is four teams of four… We learn how to set up a debate, write the motion and how to break down the motion. You take certain words to define your motion so people can’t misinterpret.”

A motion is a statement that is given to you before a debate that you have to argue in favour or against, depending on your team’s side and falls within the categories of value and policy.

Although debate is incredibly challenging, it’s also rewarding, especially when you have the opportunity to explore topics one is passionate about. Christy is a free spirit without a specific niche and ready to take on any topic. Her favourites are debating less serious issues like banning violent video games. Tharindu enjoys discussing big topic issues, issues that face Manitobans and Canadians every day. One topic that Tharindu is passionate about is housing and the potential solutions.

“The reason I’m interested in a lot of things is mostly because of YouTube. I just kind of stumbled onto housing, and I thought it was very interesting because it should be an argument that anyone could agree on whether you are on the [political] left or right. The reason I think it’s never implemented is because of politics.”

In terms of the housing crisis, Tharindu starts his debate with roads.

“We have roads, and to use that, it’s free. What this encourages is people to drive more. They would live somewhere and drive everywhere else. We’ve got that, and we have parking lots for the cars that are being used. We have a system where the taxes on spaces, which is property taxes, and you get ‘free’ roads in return.”

In his example, Tharindu encourages people to picture a chain store with its massive parking lots, which contain a lot of empty space. That store is only paying a small amount of property tax per square foot because most of that space is a parking lot, and parking lots are not valued highly, so you don’t pay much taxes on them. He then juxtaposes that with a dense urban core. The urban core is paying much higher property taxes per square foot, but you still have the free roads. The unfortunate reality is it’s better to build or live in an area with low property taxes because you’re paying less and still have free roads. This system leads to those living within a city paying more and getting less than those living on the edges. When looking at populations and income, those living in the middle of a city are generally poorer than those living at the city’s edges.

“Poor people paying in and rich people getting the benefits.”

A company called  Urban3 has looked at revenue modelling and where money is coming in and going out in a community. These studies found that a lot of money was being made in the downtown where everything is quite dense and providing services is affordable. In the suburbs, on the other hand, where people live far apart, you need more resources to provide the same services. Those living in the downtown pay more, and those in the suburbs pay less for the same amount of services.

This is just the beginning of a debate topic, and debate clubs can help develop those skills and thought processes on the complexities of the world around us.

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

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