Wednesday, June 4, 2014

When everybody expects a leader to be very bad, but ends up just being sort of bad, I guess that means he wins the debate...

I've had 24 hours now to digest what I saw during yesterday's Ontario leaders' debate, as well as the knee jerk analysis last night and today's commentary and reactions.  

I watched last night with my politically-inclined Brazilian boyfriend, whose knowledge of Ontario politics and the three leaders is less long-term than mine.   So it was interesting to get his initial reaction to all three leaders.   He liked Kathleen Wynne (but what fabulous gay man wouldn't), he also had positive things to say about Andrea Horwath, which was interesting.  But he couldn't stand Tim Hudak, whom he described as completely phoney and overly rehearsed, never reacting spontaneously to what the other leaders said, only offering canned and clearly well-practised lines.  

Such is the depth of Tim Hudak's talent, which we've known for quite some time is fairly shallow. Considering the low opinions most of the commentariat had of him, it's not surprising perhaps that when Hudak turns in a better-than-mediocre performance, they all declare him the big winner.

Former war room managers with personal axes to grind or those with supreme pro-Tory biases loved Hudak's performance of course, had sweet things to say about Horwath and declared Kathleen Wynne a complete failure. 

But of course, all of these folks are pretty much wrong.  Even Tory pollster Ipsos Reid could only muster numbers showing the viewing public was fairly evenly split between the three leaders as to who "won" the debate, with Hudak at 36%, Wynne at 27% and Horwath at 26%.   Forum Research also did a quick poll which put Hudak at 33%, Wynne at 28% and Horwath at 20%.

No one ran away with it.  All of them performed well.  But none of it is going to change current trends in this election much at all.  If you liked Wynne before the debate, you probably liked her after it.  If you liked Hudak and his plans before the debate, you probably still do after the debate.   If you were already disenchanted with Horwath's turn to the centre, there was probably little she said last night to bring you back into the NDP fold. 

I enjoyed the debate.  Overall, I thought Wynne was great but I'm biased.  She did have a rough start which is bad luck.  Nerves probably got the better of her as she had to take on the gas plant issue off the top thanks to a voter's question.   She's given much better answers before on that issue than during that segment.   

But one thing she did do very right in that encounter was admit the government's mistake:  

“The decisions around the relocation of the gas plants that were made were wrong,” said Wynne. “I’ve apologized, I’ve taken responsibility.”

I would've preferred her to have more time to explain how she handled the scandal differently than her predecessor and why this kind of mistake would not be repeated in the future under her watch.  

But there is something to be said for the public hearing her say "I'm sorry, it was wrong."  Such honesty is rare in political debates.  I would say it's essential for public forgiveness for something that can't really be defended.  Wynne accomplished that last night with her widest audience yet.  

After the initial tough start, Wynne recovered nicely throughout the rest of the debate.  Any weaknesses in last night's messaging were reflective of general weaknesses of the Liberal campaign.  I still don't think Wynne's narrative and ballot question is as clear as it could be.   For that reason, I'm still uncertain if they're going to get enough support to win a majority.

The Wynne Liberals have succeeded thus far in positioning themselves as the main alternative to the Hudak Tories.  They've lucked out as well as Hudak has presented such a polarizing and incompetent plan in this campaign that's not winning him many new fans.  Furthermore, Horwath has moved to the centre and angered many progressives, particularly in Toronto where 3 or 4 NDP seats are now under real threat of falling to the Grits.

Will Hudak get a boost from last night?  Maybe a point or two.  Certainly Ipsos Reid will come out with a new poll soon that shows Hudak set to sweep the province based solely on voters it identifies as certain to vote.  Such talk of Hudak still doing well will only help Wynne's cause as progressives will get even more spooked and decide to swing behind Wynne.

It's going to be quite an interesting 7 days until June 12th. 

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