The Prime Minister will outline the motion at the beginning of their speech and define the meaning of any terms in the motion which require interpretation. The definitions provided must have a clear and logical link to the motion. The intent of the definition is to clarify the resolution with increased specificity. A good definition will be neither confusing nor surprising to the opposition.
1. The Prime Minister sends the definition to the Speaker
In order to certify the definition of a resolution as debatable, the Prime Minister must provide the Speaker with a copy of the definition before the debate (the earlier the better).
2. The Speaker certifies that the defined resolution is debatable
The Speaker will verify that none of the following prohibited grounds are encountered and verify that the negative phrasing of the defined resolution could be defended by the opposition (use a sanity check).
Prohibited Definition Types
There are three types of definitions which are not permitted. For the following examples, consider the resolution: “There are no bad dogs, only bad dog owners.”
a) Squirreled: A motion has an obvious meaning and the wording is twisted to represent something unexpected. This makes the debate too easy for the government and is unsporting. Example: “dogs” are defined as “hot dogs.”
b) Tautological: The government is trying to have it both ways by forcing the resolution into a form such that the truth is logically guaranteed. Example: “bad dogs” are defined as only “dogs with bad owners,” and excludes dogs bred to be violent, et cetera.
c) Special Knowledge: The government calls on expert knowledge not widely available to or understood by a layperson. Example: “bad dog owners” are defined as “people having a statistically prevalent genetic marker that predisposes them to not properly care for dogs,” and the source of this information is a biologist friend of the PM whose work is not widely published. If the information is available via a basic internet search, it is fair game and not special knowledge.
Sanity check for debatability
The speaker should also write out the negative phrasing of the definition to determine if there are arguments readily available for the opposition. This sanity check should be considered an extention of the “Squirreled” form above – but this test is in case the government has inadvertantly twisted the debate without realizing how difficult (or impossible) it might have become for the opposition. Off the top of your head, try to come up with 3 arguments for the opposition. If you are unable to do so at all – the defintion might squirrel the debate.
3. Government hands the definition to the opposition on debate night
The Government should bring a written copy of their definition with them to the debate to hand to the opposition no less than ten minutes before the debate beings.
This will prevent transcription errors by the opposition if being frantically copied down while the PM is speaking. This will also provide the opposition with a brief period to reorient their prepared remarks to clash directly with the government’s case head-on.
The opposition must accept the definition and stay within the realm of the defined resolution and avoid arguments which are semantic in nature. The adjudicator will not score arguments well which do not add substance to the debate around the defined resolution.