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Debate 2020: Who gets a cookie?

BC’s three major party leaders faced off last night – what happened?
Yes, it’s a stock photo. I tried.

After weeks of hand-wringing about subjecting British Columbians to – gasp – the horror of live election debate, the single biggest takeaway is that BC has no Donald Trump.

A few quick thoughts.

  • Like literally everyone else, I thought Shachi Kurl did a fine job moderating the debate. Not only eons better (that’s right, eons) than Chris Wallace haplessly trying to wrangle Trump, but even an improvement on the revolving moderators in the last federal election debate. Firm, authoritative, and never seemed to want or need to be the star of the show.
  • That said, I didn’t love the format. Right off the top, the debate led with two straight questions to BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, with no responses or reaction of any kind from the other two. Yes, it probably limited interruptions and crosstalk, but in a three-person debate, it’s odd to not hear from one participant for long stretches.
  • The stakes were clear in the first few minutes, as John Horgan and Wilkinson both seemed nervous off the top. They both found their feet in fairly short order.
  • I’ve reached the fourth point, and haven’t summarily declared a winner, in direct contravention of the Secret Media Code. Here’s the thing: not all fights have winners. There was no knockout.
  • That said, Sonia Furstenau had the best overall performance. It wasn’t perfect; she didn’t pounce quite as decisively as she maybe could have on the reason they were all there in the first place. But on the whole, she was steady, thoughtful, and seemed authentic.
  • Okay, so nobody won – but did anyone lose? They are two different things. Again, not really. Trailing in the polls, Andrew Wilkinson probably most needed a “win,” and while he performed well, again, there were no knockouts, and the format didn’t provide a lot of windows for one. John Horgan probably had the single worst answer, on the question of white privilege. (To those just about to accuse me of being unfair…he was the only candidate who had to tweet a retraction immediately after the fact.) Will he take a big political hit for it? Probably not.
  • Who will be happy? Each leader is facing a different situation. Furstenau can’t admit it, but she and her party are in survival mode. Caught off guard by the snap election – and just a week into her leading the party – the party wasn’t able to recruit a full slate of candidates. The Greens won three seats in 2017, enter this election with two, and would probably be relieved just to keep them. Her strong performance can only have helped.Andrew Wilkinson isn’t in survival mode – yet – but making a play for government and trying to catch up in the polls. After a strong first week, his campaign has stumbled more than once, and hasn’t been able to do much but dent the NDP’s lead. I don’t know that tonight won or lost him many votes.For the first time ever, John Horgan entered a debate as the incumbent, playing defence to protect a lead. And despite some Achilles heels – not least having this election in the first place – he didn’t suffer any mortal wounds. And while he probably hated not having the chance to push Wilkinson more on Jane Thornthwaite or Laurie Throness, he was perhaps even more fortunate not to hear the name “Annita McPhee.” His worst case scenario would have been losing his temper at Sonia Furstenau, and that simply didn’t happen.
  • The real winner, of course, was post-debate cookies.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca