Tuesday, May 03, 2005

No big winner, but good night for James

VICTORIA - Here's the debate in a three paragraphs.
Gordon Campbell didn't do well, but he didn't do terribly, which is generally the goal for the front-runner. Nobody who watched the debate would have left saying 'wow, I feel a lot better about that guy.' Nobody would have been plunged into horror at some newly revealed weakness.
Carole James did well, though not enough to make any huge changes in the party's fortunes. There wasn't the Gordon Wilson-Brian Mulroney kind of defining moment that would transform the campaign.
And B.C.'s regions should be steamed at how little attention was given to any issues that matter to them. Forestry never even came up, except in terms of a brief reference to raw log exports. Nothing on mining, or regional economic development, or of ways to provide better services outside the Lower Mainland.
My reaction to the debate doesn't much matter. (For one thing, I'm taking notes, which means I'm not watching the way a typical voter would, and miss some of the gestures and expressions.)
More importantly, the target audience for all three parties is really swing voters, people who will probably vote but are not yet committed to a party.
The pitches were about what you would expect.
James tried to raise questions about weak areas of the Liberals' record. The debate's six topics included health care and education. In both cases James was effective in raising doubts about the Liberals' performance, raising the broken long-term care promise and rising waiting lists, and cuts to school services.
She reminded people of the Liberals' broken promises, on gambling and long-term care beds and BC Rail. (Campbell strangely tried to maintain, again, that BC Rail hadn't been sold.) And she promised balanced budgets and no new taxes.
It was a good effort. James had the most to gain in the debate, as many British Columbians have yet to form an opinion of her leadership, according to polls. The latest Ipsos-Reid poll indicates that James and the NDP gained approval durin the first days of the campaign, while the Liberals slide. It points to an opportunity.
It wasn't a great performance from Campbell, who seemed the most stiff and nervous of the three. But it wasn't bad, and he met the main goal of the Liberal campaign by avoiding any mistakes that would help the NDP.
The Liberals have been running a cautious, guarded campaign, protecting their lead in the polls. Campbell kept on that track Tuesday.
He did challenge James effectively on her promise to restore the right to strike to teachers. And Campbell raised the NDP's record in the '90s. "British Columbia went from being the best economy in the country to the worst," he said.
Still, Campbell didn't do much to advance the party's cause. James did.
Green Party leader Adriane Carr can probably count it as an adequate night. The Greens' objective is to get Carr elected in Powell River-Sunshine Coast. She stressed the importance of having an alternative to the "old parties" of vested interests, and made point of linking the NDP and the Liberals in her criticisms. Carr didn't score any big wins, but she probably helped her personal campaign.
The debate's impact will be carefully measured by the parties' pollsters over the next 24 hours. My guess is that there will be enough of a shift to alter the last two weeks of the campaign.
James took a major step Tuesday, campaigning to form the next government, not just a strong opposition. Campbell raised the possibility of an NDP government as well, in a cautionary way.
The Liberals were on their way to a comfortable majority, with perhaps 50 of the 79 seats. But if the polls show the debate produced even a small shift in party support, the race will be much closer.
And both New Democrats and Liberals will be looking at changing their approaches to the final days of this campaign.
Footnote: The debate format worked well, and all three leaders deserve full marks for allowing the others to speak, generally without interruption. The debate was courteous, and not unreasonably negative. Voters would likely welcome more of the same - especially the debate on regional issues proposed by James.


Anonymous said...

I was quite impressed how generally polite the three leaders were to each other, even though quite pointed remarks were being made.

It actually puts the federal leaders in the last campaign to shame.

People say BC politics is a blood-sport, but I don't think that was on display tonight. I wonder if this is something new, or if James and Campbell are just trying to moderate their image to win over the swing voters. I hope it continues beyond this campaign.

Anonymous said...

What surprised me most was Campbell's bad makeup. I thought his handlers were more TV savvy than that. Poor makeup under lights like those and it's not very hard to come off looking rather flat and fishbelly white. All he seemed to be wearing was great smears of a wrong coloured blush that made him look like a flushed drinker.

James and Carr on the other hand were very well made up for the camera.

Campbell also came off as having a bit of a pleading air. Eyebrows up to the hairline, looking straight into the camera with your head thrust forward...like as not it was an attempt to come across as earnest but it comes over the screen as pleading. Not a good tone.

Overall it was a good event for James. Depending on how many actually watched it the debate should do her some good.

Can-West Global/CKNW are so deeply in the Liberals pocket that those who didn't watch it and who rely on the media to tell them about it will find out that it was a tie or maybe that Carr came off better than expected.

The truth is that Campbell was awful: defensive and extremely uncomfortable with direct confrontation, which goes a long way to helping explain his ungracious refusal to grant official opposition status to the NDP. The number of his, let us say, historical distortions, was left largely unchallenged by all and sundry in this format. Which I suspect he was counting on.

Carr was better than she was last time though she still tends to stumble over ex tempore verbal construction. Her larger problem is the Green identity crisis. They can't seem to make up their mind whether they're small "l" libertarian, small "s" social democrat or small "c" capitalist. No one knows.

James showed me something I didn't know she possesses. She's a lot more tough minded and focused than I had thought. Her initial election to the leadership I thought had been another instance of an NDP going with "the nice lady" as the alternative of least resistance. They've done it so often before. I was wrong. She's neither Alexa nor Audrey.

I think James won me over.

13 days left.

Anonymous said...

i agree gordo needs a new wardrobe/ makeup artist. he looked like a tammy faye baker wannabe in one of chris tucker's suits. my overall impression was of a deer in the headlights.

james impressed me. she was poised, informed, and tried to keep campbell on topic.

carr was good as well. i hope she wins her seat. the green party deserves to be heard.

without his protective bubble, gord looked bad. he gave vague and general answers, carefully avoiding specifics, whenever possible.

he admitted afterward his goal was to be polite, and listen. this was certainly a challenge, as this is not in his nature.

as to liberal promises, a famous juror once said something like 'the most likely indication of future behavior, is past behavior.

anyone who believes gordon campbell should not be surprised when his promises do not come true.

Anonymous said...

.. Yes, Campbell was definitely a deer in the headlights! I kept thinking he looked just like one of those unflattering cartoons of him that you see in the papers.

He's clearly very uncomfortable with debate or being held to account by anyone