With Saskatchewan NDP's leadership candidates figuring to be thoroughly familiar with each other and the party's debate format, one might have expected little new to emerge from the Battlefords leadership debate. But instead, it offered some novel subject matter for the candidates to discuss - and the candidates' reactions to new (or even differently-worded) questions still look to have plenty to tell us as the voting window approaches.
So what was new compared to previous debates? To start with, the audience questions took a couple of turns not seen in previous debates - with varying results.
An early question asking candidates to explain public-private partnerships and assess the P3 development of a new mental health facility was met with strong responses all around. And a later offering about the federal democratic deficit let each of the candidates focus on a particular area of strength: Trent Wotherspoon was able to champion open government and proper accounting transparency, Ryan Meili to focus in on the need for democracy to be reflected in institutions as well as a single leader's philosophy, Cam Broten to discuss the legislative process in detail and Erin Weir to pitch his proposal to eliminate corporate and union contributions to parties.
But a query about genetically-modified organisms gave rise to two distinct sets of responses: Meili and Weir both presented detailed discussions about the possible merits and pitfalls of GMOs, while Broten and Wotherspoon largely demurred on the basis that they weren't particularly familiar with the details of the issue. And that contrast was particularly stark in light of the second round of candidate questions, where Broten challenged Meili on his willingness to talk beyond a script, only to be met with an effective defence of the value of being open to discussing new and creative ideas.
Meili didn't fare as well responding to a more detailed set of questions from Weir about his plan to facilitate crowd-funding of investments. But he wasn't alone in providing at least one less-than-thorough answer: Broten avoided Weir's question as to whether favourable small-business tax treatment should be available to professional corporations, while Broten's question to Wotherspoon about party-building was also met with few specifics (even though Broten has asked similar questions before).
Finally, the most significant development may have been Meili's second round of questions, where he called out Broten's campaign based on concerns about personal attacks by volunteer callers. In effect, Meili seems to have concluded (and not without justification) that the best way to counter whisper campaigns is to bring them out into the open - and I'll be curious to see whether the campaigns take note of Broten's disavowal of the practice.