Cowichan debate duo headed to national competition

There’s no question about it: Team Nickford is one of the best debate pairs in B.C. This weekend, they’ll be trying to prove they’re among the best in Canada.

Team Nickford is made up of Brentwood College students Nick McLean and Tyler Pickford. After strong showings at the regional and provincial competitions, the duo is off to the University of Toronto this weekend for the Senior National Debate Competition.

The journey began at the regional competition in January, where McLean and Pickford had to get through four debates: two prepared resolutions, for which they had a couple of weeks to get ready, and two impromptu questions, with only 20 minutes to prepare.

"It’s all off the top of your head, with information you’ve gathered yourself," Pickford said. "That’s our strength. We’re good at coming up with things off the top of our heads."

At the provincial competition, there was one prepared question – asking if Canada should revoke the citizenship of people who leave the country to join terrorist organizations – but debaters had to be ready for both pro and con.

"You prepare both sides," McLean explained. "You automatically have to argue both sides in different rounds."

That was followed by three impromptu questions, about providing healthcare to smokers, Quebec independence, and whether or not the United Nations needs a military force.

Pickford, who grew up in Saanich, started debate in Grade 11 because debate and Model UN are operated under the same umbrella at Brentwood. "I always liked public speaking in school," he said. "I always kind of had an interest in it."

McLean, who calls Mill Bay home, got his first taste of debate in middle school when his sixth grade class did a debate unit that ended up in a four-day stalemate.

"I realized I was good at it," he said. McLean got involved in debate at Brentwood in Grade 10, following in the footsteps of his older sister.

Both sides of Team Nickford are heading to McGill University next year, where Pickford will study business and McLean is going into arts. McLean is considering joining the McGill debate team, but Pickford isn’t leaning in that direction. Still, he recognizes that the skills he learned through debate will continue to help him.

"It makes you think about both sides of an issue," he said. "It gives you the skill of seeing both sides; it translates into everyday life."

McLean and Pickford are the first students from Brentwood to make the Senior National Debate Competition since 1997. The future after them, however, looks very promising. There are 88 students at Brentwood, about 20 per cent of the school population, involved in debate, a number nearly double what it was three years ago.

"The world of debate in high schools and universities is burgeoning," Brentwood debate coach Neil Bryant said. "Just about every independent school has a debate club, and most public schools have refurbished theirs."