Dear Andrew at the CBC : Canadian populist views of the Ontario leaders’ TV debate 2014 (updated June 5)

Jun 4th, 2014 | By | Category: In Brief

UPDATED JUNE 5. I just drew the short straw here at the office. I have to stay late and do a quick report on the Ontario election 2014 leader’s debate on TV : Tuesday, June 3, 6:30—8:00 PM ET.

There is, as best I can tell, something of an early consensus somewhere that Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne underperformed – and Conservative Tim Hudak and New Democrat Andrea Horwath did better than expected. I want to quickly offer a more contrarian assessment. Or, I  agree with the Liberal strategist on cp24 that, whatever else, there was only one person on the stage who looked like a Premier of Ontario, and that was the Premier, Kathleen Wynne.

I should confess that I am an admirer of Ms Wynne, as what may (or may not?) be a new kind of democratic politician. And I won’t pretend that my assessment here is altogether objective. I like the way she talks about public life in Ontario – and the energy she brings to her job.

This June 3 TV debate did show, I’ might agree, I suppose, that she is not playing by the old rules for TV debates, so to speak. But that kind of thing is what some among us like about her. Maybe what others are calling her mistakes in the debate (or worse?) are just signs of her new ways ???? (And the 48% voter turnout in the 2011 Ontario election is some kind of sign that the old ways are not sacrosanct.)

Two quick cases in point : (1) Ms Wynne has been criticized for talking to the camera, and not addressing her opponents directly. Talking to your political opponents does lend an air of drama that some find stimulating. From another point of view, Kathleen Wynne thinks the only TV debate in this Ontario election campaign is an opportunity to talk to we the people who will finally decide the election. The beginning of her concluding statement may have been somewhat awkward in this respect, as some have said. (“I don’t know all of you,” etc.) But at least she was trying to do something fresh and engagingly “democratic.” Based on the past year or so, the more she tries these things the better she gets.

(2) Kathleen Wynne the rookie TV debater has also been criticized for not presenting clear and down-to-earth arguments – for just talking around and beside issues etc, etc. Most of these critics, however, are too young to remember the Great Ontario 1970s and 1980s Days of William G. Davis, and his amazing capacity to spin out a single sentence of goodwill and good intentions for several paragraphs. Kathleen Wynne is a brave wave at the future, but also a respectful bow to a past with some real strengths, and all that, etc, etc. And Who is the Real “Progressive Conservative” today anyway ????

Kathleen Wynne and William Davis share some kind of joke, at event honouring Mr Davis (a former Minister of Education, among other things) at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, December 2012.

In some similar spirit, the best part of my immediate post-debate de-briefing and whatnot was stumbling across the Comment section of the CBC News website coverage of the Ontario leaders’ debate. One comment writer, I thought, nicely enough summarized my own feelings about what happened. He goes by the nom de cyberspace of Robert, and at exactly 8:38 PM on June 3, 2014 he posted this comment on the CBC site :

Wynne did a good job of being honest tonight in the face of some pretty personal attacks. She has taken steps to make changes, and to broker cross-party arrangements to move things forward. She governs pragmatically and not from an ideological position. The question is whether Hudak and Horwath were effective in tying her to previous scandals under McGuinty’s tenure. Hudak has shown no ability to work with any other party since the last election … Horwath and the NDP have many good ideas, but Horwath’s shrill performance tonight, and her decision to force an election, leave me questioning her ability to lead and to govern. We are headed for another Liberal minority.”

I’ve also found myself compiling a list of my Top 20 Comments from the CBC News website coverage. These kinds of Comment sections are often filled with bile and ignorance. But, whatever else, the CBC seems able to attract seriously interesting comment writers – sometimes at least! And I think all this is a tribute to the residual strengths of the CBC, and the strength of grass-roots democracy in Canada today, in just one of its many forms.

Inevitably, my Top 20 CBC Populist Comments on the 2014 Ontario Election tilt towards my own political preferences (and at least some impossible but instructive dreams, no doubt). But I have also tried to make sure that more or less all deadly serious brands of Ontario practical politics 2014 are represented.  To see this Top 20 List click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below. (And, as an added inducement for those whose interests in politics do not run all that deep, I have arranged to have a quite revealing photo re “Rihanna goes practically naked to CFDA Awards” placed in the middle of the Top 20 Comments. Hot, hot, hot – in Southern Canada at least.)

UPDATE JUNE 5 : As elsewhere in this campaign, the two big polls on who won the debate are different. But both agree that Tim Hudak won.  According to Ipsos Reid, 36% thought Hudak won, 27% Kathleen Wynne, and 26% Andrea Horwath. According to Forum Research 33% said Hudak was the winner, 28% said Wynne, and 20% Horwath. Forum also reported that, in its survey : “Before the telecast, voters who tuned in said they preferred the Liberals over the Conservatives by 37% to 31%. Afterward, the Liberals were at 40% and the Conservatives at 35%.” See also : “Observers call Ont. election debate underwhelming” ; and Eric Grenier’s initial assessment in “What effect will the debates have on the race?”

Not quite a Platonic dialogue (or a Kautilyan discourse)  but …

5:52 : Andrew Foote: Good evening, my name’s Andrew and I’m the moderator for tonight’s live blog, a compliment to the leaders debate … [RW: My Top 20 comments only start at the end of the debate at 8 PM]

8:00 : Andrew Foote: Let’s hear what your biggest takeway from the debate was, please.

(1) 8:01 :  Guest … Aren’t we fortunate to live in Canada – discussions are permitted and encouraged – voting is our right and privilege.

(2) 8:01 : Kannota …  Generally even; Wynn’s closing the bets of three; Hudak talk of his kids and math lost me; ghost of McGuinty haunts the stage as it appears Andrea and Tim can’t pin-down Kathleen Wynn – she does, after-all, have the budget prepared by the civil service that was tabled on the legislative record – something that NDP/PC can’t do.

(3) 8:02 :  Alex … Hudak gave the best performance, but I think Horwath won on policy. Wynne got battered by them, but I think she held her own well enough. In any case, I can’t see the debate significantly affecting the outcome.

(4) 8:06 :  Patricia Duguay … I am impressed with how strong of a leader Kathleen Wynne is in spite of the attacks she faces. She is a very strong leader – amazing. She has my vote.

(5) 8:06 : Rob … Mostly this was an exercise in confirmation bias: Tim Hudak’s homespun stories made me puke. Horwath was quiet for the first half, but came on stronger at the end. Wynne had the toughest job of running on a spotty record … but factually she’s right about Ontario being the leanest public sector (check Statscan, I did). And she’s the only one with an intelligent infrastructure plan.

(6) 8:08 :  guest …  And my biggest takeaway from the comments: I’m wondering if half the commentators live in Ontario, and how old they are. We are doing twice as better since Harris, and barely over either Harris and Rae’s policies. Live long enough and you can compare. We’re not living in Greece, requiring the austerity measures of Hudak. Neither are we living in la la land where anything goes in the land of Horvath.

(7) 8:08 :  Frank … They all promise you the world just to get elected to get the fat pensions and all the perks that politicians enjoy…The day of the election is democratic, but after that it is a Dictatorship until the next election…..No Recall for politicans…They do not have to answer to anyone until the next election…Our systen is unbelievable

(8) 8:10 : Roger K … Wynne wins my vote as she understands that the challenges facing Ontario are not just local, we are competing for our piece of the global pie This requires an investment in education, just ask the Germans and Nordic countries. Hudak might get the vote from the older generation who remembered when trades were “the way for the future” but it simply doesn’t fly with me. The Liberals have the best perspective as far as I am concerned

(9) 8:14 : Londoner … I thought Horwath held strong and brought some thoughtfulness to her ideas. Hudak just kept repeating himself offering nothing interesting. Wynne was able to stay on track and showed personal integrity. I would personally never vote conservative, especially since the party at the federal level has made such a mess and is untrustworthy. I’m still undecided between liberal and NDP.

(10) 8:15 : Derek … I feel like Kathleen is the most credible, despite the scandals that she claims she did not partake in at will. She is likable, realistic about Ontario’s economic situation and a good listener. Hudak side-stepped the issue of HOW he can cut thousands of education jobs and still have plenty of EA’s around.

As one CBC site comment writer put it, in the June 3, 2014 Ontario leaders’ debate the “ghost of McGuinty haunts the stage.” As another explained: “The question is whether Hudak and Horwath were effective in tying” Kathleen Wynne “to previous scandals under McGuinty’s tenure.”

(11) 8:33 : Rob M … A little frustrating that after all the Liberal party has done over past years that people still won’t hold them accountable. Hudak is the only person that is trying to mop up a mess that will only get worse as the Liberals keep spending. At some point something has to give and we need to bring in a party that is offering to be fiscally responsible. Hudak has my vote after tonight

(12) 8:34 : Jim Howard … Leadership debate was generally bland with little in precise program detail presented. In my view both Andrea Horwath and Tim Hudak (surprisingly) significantly out performed Kathleen Wynne. Very disappointed that only Andrea Horwath addressed potential new revenue for Ontario by developing the North and Ring of Fire. Only new revenue sources can address provincial deficit and debt.

(13) 8:38 : Robert …  Wynne did a good job of being honest tonight in the face of some pretty personal attacks. She has taken steps to make changes, and to broker cross-party arrangements to move things forward. She governs pragmatically and not from an ideological position. The question is whether Hudak and Horwath were effective in tying her to previous scandals under McGuinty’s tenure. Hudak has shown no ability to work with any other party since the last election, and his tea party like policies will be disastrous for Ontario. Horwath and the NDP have many good ideas, but Horwath’s shrill performance tonight, and her decision to force an election, leave me questioning her ability to lead and to govern. We are headed for another Liberal minority.

(14) 8:43 : Jim Tremblay … Horwath: Failed to show up. Wynne: utter obfuscation. Hudak: Puddle of grease left on the floor. What a choice for Ontario.

(15) 8:44 :  guest … Seriously, I’m ready to tear my hair out….Hudak and Horvath would not have done anything different in regards to the gas plants! They both pledged to drop them, and would have lost the same $$$. So please, let’s stop pretending Wynne is the fall guy, and act like intelligent adults who know how these things work.

(16) 8:44 : 2 cents worth …  Horvath offered contempt for the Liberals who, as Hudak pointed out, they supported in the House. They walked away from the proposed Liberal budget and have not demonstrated an alternative plan. It’s easy to snipe but harder to be a leader. The NDP has failed on this front. Hudak’s plan does not instill confidence since the math doesn’t add up. Left to wonder how he would balance a budget with his inability to get the math right….

(17) 8:45 :  P … All the leaders were not very articulate. Tim Hudak looked like a used car salesman, Andrea Horvath choice of vocabulary was a bit elementary, and Kathleen wynne seemed to mimic Obama.. Wow.. I don’t care about the gas plant, we can’t get the money back. I would vote for anyone who would assure they will keep their promises or face prison so they are careful what they promise. That would make politicians honest.

(18) 8:48 :  Kannota … The current “Who do you think won the debate?” vote is indicative of a contrary result. It shows Wynn well behind Andrea and Tim. It tells me that the Liberals are confident of victory and they need not waste time organizing the troops to vote-in their leader on this unscientific survey.

(19) 8:52 : Thomas …  I’m pretty tired of the “remember Rae” line. That was a long time ago, and he was always a New democrat by convenience, and a Liberal at heart. Hudak seems to be a fastest to the bottom business supporter, and that policy hasn’t created jobs. The truth is, the only way to a propsperous economy is education- the smarter the people, the stronger an economy you will have, if you judge economy on sharing the wealth. If you want the 1% to do well, vote Hudak. The Liberals need a housecleaning. I think a Liberal-NDP coalition is the best of not too many pleasant choices.

(20) 8:55 : Disappointed again by NDP …  Thomas: I agree. Cons would be an absolute disaster. But I do not relish a majority government of any kind. We badly need proportional representation to get real choice. Time for a Liberal-NDP coalition.

9:00 :  Andrew Foote: Time to wrap up for tonight, thanks for the thousands of comments we got and sorry to those we didn’t get to.

BTW  – Which party will win the most seats on June 12? (10:30 PM, JUNE 3)
Liberal (58%)
NDP (11%)
PC (31%).

[RW : So … presumably this means that, for one reason or another, the majority of comment writers lurking around the CBC News site on this occasion were Liberal supporters, before and/or after the debate. Which no doubt does at least help explain why the Harper Conservatives have still not grown to love the CBC  – Canada’s sort-of (or halfway?) public broadcaster of the early 21st century, on TV and radio (and now with a useful website too)!]

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