Sunday, February 10, 2013

#skndpldr - Regina Debate II Notes

Since I was one of many who attended yesterday's leadership debate in person, I won't wait for the video to be posted before discussing it. (For some of the play-by-play, see live-tweeting from SKYoungNewDemocrats in particular, as well as a bevy of others using the #skndpldr hashtag.)

All four candidates' presentations were around the upper end of the range established in previous debates. That makes for a rather impressive result given that the candidates had already participated in a forum in Saskatoon yesterday morning, but it also means the debate wasn't likely to change minds among voters who have been watching the campaign so far.

For Cam Broten, yesterday's showdown was one of his best in quite some time (at least out of the ones I've seen). But he had some help on that front thanks to two of his fellow candidates.

Both Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon used their first round of questioning to challenge Broten about issues which had caused him trouble in previous debates (Meili discussing his previous involvement in social movements, Wotherspoon his position on the Sask Party's corporate tax cuts). But in both cases, Broten was more than ready to answer a question he'd heard before - which seems to have been a fairly regular pattern throughout the leadership debates. And Wotherspoon in particular was left to merely thank Broten for the clarification as his follow-up question.

That said, if Broten showed that he won't be stumped by the same question twice, Meili's strongest moment involved a thorough response to a question which came out of the blue. I don't recall much (if any) discussion in the previous debates along the lines of Weir's question as to whether to pursue large-scale hydroelectric power in order to phase out coal generation - but Meili was able to neatly weigh the conflicting considerations involved in hydro, and then conclude that our options aren't limited to the either-or choice suggested by Weir.

As for Weir, he offered his typical mix of well-timed jokes and incisive challenges to his competitors - with his questions to Wotherspoon about small business taxes serving to particularly highlight his own strengths. But Weir did take some time to circle around to a response to a fairly simple personal question from Broten (as to what advice he'd give potential candidates based on his own experience in 2004), signalling that he's still not as comfortable taking an opportunity to build personal connections to the audience as he is discussing policy.

Finally, Wotherspoon moved well past his first set of talking points on most of the issues discussed, regularly identifying the elements of a question which hadn't yet been answered and adding substantive discussion to the mix. And he offered strong responses both to Broten's familiar question about party structures, and to Meili in ruling out uranium refining in the province (while explaining his continued support for mining). But his closing remarks did leave some room for improvement: Broten's preceding speech covered a substantial number of virtually identical messages, and Wotherspoon didn't change gears or at least comment on the similar themes to distinguish himself.

Again, the main takeaway looks to be that all of the Saskatchewan NDP leadership contenders have developed into stronger candidates as the campaign has progressed. And we'll know before long who came away convinced by what they saw - as well as who's left to be persuaded.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

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