I confess up front I didn’t watch last week’s CBC leaders’ debate. There was a book launch — mine — at the same time and, well, you have to have your priorities.
To make matters worse for a political columnist, I must also acknowledge I didn’t watch the full online, blow-by-blow, health-care-by-power-rates replay of the 90-minute show.
By the time I could have done so, I already knew from other unimpeachable sources — those who came late to my book launch so they could watch — there were no revelatory moments, no election game changers. There was no tub-thumping, finger-pointing Brian Mulroney declaring you-had-a-choice-sir to a deflating-before-our-eyes John Turner, no excruciating seven-and-a-half seconds of screaming silence from Nova Scotia’s soon-to-be-reduced-to-a-minority-and-then-blown-out-of-the-water Liberal premier Russell MacLellan.
Last week’s televised debate instead was — as pundits and my political junkie friends informed my perceptions of that which I didn’t see — simply “interesting.”
Liberal leader and premier-in-waiting Stephen McNeil did less well than expected, which was to be expected. Anointed front runners — much more than their mere mortal rivals — must do and say nothing that might surprise, so they say nothing of consequence. McNeil did.
NDP leader and premier presumed-to-be-on-his-farewell-tour Darrell Dexter did better than expected, which was also expected. With poll numbers seemingly stuck below the threshold where his party can win, Dexter had to up his game. Experienced, smart politician that he is, he did.
Conservative leader Jamie Baillie came the closest to a debate surprise, which also wasn’t much of surprise. The expectations for also-rans are low and Baillie, by all accounts, more than exceeded them.
Which brings us to the interesting question. What, if anything did the debate — and the one tonight, which I will watch — do to shift electoral sands.
Which brings us back to Baillie. If the pundits are right and Baillie’s stock has risen as a result of his debate performance, might some disaffected traditional rural Tory voters — who went NDP last election and are now leaning Liberal — reconsider. Given the closeness of so many contests, even a slight realignment in the vote splits could dramatically alter the constituency calculus. If that happens, well, anything could happen.
Take it from me. I wasn’t there.
If you’d like to actually see the debate for yourself, you can do so here.