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The winner? The public, maybe, for a change

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

There are a couple of dubious polls out this morning, one declaring Stephane Dion the winner of last night’s French-language leaders debate and the other saying that he trailed slightly behind Gilles Duceppe. The methodology in both cases is very questionable, and we know from experience anyway that the real impact of debates on campaigns, when they have an impact, is felt only after they have been digested by the media and the public for a few days.

That having been said, let’s have a little hurrah for the format of the debate, which had the leaders seated around a table instead of standing at lecterns, and answering a mix of questions from the journalist-host and members of the public.

It created a more decorous atmosphere and a more dignified debate than we have seen in the past.

It allowed for genuine interaction among the leaders and — most of the time — they didn’t talk over one another.

It allowed the leaders enough time to explain their positions. Dion even got his new economic platform out in point form.

It allowed us to assess them as human beings under pressure. The viewer’s question, which would have seemed forced coming from a journalist, asking them each to say something nice about the leader to their left (at the table, not on the political spectrum) added a little humanity and humour to the debate. Elizabeth May seemed to have the hardest time coming up with something nice to say about Harper (he’s a good family man.) I expected Dion’s task to be toughest — saying something nice about Duceppe; what was fun was watching Duceppe cringe as he was praised by his arch-federalist foe.

And it allowed the leaders to draw the contrasts among themselves, which is not necessarily negative campaigning — it is what we need to make a choice as voters.

Call me an old softy. But at the end, I couldn’t help but think that we are lucky to have a choice among five such estimable people. (Ouch!— that hurt.)

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.