Thursday, September 17, 2015

On wasted opportunities

Before the first federal leaders' debate, I wrote about the factors worth watching for which we might not otherwise get to evaluate during the course of a campaign. But unfortunately, we didn't get much chance at all meaningfully test the party leaders' judgment due to some poor choices in the presentation of the Globe and Mail's debate tonight.

Again, I'd expect a debate to push candidates beyond their talking points, with both the moderator and the competing candidates contributing to that effort. But that only happens if the debate includes a few key elements: questions which ask for more than repetition of a party's platform, and a moderator who both effectively manages the debate between candidates, and pushes back against talking points offered in lieu of a direct answer.

Unfortunately, those elements were sorely lacking tonight. David Walmsley's questions were either painfully open-ended such as to allow the leaders to recite their stump speeches, or aimed at trying to force leaders to reveal their platforms rather than actually serving the purpose of encouraging substantive debate. And Walmsley's direct follow-ups and interventions in the free discussion periods did little to move any conversation forward - meaning there was even less content beyond canned lines and leaders talking over each other than we'd usually see. 

The end result figures to be little impact on the campaign, since each of the leaders was mostly able to stick with his preferred style and message track and land some scripted lines with little interference. But it also means a missed opportunity for voters who should reasonably have expected more - and hopefully we'll see more effort to better manage the debates to come.

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