5 memorable moments from the televised B.C. leaders' debate

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      This morning, the Vancouver Sun is reporting that B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan won last night's televised leaders' debates, but only by a small margin.

      According to a Postmedia-financed snapshot by Mainstreet Research, Horgan was favoured by 33 percent, whereas B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver was rated best by 29 percent, and the B.C Liberals' Christy Clark was the winner in the minds of 28 percent of respondents.

      Meanwhile, Global B.C.'s Keith Baldrey, the Globe and Mail's Gary Mason, and the Vancouver Sun's Vaughn Palmer have given high marks to Weaver for hammering Horgan for accepting large union donations. The Province's Mike Smyth concluded that there was no clear winner, though he too highlighted the union donations.

      Once upon a time, long before there were bloggers and independent websites—or even the Internet itself—the views of the Victoria press gallery would help form a consensus for the entire province. But nowadays, they are just part of a far broader cacophony of voices.

      Besides, who won the debate is really a moot point.

      If you're a New Democrat, you were likely thrilled to see Horgan ask Clark if she's going to apologize for the B.C. Liberal government's illegal actions, which deprived a generation of students of adequate educational funding.

      If you're a B.C. Liberal, you probably think Clark won with her polished responses on the economy that reflected her years of work in the media, as well as her retort that B.C. students fare extremely well in international tests of reading, science, and mathematics.

      If you're someone who's preternaturally suspicious of unions, you're going to be enchanted by Weaver's attempts to portray Horgan as being in the back pocket of the United Steelworkers of America.

      Weaver had the ideal position in the debate. In the middle of the stage, he could take on both Christy Clark and John Horgan in a way that made these battles seem more pitched, and hence more likely to get repeated on subsequent TV newscasts.

      But what really matters is how the parties market their leaders' debate performances. We'll see how that rolls out in the coming days. 

      Here, the B.C. Greens are at a distinct disadvantage due to their candidates' inexperience and lack of financial resources to get their message out.

      The greatest marketing of a debate performance occurred in 2013 when the B.C. Liberals bought a cover wrap in 24 hours declaring that Clark was the "comeback kid". The morning-after poll declared that her opponent, the NDP's Adrian Dix, had won the debate.

      But that didn't stop the ruling party from baldly declaring that Clark was the real winner, and then persuading low-information (i.e. ignorant) voters that that this was true.

      It gave the B.C. Liberals a jolt of adrenaline, mobilized party workers, and caused some very rich people to donate more money to help Clark win a majority of seats in the legislature.

      Watch the video of the entire debate.

      Memorable moments from the debate

      Now, I'll move on to my five highlights from last night's event:

      1. My most memorable moment came when Horgan demanded that Clark apologize for education cutbacks that harmed a generation of students. He also demolished her glib answer that her government is working with the B.C. Teachers' Federation to hire thousands of educators. Horgan rightly pointed out that this was a court-ordered decision. When Clark cleverly sidesteps a question and lands a blow on her opponent, you can sometimes spot a faintly smug smirk flash across her face. In this instance, Horgan ripped the mask off and revealed the truth. Clark came across as a duplicitous dissembler.

      2. Weaver impressed me with his consistently sensible policy prescriptions, whether the topic was road tolls, addressing the fentanyl crisis, or the need to control fossil-fuel emissions. His answers sometimes revealed how opportunistic his opponents have been in pursuit of votes. Clark's claim that some issues, such as fentanyl deaths, are beyond politics was patently absurd, given that her refusal to call for the legalization of hard drugs is an inherently political decision, as was the B.C. Liberal government's refusal to take the Stephen Harper government to court for making it virtually impossible to create more supervised-injection sites.

      3. Clark effectively highlighted how Horgan is beholden to the unions when she not only pointed out the magnitude of United Steelworkers of America donations, but also when she linked the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union's $100,000 contribution to Horgan's promise to sell recreational marijuana in liquor stores. Horgan's decision contradicts not only the federal task force that advised the government, but also the actions of U.S. states that have legalized marijuana and the views of his candidate in Vancouver-Fraserview. If elected, the B.C. NDP appears ready to slam the door on hard-working activists and entrepreneurs, including Jodie and Marc Emery, who've taken enormous risks and paid a high price to try to end the scourge of marijuana prohibition. If recreational marijuana sales are restricted to liquor stores, it's going to cause no end of social unrest and additional costs to the courts and police forces as they grapple with the inevitable backlash from the cannabis community. I wish Clark pressed Horgan harder on this point but I was glad that she at least raised the issue. 

      4. Weaver demolished Clark's relentless promotion of liquefied natural gas as an economic panacea. He did this in a very visceral way by pointing out that British Columbians had made huge investments buying homes and building hotels in northwest B.C. because they had been misled by the premier about this industry's potential. All she could do was smile and claim that "Dr. Weaver" wasn't interested in people being employed. The response might appeal to low-information voters, but these aren't the types who would be sitting through a 90-minute televised leaders' debate.

      5. Horgan showed genuine heart when he talked about forestry being a "foundational industry" in B.C. He's worked in a mill. He's represented constituents who've lost their jobs because of the B.C. Liberal government's refusal to ban the export of raw logs. I came away with the sense that he really cares about forestry workers, he has B.C. in his blood (unlike Justin Trudeau), and he will fight hard for employees and not just the timber bosses in the softwood lumber battle with the U.S. However, it's worth noting that Weaver was the only one to suggest that B.C. needs tenure reform because the current licensing approach rewards huge forest companies. If Weaver continues with this line and offers more elaboration, you can be sure that U.S. lumber lobbyists will be saving up these quotes to present before any tribunals that will issue rulings on the U.S. countervailing duty. For her part, Clark did a good job sowing doubts about Horgan's links to the United Steelworkers of America, which represents B.C. forest workers and whose international president—Canadian Leo Gerard—was at Donald Trump's side when the president ripped into Canadian forest subsidies.