With a glass of beer or tea at the elbow, a small group converses on all things politics at the Garnet Pub every Thursday at 5pm. Open to folks of any declared political stripe, the tone is intentionally light and the conversation is hosted only to the degree that it’s ensured everyone knows each other’s names.
Dubbed Pints & Politics by its pioneer, Bill Templeman, the gathering rises out of the Peterborough resident’s desire to create a kind of “commons” where those interested in politics, especially local politics, can meet and engage in a kind of dialogue less common in today’s political realm.
Bill says he remember the days when the renowned Peter Gzowski hosted a weekly show with representatives from each of the three parties—and just how different the conversation was from today’s typical political exchanges.
“I used to get a big kick out of listening to the program because it was real conversation instead of the ‘gotcha’ soundbite put-downs of today,” Bill says. “It was more trying to understand why you believe such-and-such makes sense for Canada.”
Bill is aware that he’s seeking a possibility that seems increasingly farfetched. “There is more of this othering, stigmatization, and prejudice. The dirt, the smut, the accusations on all sides politically. It’s part of that inexorable march towards really hating people—disagreeing, yes, but hating is something else. When we turn away from dialogue and turn to partisanship, it’s part of a continuum.”
Bill has recently evolved Pints & Politics to include a weekly Trent Radio show of the same name. While there are plans for a panel element to the show (an experiment along these lines has whetted the appetite for more), it’s focused currently on interviewing candidates for the upcoming municipal and provincial elections. The live show, which is also archived online as a podcast, offers another way for Peterborough residents to learn about all aspects of the local political scene. As a former candidate, Bill also sees a benefit for the candidates themselves as they can use the interviews in their campaigns.
All this said, while Bill is choosing to continue his involvement in the local political scene as host of an ideally higher-calibre dialogue, that isn’t to say he doesn’t have his own ideas and aspirations and that he isn’t willing to weave them into whatever dialogue is happening. For example, he’d like to see more diversity on Council, more women on Council, “less running the city like a business, more running it like a community, [as well as] a bit of a higher game on the ethics side.”
Asked what’s possible now that wasn’t possible before within the context of this new endeavour of his, Bill says he’s seeing that, for what he calls the involved citizens (otherwise known as activists) in the city, Peterborough is becoming more of a community. That, at least, has certainly been his experience, and he gets the sense it’s happening to other people as well. He suggests social media, the “layering” of a number of local issues from the Parkway to the casino that have sparked citizen engagement, and local connecting experiments such as the Peterborough Dialogues, have all played in part in creating this greater sense of community.
“It’s less the individual, slightly alienated metropolis experience that certainly I had growing up in Montreal and living in Toronto,” Bill says.
Looking ahead, one of the positive outcomes Bill can imagine from what he is trying to do, in tandem with the related efforts of others, is an increase in voter turnout. He cites the 44% turnout for municipal elections in 2010 and the jump by a mere 3% in 2014. “Over half the people don’t bother voting. It would be great if that could jump up to the 60s or 70s,” he says.
Pints & Politics by itself won’t be able to make that happen, of course. But a more diversified local media landscape that touches in with more aspects of the local population than it does currently, including the homeless and suburbanites, just might help.
Grander visions for the future aside, Bill, in his down-to-earth, ‘not taking myself too seriously’ kind of way, offers a glimpse of the type of future we must surely all want to live into – one in which civil discourse is the norm, and not a radical, newsworthy activity happening in some tiny group in a funky pub in small-town Peterborough.
Studio photos by Michelle Strutzenberger.