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HomeOpinionDebate #1: Next time, rent podiums, a stopwatch and a buzzer

Debate #1: Next time, rent podiums, a stopwatch and a buzzer


Bob Mackin

Pardon those British Columbians who felt shortchanged by the Rogers-produced B.C. leaders debate on April 20

The parent company of host webcaster News1130 and telecaster City has plenty of experience producing political debates. See the 2014 Toronto mayoral debate, featuring the late Rob Ford and eventual winner, John Tory. 

Was it the morning time slot that caused News1130 and City to use an anchor desk for a group sit-down? Liberal Christy Clark, in the middle, wearing clothes that coincidentally matched the lit backdrop, framed by the NDP’s John Horgan on the left of the screen and the Greens’ Andrew Weaver on the right.  

April 20 B.C. leaders’ debate (Rogers Media)

Clark’s premeditated touch of Horgan and “calm down, John” comment was celebrated on social media by various paid Liberal twits. Oh, you just know that they would have lit their hair on fire with righteous indignation had the roles been reversed! 

The same party flaks and lobbyists also seized upon Horgan’s complaint that he wasn’t getting enough time and gleefully took it out of context. The full quote was as follows: “I think we should focus on the issue, Bill, and I think I should have as much time as the premier to answer those questions, I’ll leave it up to you. But [turning to Clark] If you want to keep doing your thing for a while, I’ll watch you for a while, I know you like that.”

Horgan didn’t really mean he wanted to “watch” Clark; it was a sarcastic quip about her penchant for being the centre of attention and campaigning more than governing. You might know her as Premier Photo Op. I call her Premier Amor de Camera. 

Ontario Liberal Warren Kinsella, who proudly donated to the Laura Miller defense fund, emerged from his hyperbolic chamber and compared Horgan to Donald Trump. That comment was as asinine as comparing Kinsella’s own SFH punk band to the Clash. 

Two politicians and two bands. That’s where the similarities begin and end. 

City’s Toronto 2014 mayoral debate (Rogers Media)

Moderator Bill Good was more aggressive at times than he ever was on his long running CKNW morning talk show (which preceded the afternoon one that Clark hosted for three years), but he was not the traffic cop or umpire that the role demanded.

Not all of that was his fault. The furniture was all wrong. The debaters should have been separated by more than an arm’s length, at their own podiums. The director should have cut-off the microphones of those who did not have the floor, and only left all microphones open when it was time for a free-for-all. There should have been a timekeeper and a buzzer or bell. 

The biggest distraction? The most-seasoned political veteran actually looked like the least-prepared. Clark came with a thick binder full of talking points that she flipped through and the microphone caught every fwip-fwip-fwip of her pages. The former talkshow host should’ve known better, and so should her cadre of handlers. The sound of russling papers was distracting for the viewer and probably for the other leaders.

The problem for Clark and the Liberals is she is vulnerable. Horgan and Weaver can score major points in the second and final debate, if they bring questions and comments that she is not prepared for. The problem they have is whittling it down to three or five. But, armed with the right question, they will silence the smiling wonder or elicit an answer that they can fashion a campaign attack ad around. She is, after all, Say Anything Christy

You see, Clark quit her three-year radio gig on CKNW in 2010, became premier in 2011 and led the party to a surprise victory in 2013. Ever since, she has done fewer and fewer open line radio shows. When she has done live interviews, they have been short and controlled. She, or her army of handlers, choose the forums, such as ethnic radio stations and FM rock radio stations. She has appeared on national news programs, but the time slots were limited and the topics focused. A campaign debate that lasts 90 minutes, without commercials, is a different animal altogether. In 2013, she faced NDP’s Adrian Dix, Green Jane Sterk and Conservative John Cummins, three opponents she could topple. Not so easy in 2017.

She has forgotten how to improvise. She needs a binder full of notes to guide her, as she exhibited on April 20. This is a problem that the Liberal campaign cannot fix over a weekend. The leader could be the party’s biggest liability. 

By contrast, Weaver had a notebook and Horgan a very small stack of papers. Clark is a career politician who should really know her files better. 

That next debate, April 26, will be in prime time on all of B.C’s major channels. If it’s like the 2013 prime time debate, it will be more structured. And you can expect there will be podiums.

Maybe it’s time for B.C. to follow Washington State’s lead and strike a permanent debate organization. The Seattle City Club hosts the Washington State Debate Coalition, which organizes election year debates between candidates for governor and senator. Part of the coalition’s mandate is to improve production values and presentation standards so that the voters who tune in live or watch the archive get to know the issues. 

It’s too late for 2017, but B.C. media companies, service clubs, colleges and universities should come together and begin planning for the 2018 local government elections. 

Who’s coming to Vaisakhi?

The next big event of the campaign is Saturday’s Vaisakhi Parade in Surrey, the biggest Sikh celebration outside India. 

A source involved in the Surrey Vaisakhi organization told theBreaker that Ontario NDP provincial lawmaker Jagmeet Singh is expected to attend. Singh did not respond for comment. He spearheaded a controversial bill to recognize the 1984 Golden Temple massacre and anti-Sikh riots that killed more than 3,000 as a genocide. The wave of violence happened after India’s Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. 

Singh’s bill failed, but Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal party passed a genocide recognition bill earlier this month. 

Article 2 of the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) defines genocide as killing members of a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Yet, Wynne’s move has raised eyebrows in Canada and India. Not everyone agrees with the genocide desgination for the Golden Temple massacre and related atrocities, despite it being a heinous, bloody tragedy.  Canada’s government has recognized the Holocaust (1933-1945), Armenia (1915), Ukraine’s Holodomor (1932-1933), Rwanda (1994) and Bosnia (1995) as genocides. 

Speculation is that Clark could promise to enact a similar genocide recognition decree in B.C. when she addresses parade participants in Surrey, a battleground where nine ridings are up for grabs. If she does, will Horgan do the same?

Members of the South Asian community were hoping that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would also drop by. He will instead be in Mississauga, Ont. for the annual Harry Jerome Awards. Trudeau visited Vancouver for this year’s Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and has not been timid when it comes to visiting jurisdictions where Liberals are actively running for provincial office. Liberal Sport Minister and Delta MP Carla Qualtrough is expected to be the senior federal Liberal at the event. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is on a mission to India and Surrey-Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal is not seeing eye-to-eye with Trudeau for leaving him out of his cabinet. 

Sign of shame

The first week of the campaign ended with shocking images of spray-painted swastikas on campaign signs for North Vancouver-Lonsdale Liberal Naomi Yamamoto and NDP challenger Bowinn Ma.

The incident was widely condemned, but who did it? 

RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Richard De Jong told theBreaker that police “investigated two different political signs that were spray painted with a red swastika. Signs that were side by each were removed — no witness, no suspects — documented by police.”

De Jong said a concerned citizen, driving by on Highway 1, Eastbound near the Main Street on ramp, reported the vandalized signs to police. 

Neither Yamamoto nor Ma responded to theBreaker about why they Tweeted photos, but didn’t file a hate crime report to police.

North Vancouver RCMP’s non-emergency line is 604-985-1311. If you see a sign vandal in action, call 9-1-1.