The only winner in the debate was David Cochrane.
He’s no Paul Wells but he did a fine job of wrangling the three leaders.
And that’s the problem for the politicians.
Real people were talking about the fact the neutral guy didn’t frig up like the guy on the other network. The other folks – all the party h’acktivists on Twitter - were just talking about how their guy won, which they were saying before the thing started.
If debates matter at all in Canadian elections, this one was a must win for Earle McCurdy or Paul Davis. They needed to score big points on Dwight Ball in order to stand even a vague hope of shifting a few votes in the last week of the campaign.
None of the party leaders set off any fireworks. Ball didn’t need to. The Liberals are so far ahead he just had to not lose. The other two needed Ball to lose and for one of them to win.
They could have done that. All they needed to do was to have a position on one thing that was substantially different from what the other two stood for.
None of them do.
The result was the silly claims from Earle and Paul that Dwight Ball harbours secret plans to slaughter tens of thousands of baby public servants and leave their carcasses on the blood-soaked ice, while he flounces off with their skins dragging behind him and with the baseball bat dripping baby public servant juice onto the ground behind him.
or something like that.
Frankly, it was hard to make any sense of the idiotic claims they made.
But just imagine what the difference might have been if Earle McCurdy had stood up and stated firmly that he would shut down Muskrat Falls because the Conservatives had made a mess of it and Nalcor was out of control. Gut the place and put in people who knew what they were doing.
And consistent with what many New Democrats think Earle’s position is.
When Paul Davis said the Falls was a big green project that was good for the water, Earle had the chance to scream about methylmercury posing the waters of Lake Melville.
Earle didn’t do any of that. There’s nothing where the NDP stands out from the herd.
In politics, you have to set yourself apart from the herd. You need to distinguish yourself somehow and then invite voters to make a clear choice. The federal election is an example of that. The Liberals offered voters who wanted a change a clear difference from the Conservatives. The NDP – by contrast – offered voters the pledge to keep things pretty much the same but they tried to sound like they were different.
Voters took the clear alternative.
No “strategic voting” or any of the other intricate theories people have offered up to explain how the NDP blew it. Just simple, old-fashioned politics. Give people a clear choice. Invite them to make the choice.
The Conservatives had a chance to offer voters the same clear choices, as well. Their problem is embodied in Davis. He starts their legacy in 2003. You cannot be about change and stand for a continuity of policies from 2003. Had the Conservatives actually done something different in the past year, Davis might have stood a chance.
But Davis hasn’t distinguished himself from his predecessors. Bit of a different situation from the NDP, but if Davis had owned the concept of change, then he’d have stolen the Liberals’ thunder. The gap at the polls might be a bit closer. As it is, Davis is continuity and so he offers voters nothing when they want change.
Voters turned out in droves for the advance poll on Monday. That’s never good for an incumbent party. In this case, it’s also a clue that voters have already made their choices.
The debate wasn’t likely to change any minds.
Now that it’s over, we can say that Earle and Paul never stood a chance. They can only blame themselves.