Munk Debates

The Munk Debates Open Up

About a year ago the Munk Debates surfaced in Toronto. The first session starred Niall Ferguson and Charles Krauthammer squaring off against Samantha Power and Richard Holbrooke over the question, "Be it resolved the world is a safer place with a Republican in the White House". Macleans declared those arguing for the resolution won. Flash forward seven months and Obama (a Democrat) moved into the White House.

Now, almost 12 months later and the Munk Debates are preparing for Debate #3. It takes place at the ROM on Monday night (June 1st) and will feature Stephen Lewis amongst others arguing for or against the premise that "foreign aid does more harm than good". The debate, alas, is sold out but in a new twist to the format the organizers are now offering the opportunity for the public to buy tickets to a live screening of the debate in the ROM's Eaton Theatre. Tickets are $20 and also allow purchasers the opportunity to vote on the debate resolution and take part in a post-debate public reception in the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal.

But that's not the only new development for the latest edition of the Munk Debates. While I personally always viewed these debates as elitist and exclusive as the Grano Speaker Series put on by the same organizing team there is reason to believe that things are starting to open up. The live screening room is one such inflection point but another worth getting excited about is that the Munk Debates have a pretty impressive site that not only includes streaming videos of all archived debates but will also be live streaming Monday's debate and all events moving forward.

Earlier this week I connected with Munk Debates founder Rudyard Griffiths who filled me in on some of the new changes and what to expect moving forward. Here's our Q&A:

For those unfamiliar with the history of the Munk Debates, can you tell me what inspired you to start them?

The Munk Debates were created with a simple objective in mind: provide Canadians with an opportunity to hear some of the world's leading thinkers and doers debate the important issues facing the world and Canada. Let's face it, public debate is an all but 'lost art' today. This wasn't always the case. In our not so distant past formal public debates were central to Canada's political culture and national conversation. Debates in our legislatures, universities and other public institutions drew large audiences and were closely followed by the media. In our present-day era of political spin and grandstanding, the Munk Debates is trying to re-establish formal public debate as means to encourage more vigorous, relevant and rational public discourse.

Who typically attends the debates?

Anyone and everyone who has an inquisitive mind and is interested in hearing both sides of an issue. The Munk Debates is open to the public. People of all ages are encouraged to attend, especially those interested in public issues and public debate, opinion leaders, decision makers and concerned citizens.

Monday's debate is sold out but for those interested in attending future debates how do they get tickets?

The best way to get tickets is to register as a member online. This way you can get advance notice of tickets to future debates before they go on sale to the general public.

In the past, the debates have been regarded by some as a bit exclusive, only accessible to a privileged group. Is this criticism fair? Are the live screening and online streaming options steps to address this?

Absolutely. We are looking forward to introducing in subsequent Munk Debates real time SMS voting.

Any plans to live Tweet the debates?

If there are some Twitters who would like to tweet on the debate we would welcome their participation. We will have a live blogger moderating a conversation alongside the live video stream. Fingers crossed that everything works out!

Who are some speakers and what are some topics you'd love to see the Munk Debates take on in the future?

Climate change is a huge issue that won't go away. Religion is also a great topic for public debate. Hitchens, Al Gore and who knows!


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