Shaky Dix, confident Clark, but no knockout punch in B.C. leaders' debate

As expected, NDP frontrunner Adrian Dix was clearly nervous while Liberal Christy Clark came on like a game show host. But there were no defining moments and few unscripted answers in B.C.'s televised leaders's debate Monday night, Stephen Smart reports.

More questions than answers as party leaders held to tight script

Liberal leader Christy Clark and NDP's Adrian Dix, looking a bit like game show hosts, pose for a pre-debate photo Monday night. (Jonathan Hayward / Canadian Press)

Liberal leader Christy Clark needed an impressive performance in Monday's leaders' debate to change the political channel and put her back in the race with Adrian Dix and the NDP to be the next premier of B.C. 

But while she definitely came across as the most comfortable in front of the camera, she didn't appear to deliver that knockout blow that will instantly propel her into the lead. 

Clark did an admirable job of delivering the same lines she's been delivering throughout the now two-week-old campaign. 

She raised concerns about Dix's planned spending increases. She highlighted his recent flip-flop on the proposed Kinder Morgan oil pipeline from Alberta.  And she raised questions about a supposed NDP plan to institute a moratorium on hydraulic "fracking," which would curtail the natural gas boom that Clark's government has been counting on to lift the province out of debt.

However, in this case an admirable job wasn't what she was looking for.  She needed a defining moment and it didn't happen. 

Shaky start for Dix

Fortunately for Clark, her main opponent didn't do that much better.

Dix appeared nervous right off the bat, and appeared uncomfortable in front of the camera. He didn't know where to look or when to smile. 

He got better as the debate wore on, but those opening few minutes set a tone that was hard for the NDP leader to shake.

He, too, held to his regular campaign arguments, questioning Clark's claims of a balanced budget, and criticizing her for her party's constant personal attacks on him. But there was no knockout punch here either.

Perhaps his biggest victory was keeping Christy Clark from scoring any lasting points on him.

Still for the one leader who had everything to lose heading into the only televised debate of this election, Dix appeared to hold on, as he had undoubtedly hoped, to at least a draw.

Viewer's loss

So who "lost" this debate? Well, for one, it was an electorate who tuned in expecting to hear some real answers for a change.

The four main party leaders in B.C. election. From left: John Cummins, Conservative; Christy Clark, Liberal; Adrian Dix, NDP; and Jane Sterk, Green Party.

Instead, they likely noticed how few of the questions asked of the leaders actually were answered directly. 

For most of the night, debate 2013 was an exercise for those on the platform to take a question and use it to talk about the messaging they wanted to as opposed to actually answering the question. 

Clark, for example, was asked about her thoughts on the decriminalization of marijuana.  She didn't even touch on the topic, but instead launched into a speech about the importance of economic growth. 

Dix repeatedly did the same thing. 

Why answer the actual question when you can talk about what you want to talk about, the lesson seems to be. 

Still, the unique format of last night's debate, unique at least for B.C., where the leaders were able to ask each other questions, did provide a sometimes more complete view of where these people actually stood on an issue.

Not only were we able to hear their responses, but, reading between the lines of their questioning, we caught a glimpse of what issues they at least felt were important and who they felt it important to hear from on these subjects. 

So maybe a win-lose-draw, too, for voters, as they head to the ballot box exactly two weeks from today.