McGill Debaters Mandy Wojcik, Sacha Bhatia, Dena Varah, and Ben Hardy


No debate about who won

BRONWYN CHESTER | You don't want to start an argument with this crowd -- they'll wipe the floor with you.

The McGill Debating Union captured the national championship title earlier this month at a competition held in London, Ontario.

Competing against 85 teams, Dena Varah, the president of the DU, and Sacha Bhatia won the title, 7-0, in a final round against a duo from the University of Toronto. McGill had previously won the national title in 1994.

Debating on such subjects as whether mothers in medium-to-high security prisons should be able to keep their babies with them, whether debt should be forgiven in developing countries and whether standards in the logging industry should be changed to adapt to women workers, Varah, a second year history student and Bhatia a first-year MBA/MD student, impressed the judges with their philosophy and rhetoric.

Given that each pair has only 15 minutes to prepare before each contest, debaters may only use the general knowledge they pick up from the media, coloured by their ability to present a convincing argument, says Varah.

This year, the union sent 16 people, allowing novices Mandy Wojcik and Ben Hardy to take a stab at the craft. The new kids did just fine, placing second at the tournament in the novice category.

In the category for individual public speaking, McGill debaters Arvi Sreenivasan, Amy Langstaff and Andrew Zadel used a comical approach to earn 4th, 5th and 6th place honours. Sreenivasan, a first year political science and philosophy student, got some laughs for a story he created on the spot, having been shown a photograph of "Pierre Trudeau in an awkward pose."

"I mimicked Trudeau's memoirs for five minutes," he says, explaining that in the public speaking category, you can speak seriously or comically, though unless you're very good the serious speakers tend to get the middle scores, while the funny ones stand a better chance of having a higher score.