The do’s and don’ts of debate.

It’s been an interesting couple of months of discussion here in Cochrane about the implementation (or not) of a public transportation system. Thankfully, members of Town Council have seen the light a bit and realized that a public plebiscite on the matter is not in the interests of anyone and have rescinded that plan. Public engagement is moving forward though, which should have been the approach in the first place (not just with transit).

What’s been most interesting is listening to the arguments posed by opponents and proponents of transit, and asking some questions about the kinds of arguments. Not everything that people say or write is a valid reason that ultimately supports their point.

The DON’Ts and DO’s of debate:

Don’t make it personal. It’s called an “ad hominem” (personal attack), and is a staple of elections the world over. When trying to build a community, it takes the community out of it and makes it about individuals.

Don’t try and oversimplify. It’s not simple. That’s OK. Trying to reduce complex decisions down to “it’s all about my taxes” doesn’t do the discussion, or the community, any favors.

Don’t provide misleading information. Apparently there was a time when we were going to build the bus barns on top of the Lion’s rodeo grounds in Glenbow. Because that was likely to happen.

Don’t throw the kitchen sink into the mix. Remember the logo “fiasco”? What about the Humane Society funding? Unrelated but emotional arguments are called “Red Herrings“. They may have a ring of truth, but because they’re not actually related to what’s being discussed, they help to distract people from the matter at hand

Do present your case with facts, figures, stories… evidence works in the courtroom, and should be provided to back up arguments wherever possible.

Do stay focused and find agreement on what is actually being discussed. Obviously some people in this town want to talk about tax increases. Others want to discuss mobility for youth. Still others wonder about increased economic opportunities. Finding agreement on the topic at hand helps immensely.

Do get informed. The information is out there, usually at your fingertips on the internet or an easy phone call to someone involved.

There we are, my top couple of favorite false and misleading kinds of arguments. For more on these and other types of argumentation, I highly recommend checking out Anthony Weston’s “A rulebook for arguments”.


  1. These “Rules of Engagement” can be effective guidelines for Public Debate at all stages of the “Public Engagement” process being set up from the Town. How much have our Mayor and elected Council learned so far if they not only “overturned the motion to have a plebiscite about transit!” and state “Public engagement will go ahead as planned.”, but then I find out by reading their links to this “decision” that it brings other issues and decisions into this that may not be part of or follow the logic of this decision at all!

    “c) the understanding that other projects, such as the proposed aquatic centre and arts centre, should be prioritized over and above transit (with prioritization being based on public input).

    …as well as Jeff Toews position statement:
    “Councillor Jeff Toews —By agreeing to move transit to the end of our 10-year financial plan, Council has shown commitment to not only implement a transit plan when it is fiscally responsible to do so, but also to prioritize the other community wants, with feedback and continual consultation with all members of our community.”

    Again they have all “jumped the gun” and instead of simply “”overturned the motion to have a plebiscite about transit!”, they appear to have incorporated additional assumptions in their decision(s) that may or may not be true, and again, have failed to get Public Engagement in the decision-making process of “What ARE the ‘Priorities’ of the Residents of our Community… when we consider ALL three, 1) Public Transportation (in all forms, and if, when and how we would like to incorporate and phase this in, serving whom, and going where and when); 2) How important is the Aquatic Center (in comparison to Transit or the Arts Center) and when would our residents like to see that operational; 3) When and where would our Residents like our Art Center built, and what will be included in it?

    It sounds like Jeff Toews has made this “Transit” issue a foregone conclusion of already having the Mayor and Council “move transit to the end of our 10-year financial plan”… did they indeed make this “united” decision, without and before “the Let’s Talk Transit Launch event on March 14” officially starts our “Public Engagement Process” with the well advertised (in full page ads in both local newspapers for the past several weeks) even “kicked off” with tonight’s “Panel Discussion”!

    I “Googled’ the excellent book you suggested, and found it and a Review on:
    I also found that I could start to read the beginning (no charge) on this link:

    Lots of excellent “food for thought” as well as ACTION! I wish the Mayor and all Council members would read this, as well as past and future elected politicians and “decision-makers” and the Publishers and Editors of all newspapers!

    Thank you for posting this, so we can all learn how to more positively and effectively engage in a “Public Engagement” and consultative input process.

    The “Let’s Talk Cochrane” Facebook page, at the very top, invites us to “Post something”… so I have, several times, and each time, within minutes, my “Post” disappears from their Facebook page! It appears that even though we are invited to “Post”, only “Let’s Talk Cochrane” initiated Posts remain visible, that were created and initiated by them.

    The following is a direct copy of what I “posted” under “Post” (that disappeared after being visible long enough for me to read it and copy it).
    Maihaa Rayne
    2 seconds ago
    Maihaa Rayne This really bothers me about Mayor and Council’s March 12th decisions. I’m fine with them deciding to STOP the Plebiscite vote, but the decision by them to “move transit to the end of our 10-year financial plan” is pre-mature, without first gaining the input of the population of Cochrane who they were elected to represent. Also,
    “c) the understanding that other projects, such as the proposed aquatic centre and arts centre, should be prioritized over and above transit (with prioritization being based on public input).” Is removing Transit from being considered as one of the top three priorities, and is assuming that the other two projects are more important to our residents… and who decided this for us, without our input and consultation? What is this “Public Consultation and Engagement Process” all about, and what is it worth, if Mayor and council, eager to jump on the band-wagon of the new Councilman Toews, has already decided and legislated for us that all this talking will be dragged out over another 10 years, with little done or implemented as an effective phased in Public Transportation Plan in the meantime?

  2. As a matter of “Public Record” and to “present the facts” as soon as possible for the benefit of all concerned in regards to these issues:

    Here is Mayor Truper McBride’s Response to my email to him and all Town Councilpersons, asking for the complete wording of this Motion to Rescind the Plebiscite Vote on Transit (and other issues that may or may not directly relate to it):

    “Here is the exact wording of the motion.

    Motions Rescinded:

    Resolution #312/11/11 Moved by Mayor McBride that Council rescind resolution #286/11/11 (that endorsed the strategy 1 transit direction) and direct Administration to develop the framework for conducting a public vote on transit later in the spring of 2012 and to return to Council with a report at the second regular meeting of Council in February 2012.

    Resolution #314/11/11 Moved by Mayor McBride that both the transit public engagement/consultation campaign and costs for a public vote be funded from the transit reserve up to a maximum of $85,000.

    Resolution #316/11/11 Moved by Councillor Toews that Council require that the plebiscite to determine whether the Community of Cochrane supports the implementation of transit, be binding.

    Resolution #40/02/12 Moved by Councillor McFadden that Council establish Monday, June 18, 2012 as the date upon which a binding, public vote is to be conducted to determine whether the Town of Cochrane wishes to implement a transit strategy.

    Resolution #41/02/12 Moved by Councillor Brooker that Council direct Administration to draft the Question for the public vote, to be brought forward for Council’s consideration no later than April 10, 2012 Regular Council meeting.

    Motions Moved

    1. That Council directs Administration to prepare an amendment to the 10 year financial plan that reprioritizes transit to follow development of the Aquatic Centre and Arts Centre, AND FURTHER that Administration present the amended plan for discussion at the Strategic Planning Session in April, 2012.

    2. That Council authorize Administration to continue with the transit public engagement/consultation campaign with costs to be funded form the transit reserve up to a maximum of $55,000

    Hope this helps,


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