Televised political debates in B.C. serve a few purposes. Viewers can see how party leaders engage in spirited discussion, how sincere they seem, how well they know the issues and how party policy relates to those issues.
But anyone can click on a political party website to find policy statements, and reams of information can be found on news sites that offer a sense of where individuals stand on certain issues.
In essence, then, the TV debate is primarily a chance for leaders to stand before the cameras, without their respective entourages, and prove they deserve to lead the province. Or, in the case of the Greens and Conservatives, that their party deserves your vote.
The sad fact is, if one turned off the picture and only listened to the sound portion of Monday’s highly scripted, made-for-TV debate, it could have been mistaken for question period in the B.C. legislature.
Frontrunners Christy Clark of the Liberals and Adrian Dix of the NDP frequently spoke over each other’s answers, and on several occasions avoided responding directly to public questions, if at all, choosing instead to repeat party slogans.
While both provided moments of calm clarity in the debate, the leaders with no chance of forming government – Jane Sterk of the Green Party and John Cummins of the Conservatives – were merely spectators to the main verbal jousting between the others.
Largely absent from debate around the overarching themes of “growing B.C.’s economy” (Clark) and “telling people how we’re going to pay for programs” (Dix) was talk of B.C.’s longtime top voter priorities – health care and education. They may not be the topics du jour for the leaders or their parties, but funding those areas remains a huge challenge and will affect all taxpayers.
The bickering-filled program came off more as cheesy reality TV than meaningful discussion about our province’s future. While the debate likely failed to inspire fence-sitters to get out and vote May 14, there are thankfully still opportunities before election day to learn where candidates and their parties stand.