Graham closest to landing 'winner' in debate: prof
UNB professor analyzes the CBC's English-language leaders' debate
Last Updated: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 | 4:30 AM ET
Watching Tuesday’s English-language leaders' debate, I was reminded of something the great American historian Howard Zinn once said: "If God had intended us to vote, He would have given us candidates."
Liberal Leader Shawn Graham talked about his five-point plan; PC Leader David Alward talked about putting New Brunswick first for a change; Green Party Leader Jack MacDougall directed viewers to his web site; NDP Leader Roger Duguay promised a clear alternative; and People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin cited the need for both common sense and cross-functional knowledge bases.
Together they talked about finding efficiencies, streamlining programs, trimming the fat and overseeing expenditures to protect healthcare and education.
They talked about the ballooning deficit and debt. They tossed out facts and figures, predictions and promises.
Graham promised 20,000 new jobs; Alward said that he would create a Government Review Office to cut government waste; MacDougall talked about a levy on the import and production of fossil fuels; Austin wondered if his son would be able to remain in New Brunswick; and Duguay pointed to the cynicism of a supersized pension plan for MLAs.
Together they talked about the need for accountability in government.
Graham acknowledged that he was not perfect and that he had learned from the past; Austin promised free votes in the Legislative Assembly; Alward said that his word was like a contract; MacDougall emphasized the need for some form of proportional representation; and Roger Duguay promised not to make any promises that he couldn’t keep.
No clear winner
For all the huff and puff, there was not a winner on Tuesday night. There were no Brian Mulroney-John Turner moments and no one threw the knock out punch.
Graham came the closest a couple of times when David Alward repeatedly interrupted him. ‘Screaming is not going to solve the problem,’ he told Alward. And MacDougall was not far from the mark when he called the leaders of the two main parties a couple of snake-oil vendors selling false promises and short changing the future.
But, for the most part, it was what it was: long on platitudes and short on substance.
And it was full of accusations and counter accusations, of finger pointing and interruptions, of people talking over one another while the moderator attempted to regain control.
Of course, leaders debates are not really debates at all. They are not about marshaling evidence and making a coherent, sustained argument. They are not about addressing complicated issues. They are not about reaching conclusions. And they are certainly not about ideas.
They are performances. They are about who can look the most competent, the most trustworthy, and the most authentic. They are about who appears strong, smart, and spontaneous. Ultimately, they are about who is the most likable.
Who was the most likable of the five leaders?
That, of course, depends on how you define likable.
I’m with Howard Zinn: If God had intended us to vote He would have given us candidates.