On Rhetoric


Today I had the pleasure of attending the all candidate luncheon held by the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce at the beautiful Brentwood Bay Lodge. While I was interested in hearing each of the party’s manifestos, as a communications specialist I was particularly curious to listen to the Green Party’s Adam Olsen.

I wanted to see how Olsen worked an audience; in particular, how he had been able to mesmerize my son, Tommy, and his classmates during at talk at Stelly’s High School several years back. According to Tommy, the whole gymnasium fell quiet when Olsen took the stage and he held their attention for the entire hour. Anyone with an intimate knowledge of this audience knows his accomplishment was no small feat.

Olsen wasn’t long into his talk at the Chamber luncheon when I got it. His charm went beyond the Green Party campaign platform, beyond his determination to work through the issues facing the Saanich peninsula, past his dimples and the twinkle in his eye. Like everyone else, I found myself sitting forward in my chair, drawn into Olsen’s world. He talked of his days as a Stelly’s student himself and of the lessons learned while working at Butchart Gardens. He reminisced about his cherished grandmother and of his days growing up on the Tsarlip First Nation. He spoke of the people he met and the respect he gained for the waters around Brentwood Bay while working with his father at the fishing charter business he owned. Olsen’s memories were poignant, and they struck an emotional chord. I had no trouble believing that he loves the peninsula; his stories cemented his convictions and substantiated his promise to leave a legacy to his children.

Whether Olsen does it deliberately or it simply comes naturally to him, Olsen’s masterful use of rhetoric is his magic pill, and he does it with finesse.

Rhetoric. Uh huh. It often conjures connotations such as manipulation, deceit, and dishonesty, but in reality, it is simply the ancient art of persuasion that the good old philosopher, Aristotle, came up with a few thousand years ago. When used with sincerity, it is a powerful and positive tool. It was effective then then, is effective today, and it works something like this:

In order for rhetoric to be effective, three basic fundamentals have to be present: Lagos – An appeal to logic; Ethos – An appeal to ethics, character or credibility; and Pathos – An appeal to emotion. By the way, pathos is the element that packs the punch – the most powerful one of all.

Each of the party candidates came to the table with valid, rational and arguable postures.

The Liberals believe supporting business is the most logical means of growing the economy, which in turn, means a better standard of living for families. An international banker, the party leader, Stephen P. Roberts, has an impressive curriculum vita. He has a strong appeal to logic and to credibility. But did I feel a personal connection? Not really.

Gary Holman, an economist and veteran peninsula politician comes with a wealth of experience such as his consulting work during the Nisga Treaty. He believes in a government that works for people by eliminating unfair rate hikes such as those imposed by ICBC, and stopping tax “giveaways” to millionaires. His credibility is his experience and his arguments are supported by logic. And he can tell a story. With passion and pride, Holman told us how he established the first BC Transit bus route on Salt Spring Island.

Adam Olsen’s strengths are his political wins and experience. His stint as Municipal Councillor and Interim Green Party Leader, as well as his ties to the to the First Nations population, provides credibility, while his platform – applying 21st century tactics to deal with 21st century issues support the logic of his arguments. I loved his passion and believe he will do the things he promises.

Surprisingly, the candidate who elicited a huge emotional response is a newcomer and independent, Jordan Templeman. His presentation garnered a respect and deep sense of empathy for the twenty-one year old political sciences student because he had the guts to stand up in front of a room filled with Sidney’s business movers and shakers. What Jordan lacks in experience he makes up for in intestinal fortitude. I believe his heart is in the right place, and know this young man will be a force to be reckoned with in the days to come.

It will be interesting to see how the campaign plays out and what the results will be on Election Day in May. All three party candidates are strong, capable and credible; but most of all I enjoyed watching Adam Olsen, a true story teller and king of rhetoric, sweep the audience away.

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