Saturday, December 01, 2012

#skndpldr - Humboldt Debate Notes

Scott has already pointed out that the Saskatchewan NDP is making its leadership debate videos available online, and commented somewhat on the second debate in Humboldt. But having had a chance to view it for the first time today, I'll add a few observations.

While there were plenty of consistent themes between the Humboldt debate and the previous Regina debate, the main difference was found in the first opportunity for candidates to ask questions of each other. And that led to a few noteworthy developments.

First, the candidate question-and-answer format provided a test for Trent Wotherspoon in what's been identified as a possible weakness from the outset of the campaign. And while he held his own in most of his exchanges, he also had significant difficulty dealing with what should have been a relatively simple set of queries from Erin Weir - questioning why his platform includes a study into lowering the voting age to 16 (rather than simply proposing that the age be lowered), as well as what information he'd consider relevant in assessing the outcome of such a study.

Facing a request only that he explain his own policy proposal, Wotherspoon wasn't comfortable discussing either why the study would be required (with a reference to the NDP's party development processes serving as a non sequitur in explaining a study would take place outside that structure), or what findings might lead him to question whether a lower voting age is in fact a good idea. And with the degree of difficulty and the scrutiny from fellow candidates and the media alike figuring to increase as the debates develop, Wotherspoon looks to have some ways yet to go in addressing unanticipated questions.

In another exchange, Cam Broten offered a similarly surprising challenge to Ryan Meili on his first-debate suggestion that MLAs be seated alphabetically rather than by party in the legislature. There, however, Meili followed a halting start as to the value of discussing a wide range of ideas in a leadership campaign with a reasonable explanation both as to where the proposal has been applied elsewhere, and how it might fit into an effort to make the legislature more collegial and productive.

Finally, the questions also offered a hint as to who the other candidates wanted to test. And while Broten, Meili and Wotherspoon were each on the receiving end of several questions, Weir didn't answer a single one - a point that he noted slightly peevishly in posing the last question of the debate.

That said, it's not hard to see how that pattern might repeat itself regularly unless the format mandates who will be on the receiving end of questions. After all, the other candidates might quite logically figure both that there are more soft supporters and later-ballot votes to be persuaded by challenging the other candidates, and that Weir's sharp responses might make them more likely to lose face in directing questions his way.

Other than the candidate questions, I'll largely concur with Scott's observation that there wasn't a lot of change from the first debate. All of the candidates were broadly effective both in delivering their own prepared speeches and dealing with audience questions - meaning that the decision facing actual and potential NDP members only figures to be getting more difficult as the campaign progresses.

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