The Grating Debate

Thursday, September 25, 2003

  • Dalton, Howard, Ernie

    Dalton, Howard, Ernie

Damnit. Once, just once, I want to be blown away by someone at a Leaders Debate. Too much to ask? It seems so.

There I was, sitting in front of the television with my bowl of ravioli (yes, fresh - not canned). After the entirely un-exciting "David Foster-esque" theme music and the jarring disappointment of seeing Mary Lou Finlay in the moderator's seat, my hopes were not "up". Frankly, I stayed tuned in just to see if McGuinty's media training dough was well spent.

And, it was.

The first question, asked via videotape by a voter, was leveled at Dalton McGuinty and centred around the negative campaigning/mudslinging issue. McGuinty drove this one into the gap in left-centrefield saying, "According to (Mr. Eves), I'm against farmers, families....and kittens", he added with a wry smile. Killer stuff - "A" material. He'd been saving that one for a while.
He was confident.
He was poised.
He engaged his competitors eye to eye.
But he still seems like a substitute geography teacher.

Howard Hampton, try as he may, never really successfully painted the Liberals and the PC's with the same brush. Time after time he attempted to highlight the similarities between the two parties, but his voice became a sort of white noise. Of the three, however, Hampton came across as the most sincere and, dare I say it...? honest. It was obvious that he was comfortable with this format and that he is an extremely intelligent man. He was, when noticed, riveting. But he reminded me of a PBS pledge-drive guy.... "if you want to see more great programming like this Simon and Garfunkel concert..."

Ernie Eves. Where to begin?
It rattles the mind just a little that our Premier was the rookie on this squad. Looking like a Juniour B hockey coach, he rarely (if ever) made eye contact with Hampton or McGuinty. I found this wildly annoying. His strategy of asking "Mr. McGuinty this one, simple question" got tired quickly, and he was left with nothing but his dentist's drill voice and inane references (by name) to "ordinary folk" he had met on the campaign trail. At times, thankfully, he and Mary Lou Finlay's voice cancelled each other's out and there was just a peaceful, ethereal hum that was hypnotic. Or maybe a piece of ravioli wasn't quite fully-cooked.

Look, debates are a necessary evil. They can, and have, turned campaigns around. Knowledge of camera placement, tenor of voice and phrasing are indispensable tools for the candidates. If you don't think so, let's go dig Nixon up and ask him his thoughts on the subject. Everyone in that debate did what needed to be done. Sure, the Eves camp put on a brave face post-debate, but his cause was not helped at all by his performance. McGuinty stayed the course and, I think, shook a little bit of the "he's still not up to the job" vibe. Hampton was Robert Bolt's "Common Man".

The 'spin' began almost immediately. Surfing the various news channels, the pundits all agreed that nobody gained any real ground. There is no doubt that it was Dalton McGuinty's to lose. He didn't, but nobody won either.

What that means is anyone's guess

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