Students Laura Fylyshtan and Mackenzie Edwards won the annual Roger Watts debate at UBCO Wednesday night. - Image: Mark Dreger

UBCO students debate democracy

Are Western democracies really failing? UBCO students in Kelowna debated that question

By Mark Dreger

Four UBC Okanagan students gathered at the Mary Irwin Theatre Wednesday night for the 5th annual Roger Watts Debate to argue the premise that “Western democracies are failing.” Students Tyrel Lamoureux and Jason Wu argued in favour of the motion, with Laura Fylyshtan and Mackenzie Edwards arguing against.

“This is probably the closest contest that we’ve ever had to judge,” said Kelowna’s honourable judge Jane Cartwright, who was one of four judges for the debate.

Wu and Lamoureux addressed the diminished status of democracies since the fall of the Soviet Union, with lacking trust and faith in the political system, the rise of populism, and the large disparity between the wealthy one per cent compared to the remaining 99 per cent.

“Western democracies are failing their people, as politicians are powerless—or apathetic—against this persistent trend,” Wu said.

In opposition, Edwards and Fylyshtan attacked the negative outlook, saying that democracy is adaptive and evolving where the populist shocks to the system create resistance that continue its resilience in this current time of transition.

“If one is to look at the official happiness and anti-corruption indices available, we can see that the top 10 nations in both categories are always in democracies, and in these countries it has never been better to be a minority,” Edwards said.

After a rapid fire round and closing statements, the judges collaborated for 10 minutes before declaring the opposition the winner.

“I was just happy for Laura to be honest,” Edwards said after the event. “Laura’s in fourth year so it was her final year, so I was just happy for her she got to win in her final year.”

“I was happy that he doesn’t have to walk around all next year knowing that he lost,” she said laughing.

When it came to taking a hard stance on one issue, Edwards and Fylyshtan both agreed that it is not easy.

“You can’t compromise because it makes you look weak, so you have to take a strong stance,” Fylyshtan said. “If you say like, ‘oh yeah well, that’s true,’ then they win. You can’t do that.”

“I think one of the biggest points that we had was we were just trying to be positive,” Edwards said. “The idea that western democracies are failing is very vogue, it’s very now. That’s what people are feeling, so we sort of had the harder time coming into it to try to tell them that it’s not.”

Carl Hodge, a political science professor at UBCO, took notice of the winning team’s positive strategy.

“I think there comes a point in the evening in which if you’re arguing that western democracies are in decline or they are failing, people get tired of the doom and bloom,” Hodge said, “and if the other side is more articulate and halfway is more optimistic, the tide begins to move in their direction. I think you saw a little bit of that tonight.”

“I think debate is something that more people should get into,” Edwards said. “It helps with public speaking, like the ability to get up in front and express your opinion. And even if you’re not in a formal setting, that ability to create an argument and then express it to other people is super important.”

“And it challenges your beliefs because you might have a stance on an issue, but once you start actually looking into it and thinking about how you could argue it, you might realize that you were wrong,” Fylyshtan said. “It’s such a good way to open your mind and think of other perspectives.”

Fylyshtan and Edwards both received $1,000 each for the victory, with runners up Lamoureux and Wu receiving $500 each.

The Roger Watts Debate is a partnership of the UBCO Department of Economics, Philosophy and Political Science and a community advisory committee.

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