The 2009 National Debate Seminar, Hosted in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Was a Celebration of The

The 2009 National Debate Seminar, Hosted in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Was a Celebration of The

The 2009 National Debate Seminar, hosted in Winnipeg, Manitoba, was a celebration of the arts in Canada. The overall theme for the event was Arts Funding in Canada.

From October 13 to 19, Allison Stefanyshyn and Jordan Burg, both teachers at St. Mary’s Academy, showcased Winnipeg’s diverse cultural community to 50 student and 25 adult delegates from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories.

Tuesday the 13th was the arrival day. Both teachers were kept busy with early morning to late night pickups, along with their regular teaching duties. All except three students were billeted with local families. The exceptions were due to cultural/religious reasons.

The first full day on the 14th kicked off with a short opening ceremonies at St. Mary’s Academy, an all-girls catholic private school. Sister Susan Wikeem, the school’s principal, along with their choir, greeted the delegates and welcomed them to Winnipeg. Lorelie DeRoose, the President of the Canadian Student Debating Federation and the Atlantic board member David Gorman brought greetings in both languages on behalf of the CSDF, including the news that travel to the Seminar will be covered by Exchanges Canada.

The founder of the CSDF and the National Seminar, Tom Lawson, briefly entertained the group with the history of the organization.

Brian Casey, a long-time CSDF member and a lawyer from Nova Scotia led a workshop on Cross-Examination skills. Douglas Riske of the Manitoba Arts Council fielding numerous questions about arts funding during his informative presentation. The morning finished off with debaters finding their partner for the day and prepping for the evening’s debates. Lunch was a traditional Winnipeg meal of rye bread and cold-cuts.

Delegates got a feel for the city as they were bussed to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. In a group session, the gallery facilitators challenged the debaters to define what is and is not art. This activity lead to a fairly serious and in-depth discussion of what is art and what should be funded. These discussions carried through the tours of the exhibits, as the facilitators continued to question and challenge the delegates’ assumptions while viewing early medieval religious paintings, 19th century British decorative pieces, turn of the century modern art, and the photographic collection of Yousuf Karsh.In this final gallery, the delegates were divided into groups of two sets (a pro and con side) and were assigned an iconic photograph. The groups then had to defend if their portrait was art or not, right there in the public gallery.

Delegates returned to St. Mary’s Academy to continue preparing with their partners and for a pizza supper. The adult delegates met for the first part of the Annual General Meeting of the CSDF while debaters participated in two rounds of impromptu parliamentary style debate on the topic of abolishing copyright. Delegates returned home with their billets after a long first day.

A tour of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet school started off the second day of the Seminar. Everyone quietly sat in on a group practice in one of the large studios before alumni members of the school guided delegates through the rest of the school, including smaller studios, the costume and shoe rooms and other behind-the-scenes areas of the school. Delegates had several opportunities to ask questions of the guides, practicing students and the staff.

The morning concluded with a tour of the Manitoba Legislature Building, including a greeting from MLA Ms. Marilyn Brick (St. Norbert). In an unexpected twist, when delegates were asked to divide into two groups – one French and one English, we actually had more in the French group as many English delegates took this opportunity to practice their immersion-learned French.

Delegates returned to St. Mary’s Academy on the Bada-Bing party busses – the music and party atmosphere helped delegates bond, and the busses became a highlight for many. After a light lunch of Subway sandwiches, delegates had the opportunity to question Michael Jason of the University of Manitoba Law School on the intricacies of copyright law. Delegates again had the opportunity to work with their partners (different ones from the previous rounds) for the evening’s debates before heading to St. Paul’s High School for a pizza and pasta supper. The two rounds of Cross-Examination debate were on the topic of: using public money to fund the arts. The adults continued their AGM meeting. Cross-examination has become a little used style in Canada, and was an excellent learning opportunity for everyone.

After the debate rounds, the CSDF conducted a short survey about the delegates’ thoughts on the resolutions. Before the Seminar, 11 participants agreed that copyright should be abolished, while 33 disagreed. After the rounds, the number stayed the same, but the beliefs were not necessary held by the same delegates.

A rare opportunity to hear the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra practice for an upcoming concert series was the just one of the cultural highlight of Friday October 16. Our delegates joined several other school groups for the rehearsal followed by a question and answer period with the conductor. From the Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall, delegates departed for free time and lunch at the historical National park The Forks, which was a key meeting place for fur traders. A truly standout event of the Seminar was the afternoon spent at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People. The talented staff led small groups through a few hours of great improv games, such as “moving day miming”, famous pairs, and other hilarious activities. Both adult and student delegates participated, including Tom Lawson, and the CSDF’s patron, Mr. Willis McLeese, who even in his late 90s and in a wheel chair, mimed some of the prompts, to the delight of everyone.

The exhausting but fun-filled day ended with supper and two rounds of prepared British Parliamentary debate at St. John’s-Ravenscourt School. British Parliamentary (BP) style is fairly new to the Canadian high school debate scene and this is only the second time it was ever used at a National Seminar. This style involves four teams in a room at a time – two proposition teams and two opposition teams must work together to delve deeply into a major issue. On this issue, 36 agreed that public money be used to fund the arts, with 9 disagreeing. After the debates, the number increased to 40 people in agreement, with just 5 disagreeing.

Saturday was spent at Balmoral Hall School, where students were once again involved in an event new to the National Seminar – a day of Consensus Decision Making. The powerpoint workshop led by Dr. Lois Edmund of Menno Simons College, started the delegates off with some background theory. They were then divided into small groups and given the task to rank various arts-related special interest groups in order of priority for funding. At first, this was a difficult and divisive activity for a group of trained debaters, however, after being given more tools, the delegates began to understand the value of Consensus models as part of the democratic process. During this time, the adults continued working through issues at the AGM, a real-life application of the need for consensus!

Since the Seminar will be hosted in the Northwest Territories next year, the introduction of Consensus this year was an important step in preparing for the cultural expectations of a Seminar in the North.

Delegates returned to St. Mary’s academy and had a choice of two activities. A tradition of at the National Seminar is the Rules Committee Meeting, where student delegates have the opportunity to provide feedback about the Seminar and input as to the Rules in use for the next year. Since completely new rules were introduced this year feedback was especially sought. The meeting was led by Rules Committee Chair Stephen McCarthy and co-chairs Elisa Frank (Director of Bilingual debate) and Richard Picotin (Director of French debate). The very well run meeting gave delegates the opportunity for great discussions on issues, and some small changes were made and recommendations forwarded to the CSDF board. For those not interested in this process, the Guy Madden film My Winnipeg was shown, including an introduction by actress Kate Yacula.

A delicious pasta supper was followed by a concert by local Winnipeg rock band Hook Norton and included host Jordan Burg on the piano. All delegates received a copy of the band’s CD. During this time, the CSDF concluded its AGM meetings, and following the concert, all delegates were given time to complete their Exchanges Canada and CSDF surveys, as well as any outstanding travel documentation.

On Sunday, the Seminar hosts had a casual day planned for the delegates, and gave everyone the opportunity to spend time with their billet families to tour Winnipeg, to relax, or just to catch up on homework. The adults met at the Original Pancake House, a famous Winnipeg eatery, for a CSDF hosted brunch. Everyone then met up for a few hours of shopping at the Polo Park Mall.

The Seminar, which as an extravaganza of the arts, was capped off with an evening at the Celebrations Dinner Theatre and an interactive musical play about young summer love set in the 60s. A quick awards ceremony to acknowledge the top debaters from each province, each language category, and overall was held right in the theatre. The Tom Lawson Spirit Awards (voted on by the delegates) were given to Keenan MacNeal of Alberta and Raffie Rosenberg of Manitoba (who had hosted a party for the delegates at her home).

The last official event of the Seminar was a group photo on the stage, followed by tearful good-byes since this would be their last opportunity to see each other before travelling home the next day.

The extremely well-run Seminar involved four different school communities, dozens of host families (which received rave reviews from the delegates) and hundreds of adult and student volunteer judges, officials and helpers. Everyone involved, from volunteers to delegates had an incredible experience and greatly appreciated the amazing opportunity to indulge in one of Canada’s riches cultural communities.

As a result of the Seminar, many delegates were eager to return home and facebook their new friends and to encourage their schools to continue to support debate and send delegates to this “awesome” and “fantastic” event. Some planned to write articles to their school newspapers and to tell their debate clubs and “everyone” about the experience. A couple delegates said they wanted to try to create an outreach program to their local junior high schools. Finally, most are eager to incorporate the new styles and techniques they learned into their own debate repertoires, share ideas with their debate clubs and become more involved in the debating community as a whole. A standout response was the desire for everyone to advocate for the importance of the Arts.

There were very few complaints, with most of them being about wanting more debating and more impromptu resolutions on a greater variety of topics. Some felt that better timing of the debates was needed (not in the evenings), that the event be a day shorter, that there be more how-to workshops, that there be a greater variety of food, more free time, and more time with billets.

Overall, with 43 delegates reporting, the Seminar was rated an 8.7 out of 10!