Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Camera-test your ties - Ontario Leader's Debate Edition

So, despite a deep-seated desire not to inflict pain on myself, I tuned in this evening to the Ontario election leader's debate. To make this a productive hour and a half, I also set up the ironing board and a stack of 12 shirts. If you don't feel like reading the rest of this post, feel happy for me that I at least got my ironing done.

Alas, that's really the only great thing that I can say about how I spent my early evening. The debate was formulaic, with no surprises, endlessly-repeated talking points, and folksy populism. And I'm sick of it.

Could we please end the new tradition of having the questions be asked by videotaped, carefully-selected "average voters" whose questions are picked because they aim right at one candidate or the other's talking points? And if not, could the leaders at least give up the oh-so-fake approach of pretending to be talking to these people directly and endlessly repeating their name in the ensuing 12 minutes? I get it, you wrote down that her name was Catherine!

And while we're on the name game issue, would it be too much to ask for an end to the folksy anecdotes about the hard-working family folks whom the leaders have met on the campaign trail, be it Julie from just outside of Wawa, or Kevin the electrician from Tilbury, or Sammi the nine-year old lemonade stand operator from Moosonee who is concerned about the HST on the paint she uses for her sign?

I don't feel that I got a great sense of any of these leaders' platforms beyond their endlessly-repeated talking points. Hudak claims to have a "5-point plan" (as if the number of points matters) with health and education as his priorities and cuts that will miraculously appear. McGuinty is all about clean energy, university tuition cuts, a $355 tax cut last year and home care for seniors. And Horvath (insofar as I got to see her tonight) will end the HST on hydro to help out seniors, and defend public health care. And all of them are parents, and have parents, and have kids that have had to use the health care system recently. And they all care about families and seniors. (And if you're single or in a couple but without kids, and in your 30s or 40s, none of the leaders could care less about how you vote!)

I would love to see the debate format turned into a rigorous on-camera grilling by journalists, or perhaps experts. To balance things off, perhaps each party could nominate their choice of a journalist or an academic with policy expertise. And then we might see an actual debate where there is interactivity, and a chance to get beyond talking points and have the assertions of the leaders challenged by those posing the questions. But that's probably a pipe dream, and we're doomed to several more debates that are a race-to-the-most-folksy-and-down-to-earth competition.

For what it's worth, I didn't think there was a clear winner or that any of the candidates really distinguished themselves. I think that hurts Horvath the most, as she seemed to be marginalized a lot of the time, and unable to get a word in over the other two, which is a problem when she is the least well-known of the three. I saw a lot of Twitter commentary about McGuinty waving his hands around, and his terrible hypnotic tie, but he stayed on point (perhaps too tightly and scriptedly so) and didn't seem to get too flustered - I still take issue with a number of his policies, especially on post-secondary education, but I don't think he hurt himself. I don't know whether voters waffling between a Liberal and Conservative vote would find that Hudak came across as a premier-in-waiting. I'm quite firmly opposed to even the notion of this, but I still don't think he was all that impressive (and who picked that purple-and-green monstrosity of a tie!) So in a debate without a winner, might we be headed for minority territory?

Steve Paikin, incidentally, was a good moderator, in terms of trying to pull the leaders back to the questions and allow for fair amounts of time. But the format really didn't allow him to press the leaders directly, as we sometimes see in the American Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates, or Canadian leaders' debates of the past.

As I said at the beginning - at least I got my ironing done!

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At 12:57 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ironing *is* important, and it has to be done sometime. At least you managed to stay awake for that snoozefest. What a terrible format. I swear, it's like the media idiots who dream this shit up are playing it by ear! Would it be that hard to analyze debates of the past to find a format that works, and then stick to it?

One thing I'd say, though, is that the hatred of McGuinty is palpable in most of the province. Traditionally, a non-result would favour the incumbent; I think that in this case, Dalton's poor (relative) showing hurt a lot. Hell, he might even lose his seat here in Ottawa South!

At 9:35 am, Blogger Chayday said...

I don't like it when people I am talking to face-to-face keep working my name in.

So I take extra umbrage when they're faking it to VHS. Umbrage I say!

I stopped watching debates years ago -- I find it actually painful how much nothing they can cram into their time.


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