Monday, February 18, 2013

#skndpldr - Yorkton Debate Notes

While I've tried to stay as current as possible in discussing the Saskatchewan NDP leadership debates, there have been some limitations in my ability to do so based on both the party's capacity to upload past debates, and my own time in reviewing them. As a result, I'm still working on getting caught up on previous debates - and a few of the choices made by Saskatchewan's NDP leadership candidates later on make a lot more sense in light of the Yorkton debate:

Again, in discussing the Regina debate I was surprised to think anybody might have expected Cam Broten to stumble on issues he'd already heard before. But the above answers the question as to how that might have seemed possible.

Broten faced questions and follow-ups from both Erin Weir and Trent Wotherspoon about his position on the Sask Party's corporate tax slashing - answering both by refusing to say what he'd do with corporate taxes other than include them within a larger review. And this despite both competitors taking the opportunity to explain the problems in principle with indiscriminate rate slashing: Weir by contrasting across-the-board cuts against targeted incentives, and Wotherspoon by mentioning how the cuts serve to transfer wealth out of Saskatchewan.

Now, it's true that others read that sequence of questions and answers rather differently. But the fact that Broten changed his tune for the Regina debate seems to signal that he recognized some vulnerability in choosing this as a rare issue where he'd give the Sask Party's policy choices the benefit of any doubt.

Meanwhile, Broten's efforts to go on the offensive in Yorkton didn't go much better. In particular, his follow-up question to Wotherspoon about the importance of experience in the legislature served as an obvious fork in the road within the campaign: any agreement from Wotherspoon with the position that experience as an elected official should be considered a must might have created a clear split between the MLA and non-MLA candidates.

But Wotherspoon didn't take the bait: instead, he discussed the value of his own experience while making absolutely clear that voters shouldn't exclude candidates outside the legislature merely because they aren't elected officials. And the effect was to weaken one of Broten's key messages, as even the other candidate who could have been assisted by his line of argument declined to resort to it.

That said, Broten achieved at least a draw in the most important exchange of questions. Broten first questioned Ryan Meili about his plans in working with caucus - leading to the expected answer that Meili would look forward to treating the leadership candidates as a team. And that left Broten in an ideal position to answer Meili's subsequent query about fund-raising by noting that he'd be happy to incorporate Meili's successful strategies from the leadership campaign.

Otherwise, the main theme within the Yorkton debate was a massive amount of strategic agreement. Weir started the trend by answering a question about bullying with an approving reference to Wotherspoon's platform, and plenty more issues saw similar efforts to point to other candidates' platforms and messages (including Weir and Broten raising the social determinants of health, Wotherspoon volunteering a reference to SaskPharm in response to a Meili question which didn't actually mention it, and Wotherspoon noting how he adopted Weir's plan for the Bessie Ellis fund).

That may be explained by the fact the Yorkton debate came immediately after the membership cutoff, reminding candidates of the need to cultivate down-ballot support. Or it may have reflected an effort to beat fellow candidates to the punch, taking some of the power out of familiar messages by making sure the audience wouldn't see them as anything new. But either way, it made for an interesting (if short-lived) change from the usual focus on drawing contrasts and sticking to one's own message and platform.


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