Monday, November 26, 2012

Campaign Update: Third Debate

In addition to the brunch of that was held at the Avenue Community Centre on Saturday, we also saw the third NDP leadership debate here in Saskatoon.

As is the third debate, there is some marked differences between the what we've seen in the first debate. Obviously, the second debate that occurred in Humboldt I can't say anything about as I wasn't there for it, so we are not going to talk much but the second debate.

Since we have no data to draw on we will focus on the third debate and the styles and the sense that we got of the candidates preparedness and how they've improved and so forth. As with the last debate I covered, we're going to do a general overview posting referring to the debate itself and then we'll do individual candidate profiles to look a bit closer at the performance of the individual candidate and what his they've improved, and what further improvement I can humbly recommend.

If I could say anything concrete about the third debate in the NDP leadership, it's that this debate hasn't really been a game changer in terms of substance from the first debate. All four candidates stuck pretty close to the messages and policies that we've heard before, so there were no surprise announcements or changes in direction; rather it a steady as she goes sort of approach to the debate.

What I can say is it was nice to see the format changed; my understanding is that the format changed in the second debate in Humboldt, where each candidate was given an opportunity to directly ask two questions to another candidate and have a brief follow-up exchange directly with that person. This changed the flow of the debate from a conversation with the moderator, as we saw in Regina, to an actual debate with increased exchanges and participation between the four candidates.

It just felt like more of a debate.

As mentioned the candidates stuck fairly close on message there was no real straying from the sort of general guidelines that have defined the campaigns so far. Cam stuck very close to the message of revitalizing the party in order to revitalize the province; Erin stayed close to the theme of having the plan that not only has a grand scheme for the province but also a method to pay for that for that plan; Ryan stuck close to the theme of fighting inequality and enhancing social justice within the province; Trent continued to hammer home the idea of also combating inequality through enhancing education and ensuring equal opportunities.

For the most part, it felt as though not a lot of new information came out during this debate, but that's not necessarily bad thing. This is the first debate in Saskatchewan's largest city, as such it's not surprising to see the candidates sticking to their general talking points and camping themes seeing that they would still be working on defining themselves to the city and province. The debate, as such, served as a good chance for them to reestablish what their campaigns stands for, what their grand vision is, and what they hope to achieve by running in the leadership race.

Yet again, it felt as though there was no real adversarial component to this debate. While the questions being posed during question period, by the candidates to other candidates, did allow for some wiggle room for there to actually be a slight amount of conflict that defined differences between the candidates, it was still a mostly tame affair with more agreement and common ground found between the candidates than any real differences being highlighted. Even the question, posed by the audience, that asked the candidates to define themselves and how they stand out from the other candidates fell a little flat and failed really generate any substantial difference between the four candidates.

But rather than this being a negative, I think this speaks to the quality of the caliber of the candidates who decided to run for the leadership. They're all fine exemplars of social values and the sort of mentality that we expect to find in an NDP leader; they're all committed to stamping out inequality; they're all committed to ensuring a more equal province; they're all committed to making sure that a economic boom time is a boom time for everyone, not just a select few. These commonalities are what makes them great candidates, but it is also what makes it hard for someone who is undecided to determine which candidate best represents them.

Effectively, much like the first debate, there was no real knock out punch in this debate. There was no real winner or loser, you did not walk away from the debate saying so-and-so want or so and so was miles above the rest. You left, or at least I left, the debate feeling even more conflicted and questioning which candidate would be the best choice to lead the Saskatchewan NDP into the future.

What I do hope to see in the future debates, or at least once I am able to get out to, would be to see this question format expanded. There needs to be more candidate-on-candidate questioning in the future debates so that the audience can begin to highlight some of the differences that exist between them. Questions from the audience are fine and well, but come debate five or so (if not earlier) we're going to see the same questions asked in different communities and it becomes less of a debate and more repetition.

Candidates need to be pushed outside of their comfort zone; we need to see them on edge on and on the defensive and really standing up for their policies and their beliefs. When that occurs, we truly begin to see the passion and conviction that they have for these values.

We don't need the candidates actively attacking each other on stage; but all of the candidates have spoken of the need to have open and frank discussions. Right now, when they're only responding to questions that come from the audience or the moderator, we aren't having the open and frank discussion that all of them have said we need. We need to see them interact with each other, we need to see who is capable of not only defending their policies and their values, but also who is capable of doing so in a manner that shows true leadership.

We need to give the candidates a chance to dominate the stage and right now the simple question answer format doesn't provide for that. It becomes, as I've said prior in this post, repetition when we see candidates constantly talk about policies that they've already talked about in prior debates, and they leaning on the crutch of familiarity. We don't see them ever pushed outside their comfort zone and we need to achieve that if we want to see who truly has the qualities necessary to not only rebuild the party, but who has the qualities to regain the trust of the general public and who will lead the party back into government.

And that's the million dollar question. We need a candidate with not only bright ideas, but those skills. And right now, the debate format hasn't allowed us to see which candidate has the best combination of these requirements. Only when we can see that, will we know for sure which choice is the right choice for our party and our province.

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