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(Published in the Abbotsford News week of May  2, 2005)

Carr “wins” Great Debate Yawn-fest

John Pifer

One has to wonder if the reason this year’s leaders’ debate for the BC election was trimmed back to 60 minutes from 90 minutes in 2001 was because someone realized that insomnia apparently COULD be cured in just an hour.

It is unlikely that Tuesday evening’s snoozefest changed too many minds among voters, as there were no knockout punches, and perhaps only one or two mild body blows.

The biggest winners were the viewers, at least in numbers, as it was carried on six TV stations province-wide simultaneously. The changed format even allowed for some direct exchanges among the leaders, making it perhaps just a tad livelier than in previous elections.

Although there were no real zingers, the overall impression was that Green Party leader Adriane Carr was the best of the trio on the night, and the most likely to gain a bit more support because of it. She showed that the Green Party had more to offer than simply a strong environmental protection platform.

As for the issues, it was a matter of rounding up the usual topics, with no surprises generated in the questions from the politically correct panel of TV reporters, whether it was the economy, health, education, crime or the environment. These debates are never about content, anyway, they’re all about image.

The most telling exchanges on the night, from this observer watching from the CB-TV studio next door related to leadership. It was somewhat surreal to watch NDP leader Carole James (17 months in the post) hectoring and lecturing Premier Gordon Campbell (12 years as BC Liberal leader, four as Premier). She kept accusing the Premier of finger-pointing and avoiding the issues, whilst pointing fingers at everything Campbell, and avoiding spelling out much of a vision for BC’s future. Ms. James may have considered that her attack-and-interrupt strategy was shrewd. The truth is the result made it seem as though she left off the ‘d’.

Mr. Campbell’s decision not to rise to the bait from the James’ pit-bull approach (which came across more as a yappy little spaniel) may have hurt him slightly, but not severely. His decision to be civil -- a “gentleman” in the old sense of the word -- will sit well with the party faithful; while his detractors will view it as defensive weaseling.

Ms. James seemed the most uncomfortable in front of the cameras, at times smiling at the most inappropriate moments, while Mr. Campbell only looked particularly peeved at her tactics once or twice. His overall demeanor was one of someone who really would have preferred to be somewhere else. For her part, Ms. Carr actually appeared to be listening before giving her response, and may well have won over some fence-sitting supporters from both sides.

All in all, what importance or impact was the whole TV experience in the great scheme of things in this tepid election campaign, you ask?

Not a lot.

Veteran B.C. journalist/broadcaster John Pifer may be reached at


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