Thursday, October 15, 2020

#skdebate Notes

 For those who weren't able to watch Saskatchewan's leadership debate last night, it's well worth a look:

Many viewers seem to have been surprised by Ryan Meili's effectiveness. And he certainly moved past what I'd seen in the NDP's leadership campaigns in terms of managing the debate environment, making full use of the opportunity to talk directly to viewers while also challenging Scott Moe calmly but effectively.

But neither Meili's command of policy, nor his ability to tie it into personal experiences and messages, should have come as news to observers who have paid attention to his path to the NDP's leadership.

If anything, the most important room for improvement lay in his occasionally looking to hit a checklist of messages, rather than responding directly to questions which already lent themselves to effective answers. But that mostly served to rearrange the issues, rather than resulting in his missing any of the points which needed to be made. 

In sum, for those of us who have long wanted to see Meili have the opportunity to lead the NDP into an election, this was exactly why. And it will absolutely be to the NDP's benefit if an electorate which claims to want to vote based on the policy visions of the two parties makes its call based on the one opportunity to have them compared and tested directly.

As for Scott Moe, he appeared to have two basic strategies. The first was to try to filibuster his way through most of the open debate segments, talking loudly over Meili (and anybody else who might try to intervene) in order to prevent most points from landing as strongly as they would have otherwise. 

Of course, in that process Moe wasn't as boorish as Donald Trump. And that led to far too many commentators giving him undeserved credit.

The other noteworthy plan underlying Moe's performance was the introduction of a made-up, untestable new claim in the middle of the debate about uncosted elements of the NDP's platform - featuring a loud headline number, but not so much as an example to allow for a meaningful response.

Now, I'd think we should expect a leadership debate to operate based on shared facts to the extent possible - which would generally mean not making wild new claims in the middle of proceedings, especially if that means trying to force another leader to disprove them while being unable to even view the source (which was of course the most biased one conceivable).

But sadly, at least some reports fully bought into the ruse, treating the number as as a primary takeaway from the debate and the NDP's quick rebuttal as merely "claimed". 

Unfortunately, the media's reaction to Moe's antics signals its continued small-c conservatism - treating the Sask Party as the in-group which is protected but not bound by principles of fair play and civility, and the NDP as the out-group which is bound but not protected. 

Aside from his distraction tactics, Moe was woefully unprepared to deal with many of the questions that were raised. In particular, faced with questions which were supported by well-known details as to current conditions - including students' backsliding while in quarantine, Saskatchewan's shameful rates of suicide and violence against Indigenous women - his answer was to smugly demand credit for what hasn't worked, rather than offering any indication he's open to finding out what would.

The end result was a debate where the main question was whether Meili's victory will matter. But the answer to that will have to come from the voters who watched the debate, and the analysis which flows from it. And last night should serve as a fairly compelling indication that the people who have been so dismissive of Meili take that stance at their own peril.

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