15 September 2015

Putting the questions about the debate #nlpoli

The Liberals have decided to skip the provincial leaders debate sponsored by VOCM and the St. John’s Board of Trade.

The reason, according to Liberal leader Dwight Ball is that there is only so much time available, so the party has decided to go with the two television debates that will offer province-wide coverage.

Here are some questions that are begging for an answer…

1.  How come the three electronic media are doing their own debates this year rather than co-operate on one?  In the past we’ve had one debate.  This year we have three different ones, plus all the other organizations across the province. 

How come three media debates? 

In light of the recent trends in the local media outlets,  it’s hard not to imagine some people think this will make it look better for each of them individually.  Anthony,  David, and Peter  or Debbie,  Chris and David will not produce a dramatically different set of questions than Lynn, Mike, and Glen are going to produce.

Maybe debates will be the space filler for the local media that opinion polls were the last time.  In lieu of substantive reporting, they’ll just do a debate each.  That will give them lead up stories,  debate day stories, the debate, and then all the post debate “analysis.“  It’s a damn-sight easier to churn out filler than it is to actually cover the election.

2.  Did the electronic folks consider mixing it up a bit?  There’s no law that says you must have the leaders debate and only the leaders.  Maybe we should have the parties cough up another character, like say the finance critics, to spend an evening debating key financial questions.  Put the health critics together to discuss health care.  There are plenty of ways to make this work.

3. If TV was a big deal, would the Liberals come along if Rogers or Bell broadcast the VOBOT  debate?

4.  Did any of the debate organizers for NTV, VOCM, or CBC consider holding their debate before the official campaign period?  Each debate takes a couple of days out of each leader’s schedule.  At that rate,  three debates would eat up one third of the very short 21 day official campaign.  If we are going to have several debates in the future,  either the campaign will have to get longer or the debates will have to start before the official campaign period starts.

5.  How come the Telegram isn’t organizing a debate?

6.  Why did Dwight Ball do the interview with Fred Hutton at VOCM?  Debate negotiations fall under the heading of stuff the campaign team manages.  When the Liberals decided to skip the VO debate, the person to talk about it was the party president, the campaign co-chair or someone like that. 

Ball should be talking about the bright future under a Liberal government.  Other people should be handling the mundane stuff.

Monday’s interview makes Dwight Ball wear the issue personally, it makes it easy for his opponents to tar Dwight personally with the stigma of refusing to debate.  It goes from being a matter of campaign logistics and strategy into one of policy and Dwight Ball’s personal attitudes.

Ball’s interview also raises a question of campaign management.  Since the Liberals knew this issue was coming, they had a chance to defuse it.  Putting Ball out front on this actually helps keep the story alive for a few days. What the Liberals did is the opposite of what you’d do to make the story go away.  Curious choice.

7.  Why did Dwight throw Dornan under the bus?  For some reason Robert Dornan spoke to Fred Hutton about the debate.  According to Hutton,  Dornan advised him that the Liberals wouldn’t even consider the VOBOT debate unless they relocated it to Labrador.

That actually sounds like the kind of thing that happens during debate negotiations.  You can actually imagine all sorts of conversations, including the advice that VO needed to do something to make it easier for the Liberals to participate.  maybe that included relocating the debate to the part of the province Ball would be in that week.  Maybe it was just to make the debate a bit different from the others.  Who knows?

But whatever Dornan was actually up to with Hutton,  Dwight Ball’s response – Dornan wasn’t authorised by anyone to do anything  – makes it sound like Dornan was a rogue agent of some kind.  While your humble e-scribbler has no idea what actually went on,  there’s a whole lot about that part of the debate saga as VO reported it that just sounds more than a little hard to believe.

Ball’s comment suggests some problems inside the campaign at the highest levels.  That makes the story even more interesting and – to follow the point from earlier – helps to keep the story going for a while longer.  But then again, maybe there’s nothing to it.  Maybe Ball’s extreme effort to disown Dornan is just the result of some clumsy media work.

Who knows?

Either way, it’s both interesting and – for the Liberals – potentially not that helpful a story to have floating around.