Wednesday, 29 April 2015

CFA Take on the Leaders Debate

I viewed the Leaders' Debate with some excitement as I'd yet to see a PEI election debate as of yet. I was also keenly aware that there was significant ground up for grabs in this debate as the PC are still within striking distance of the Liberal parties and surely there should be fireworks in such a scenario.

This Democracy is Recorded in Front of a Live Studio Audience

The first thing that struck me as the debate started, before even a question was asked, was that there was a sizable audience for this debate. While this may be something many people have interest in seeing, I still remain unconvinced of how it serves the public good. I'll likely touch on this again later, but having a crowd there to cheer or boo ideas they don't agree with (in fact, the night starts with the host requesting that the crowd bring "spirit") creates a false and statistically non-representative impression of a "public view" on these ideas.

Let's create an absurdest example:

-This debate was in Summerside
-One says Charlottetown has had a leg up on Summerside for too long, so they were going to increase taxes on any Charlottetown resident by 10% while reducing the taxes of Summerside residents by 10%
-The audience roars wildly with approval
-Another candidate notes this is incredibly unfair to the Charlottetown residents
-The crowd boo's with disapproval

In this example, the idea is clearly bad - but by pandering to those in attendance it may leave some viewers with the impression that it's actually a good idea. Conversely, some leaders may shy away from some ideas or tactics as those in the room may lash out in response.

Additionally, as much as coverage seems to be veering in this direction lately - politics is not a sport. We are not spectators in some meaningless conflict here. We should be active participants in the shape and scope of our democracy, and treating these elections like they're very long horse races is a disservice to the electorate.

Together, We Can Change Democracy (just don't spend any time actually thinking about this please)! 

Early in this debate the Green party leader Peter Bevan-Baker reiterates and oft-made point from their ranks about the assault on democracy that is whipped votes. If you look at this issue on the surface, you'll certainly find issue with the way operate now. Ideally, my representative would go to the legislature to represent my riding and our interests and not take into account party or political goals as part of that calculation. This is a fine idea, so long as you don't think about it too long. What about compromises? Surely at some point my MLA may need to compromise with another. We get a little out of this bill, they get a little out of the next? Sure that's part of the issue. Still... though...

The fictional character Will Mcavoy once asked, "You know why people don't like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fucking smart how come they lose so god damn always?" and this would be no different. Let's live in a fantasy land for a moment where the Green party wins a majority government. As promised, their votes are not whipped and with their 14 or 27 seats they would accomplish... well, nothing I imagine. In fact, unless they whip the budget vote I imagine we'd be right back into another election as holding the confidence of the legislature would be a challenge. Hell, let's say you have 90% support for everything you're going to with your team... you're still fucked. The other 13 members of the legislature are going to vote against you on everything, and I do mean everything. You could have 13 PC opposition members and try to pass a bill that proclaims the PC party a great party. Those 13 MLAs would probably vote against it because it doesn't go far enough. "The legislation should clearly have read 'the greatest' party" some member would point out. So sure, you can have this idealistic fantasy about how government should work, but so long as there are still people who are playing the game - your refusal to play it will constantly result in your cause "losing so god damn always."

Dog-Whistle Politics

I won't directly accuse anyone of dog-whistle politics here...okay maybe I will. There is no doubt in my mind that Mr.Lanntz was coached to bring up his family as often as he could find a way to work it in. It's no secret that Wade MacLauchlan is an openly gay man and there are some PC voters and other bigoted voters who will be moved by this family connection that MacLauchlan is unable to openly proclaim. By the way... this is bullshit. The fact that there's still some people out there bigoted enough to not be able to handle MacLauchlan mention his partner is atrocious, though I think Premier Wynne had similar issues in Ontario. Anyways, if you're watching or re-watching the debate, or even if you're so hard up for ways to kill time that you read the running diary below, note how often Mr.Lantz mentions his family. This is not by accident.

A Running Diary of the CBC Debate
(Note: I thought I'd have a bit of fun and make a quick running diary of the debate when I re-watched it Tuesday night. Quick was misguided. What follows is 3700 words of marginally coherent thought. I apologize in advance)

Now that I've clearly stated this is not sports, I'm going to steal an idea from one of my favorite sports writers as I realize the best way to actually touch on everything I want to in this debate is to use the running diary format.

I'll time-stamp for those of you playing along at home, or in sheer disbelief. I'll also be using short form for the leaders as follows:

WM: Wade MacLauchlan
PBB: Peter Bevan-Baker
RL: Rob Lantz
MR: Mike Redmond
BR: Bruce Rainnie

Without further adieu...

0:15 -  ...and the crowd goes wild! Really, though, is BR clapping for himself here? Awkward.

1:13 - BR suggests he plans to stay out of the way and let them fight. I can assure you now, his wish never comes to fruition.

2:05 - Leaders get 1 minute each to answer their question. After that an all out brawl... or civilized discussion. We'll see what happens. Positions were drawn at random. You'd have known that if you watched Compass.

2:50 - WM has his opening statement.

3:30 - I'm considering taking a nap.

3:40 - I'm full on napping.

4:00 - PBB notes that Islanders only want some simple basic things. Good honest government, from good honest people - and that would be new and different on PEI. He uses the words "courage" (twice) and "bravery" (twice) and bold to describe voting Green.

5:15 - RL is speeding through the first 15 seconds. He seems as authentic as a used car salesman. He calls them, "The PnP and the EGaming". Classic local colloquialisms.

6:35 - MR has a joke only folks here would understand...maybe...because only two people in the audience laughed.

8:30 - Question: What do you see as the role of government?

9:10 - PBB is the first to note that gov't just looks after their friends. This is a populist view that will get a lot of play tonight.

9:45 - RL states that the role of government is to provide core services. In an attempt to become the most popular leader, he pulls a page from the Hudak playbook and explains that sometimes leaders need to explain, "what government can and can not do for them."

10:40 - MR agrees with RL but also adds that government needs to play a role in innovation, then in the same breath says that government needs to stop picking winners and losers.

11:20 - WM teaches his 1 minute version of Government Functionality 101. He's going to be different, though. No mention of how. Leadership, though.

11:55 - BR asks if anyone has anything they want to follow up on. Our group of would-be leaders all talk over each other to make good points. KIDDING! They sit there silently. BR, trying to egg them on adds, "Hand in the air and I'll bring you in." So this debate officially has the same rules as my 2nd grade class.

12:00 - PBB notes that RL and WM are nice guys, but their organizations are toxic.

13:00 - WM sounds like a grandfather bragging about his grandchildren as he describes how awesome the Liberal party is.

14:37 - RL wants to change things. He's the father of two children, you should know.

15:15 - Question: Would are you going to do to address the epidemic of prescription drugs in high schools?

15:50 - "Unfortunately we needed to put policemen in our school which was extremely unfortunate." -RL

16:20 - In the early running for the "Holy shit that's a pure garbage answer" award is MR with his "The PCs locked the doors and the Libs threw away the keys. 3 words Bruce, Education. Education. Education." So... yeah... someone should educate Mike around that really only being one word. Pity applause follows.

16:45 - WM notes they must have found the keys. MR says not enough. WM mentions alcohol addiction - this is likely the only mention of this issue you'll hear from anyone in the entirety of this election.

18:00 - I didn't expect to see another challenger for the "Holy shit that's a pure garbage answer" award this early, but PBB does not disappoint! "What we have to do, is offer our youth hope. We have to provide for them a vision of a future where they can live out their lives on PEI. Where they can reach their potential as human beings. Where they will have opportunities for good jobs and raise their families and be happy here..."

Holy crap. I had no idea. Maybe it's because I'm old and out of touch, but I always thought that teenagers did stupid shit

A) because they're teenagers or,
B) because they want to get high.

Now that I understand that they're really just concerned about long term job prospects and if they'll be able to stay on the island with their future family drives them to drugs. All we need to do is give them hope, and these problems should quickly vanish.

19:10 - MR notes that Reach is great - but that it was parents and the community that did that and it wasn't government. I think this is supposed to be an attack. Couldn't it also be proof that, perhaps, PEI doesn't need the government to solve all of it's problems?

20:20 - RL has a pretty non-Conservative moment as he notes that these issues are not criminal issues but mental health issues and treatment and prevention needs to be a priority.

20:40 - WM likes the sound of PBB's "Let's just give them hope" theory.

21:30 - PBB wants to double down on "Hope conquers all" theory! Okay, okay, I'm riding this pretty hard so let me give you a full quote before I go full out on this...

"All addictions are an attempt to escape reality. If we can create a reality here on PEI that is hopeful and provides them with the idea that they can find a well paying year round job - that they can raise their families here and not need to fracture families. That's the real long term way of dealing with this. I'm not suggesting there's easy answers to that, but I do think that will really solve this problem at it's core."

I'm going to accept the premise of the first sentence that an addictions primary function is to escape reality. The problem is the rest of the theory presumes that the reality these kids are trying to escape is that of upcoming economic hardship and not knowing if they'll need to move west when they have kids. That's lunacy. Here's my zero-thought-put-into-it list of things that are more likely:

-Kids have shitty parents
-Kids have other kids who treat them like shit
-The kids a shitty kid and other kids treat them like shit
-Everyone thinks the kid is stupid - this is mostly because the kid is in fact stupid
-The kid has to spend 75 minutes of their day learning French and they hate it

I'm sorry, PBB, but hope will not resolve all these issues. Sure, if we lived in a Utopia kids wouldn't ever turn to drugs. However that's not a thing that's ever going to happen so perhaps we can try to work within the realm of reality?

22:00 - Question: (This is a direct quote from BR) "PEI has 27 MLAs for a population of 140,000. Ontario is a population of 13.6 million people and it has 107 MLAs. By the PEI proportion it would have nearly 700. Would you commit to a process that would see fewer MLAs in the legislature."

Now let's set aside the fact that Ontario doesn't have MLAs but rather MPPs. The math here is all wrong! The quick way to do it is figure out how many people per rep there are in PEI (5185) then divide the Ontario pop by that number. The actual number of MLAs MPP's if Ontario had PEI scaling would be about 2,620! Anyways - MR thinks it's a good idea.

23:30 - WM notes that there's a law that requires us to review the boundaries. Then I took a nap. Eventually he said the short answer is yes. I wish he started with that. Also he freaking loves tartans.

24:30 - PBB thinks we need this many MLAs to ensure we have enough people to run the executive branch. He doesn't appear to care about the number of ministries that we need.

25:20 - PBB proves why he's last in the polls as he suggests spending 70% of our money on the public service.

26:00 - RL notes that since we're a province we need to have this stuff BUT yeah maybe we could be a tiny bit smaller.

26:25 - In the first of many "Wait... what?" moments from MR tonight, he suggests that "We should never be afraid to open up the constitution." Okay. Well... Nope. No, I have no idea what he's talking about here. I've listened to it and the answers before him 5 times and nope. He's just off on his own tangent. Let's see where this goes... "Too many MLAs. Too many MPs. FAR too many Senators." then a bad joke.

Okay I think I now understand his random constitution bit because he (hopefully) knows that if people agreed with him on the last two points (I assume many don't) the number of seats that PEI has in the House of Commons is directly tied to the number of senators we have.

28:00 - WM notes that I've gone 4 minutes without taking a nap so a long diatribe about "the gift of jurisdiction" is needed.

28:30 - RL notes everyone has made good points on this issue and people like taking to their MLAs. It also seems like he opens up the door to municipal amalgamation here too. Apparently it's hard to find people to run for political council.

29:30 - Question: In what single area are we most lacking in health care and what are you going to do about it?

29:55 - WM thinks it's pharmacare. Generic drug program! This will especially help with mental health, apparently.

31:10 - PBB thinks we need far more front line workers. Clearly, this must be an easy task, yes?

32:20 - RL really thinks he has the crowd here (he doesn't) as he proclaims with conviction "SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE ABOUT THE STATE OF HEALTHCARE IN PRINCE COUNTY!" - then he briefly pauses for a moment to bask in the applause. They are in Prince County, after all. There isn't any applause.

Well... this just got awkward.

33:23 - Oh! MR wasn't happy with his first entry into the "Holy shit that's a pure garbage answer" award nominations, and thought he could do much better. He gives it a valiant try here with "Well first of all Bruce, let's talk about Stephen Harper.(Pause for the applause.... there isn't any applause)...because we don't have enough dollars in our health care system. We haven't had a premier stand up to Mr.Harper..." I mean, if your solution to everything is going to be to go with your hand out to the feds this is a great answer... but...

34:00 - RL wants to note that transfer payments have been going up so maybe we should stop complaining about that. This doesn't seem to go over well... So... wait, maybe WM is reasonable...

35:35 - WM notes it really IS about transfer payments. The extra 12 million is only .3% of an increase! So... yep. I guess the plan really is just to go to the feds with our hands out.

36:40 - MR wants to double down on that. "We all know how Mr.Harper feels about Atlantic Canadians, he doesn't respect us - and RL should call his boss in Ottawa and tell him to pay us respect."

37:20 - Memo to Rob Lantz: You don't take that laying down. Here's your answer:

"Hey, I'm my own boss. If you want to run against Harper you should try running for the feds and I'll focus on trying to find Island based solutions to make Islander's lives better that don't revolve around handouts from Ottawa."

38:25 - Short Question: What makes you most qualified to be the next premier of PEI?

PBB: I'm not sure I am.
RL: I was elected before.
MR: I attract good people.
WM: I don't need the job.

41:35 - Question: How much do your promises cost and how do you plan to pay for it?

41:45 - Rob Lantz is full of shit here. "We made all the numbers public." No. You made top level estimates public. "17.8 million dollars." Nope. Also not true. It says shit costs 30 million dollars and somehow includes the extra 12 million from the feds. So these next answers you can subtract 12 million from as well. So yeah, everyone's right around 18 million dollars using that logic. The truth is everyone's spending 30 million dollars - except for the Green party which doesn't see any value in "guessing" and no one has the first sweet clue about how they're paying for anything.

50:55 - Short Question: Will you follow Nova Scotia's lead and ban flavoured tobacco?

Everyone: Yes (This question was a waste of time, really. Everyone agrees.)

53:20 - Question: You guys spend too much time together. Which idea from an opposing leader do you think would be wise for government to adopt?

53:45 - WM likes the suggestions in the Green platform that came from the (Liberal) Craver report.

54:35 - PBB says how much he likes all these guys. He can't come up with one of their policies they like, though... many NDP suggestions actually. He can't just pick one!

55:30 - RL tries to suggest that PBB should've picked his policy. Later PBB hits him on this. It's an amateur mistake as part of an overall amateur performance. He eventually says he'd pick whistle blower protection legislation. It just so happens to be in his platform as well.

58:57 - Here we go! RL is finally going to bring it! "Who can go against whistle blower legislation? My only question Mr.Maclauchlan is what are you afraid of!?"

And then there was a painfully awkward silence. I can only imagine how RL felt in that moment. I might need to make a call to Doug Williams to try to understand that feeling.

This is really another great example of why there shouldn't be an audience. The rhythm of answer->applause Bruce answer->applause Bruce had become so entrenched by that point that RL trying to ask WM a direct and marginally tough question was completely out of rhythm. No one knew how to react to this - everyone looked at BR confused as if he should step in. How DARE a candidate ask another candidate a question like that. Do something BR!

If RL started this kind of attack early on, it would have been expected by this point - but he couldn't risk that either because who knows, maybe the crowd might start boo'ing him if he's going after WM too hard the whole time.

So here, again, we see the problem with a live audience. These men turn more into theater performers than political candidates.

I should note, I've devoted quite a bit here to the audience. The sheer act of having an audience isn't bad. US Presidential elections have audiences. When working on a 2003 Mayoral campaign in Toronto I actually sat in the audience during the CITY TV debate. T'was made clear to us that everyone was to remain silent though. It wasn't our job to judge the candidates performance, it's the job of the folks at home. Encouraging participation from the audience like BR did to start this event is another fine example of PEI political amateur hour.

59:25 - WM clarifies that there's nothing he's afraid of.

1:00:00 - Short Question: Will you commit to a fixed election date?

PBB: Absolutely
RL: Yep, and Liberals suck.
MR: Yes and where's the budget btw? Also: Women*
WM: Probably maybe potentially we'll see.

1:03:30 - Question: PEI is the only province that doesn't offer access to abortion in their own province. What if anything would you do to change that?

First off, I've already outlined at length that idgaf what women do with their body and if I had my way there *would* be abortion on demand available.

However, here's one of two questions where I think the PC conspiracy theorists may actually have a point if they want to play the "liberal bias" card against CBC. The presumption of this question is that something should be changed. (Again, I think it should be, but I'm a heathen liberal after all.) This basically sets up anyone who says they won't change things for failure, and of course when RL says that he gets boo'd from the adoring audience.

1:05:00 - WM is trying hard to convince left voters that he's going to do something but he certainly won't commit to anything as firmly as MR or PBB will. Of course, the later have an easier time since they have no hope in hell of forming a government.

1:06:00 - PBB notes that the status quo discriminates against poor women, and also brings up other women's health issues that don't get enough play. It's really well played. PBB is an apt politician.

1:06:50 - MR just tried to make political gains off of a local tragedy... then adds in that it's also cost effective. MR is a completely non-apt politician.

1:08:00 - PBB notes with passion that governments are not here to make everyone happy but to do the right thing. He, of course, leaves out that the right thing is completely subjective.

1:08:30 - Question: What industry presents the best opportunity for future job growth and economic performance in the future.

1:08:45 - Mr says feeding our children. I'm not sure that's an economic sector, but this is the NDP we're talking about.

1:09:50 - WM also likes food. He also likes Aerospace and Bio Science. He also likes any job, really. Holy crap I need a red bull if he's going to take the full 60 seconds.

1:10:30 - PBB says agriculture. He provides intelligent reasoning behind his theory. He makes a sound argument. I'm not falling asleep anymore, and he answered the question. Well, it's a low bar but I think PBB just won the debate.

1:11:45 - RL also knows the names of many other sectors. Then this gem.

"We can't put our finger on what sector will continue to create growth and jobs in PEI because by it's very nature entrepreneurship, entrepreneurs may never know what their final destination may be but I know that it will be in food and agriculture or in bio science or in IT or in manufacturing but we need to start encouraging that private sector led economy and encouraging our youth to be self starters and make their own jobs."

That's basically RL's performance at this debate. He was, more or less, Chevy Guy.

1:16:45 - Short Question: If elected, what would you do to pressure the government of Canada to stop it's plans to end door to door home mail delivery.

(Here's your second question with a pretty obvious liberal bias)

WM: We can't do anything
PBB: We can't do anything  - but we have so much money we should be doing this. CPC sucks.
MR: Elect the NDP that'll show em! Harper is RL's boss!

1:19:10 - Last Question: What will your party do to ensure that all Islanders have access to post secondary education at a reasonable cost?

1:19:45 - PBB is clearly tired of this shit, and decides to just start reading from his platform.

1:21:20 - MR makes a good point! UPEI is the only school in the country that is free (pun intended) from access to information requests! Huzzah! NDP is going to see WTF is going on.

1:21:50 - WM uses words. Many of them, in fact. I know this, because I started to nap again.

1:23:30 - PBB agrees with MR. We really don't know if these guys are blowing money or what.

1:24:00 - RL wants that too. Municipalities too... and then he misses an obvious opportunity to question WM on why when he was former president he doesn't want access to information for UPEI? Hit that narrative again that WM is hiding things? Holy effing amateur hour batman.

Then there's closing statements - everyone makes me want to nap during theirs so I really have nothing to add at this point. So I tuned in expecting fireworks. There weren't any. There was an academic that could bore you to sleep, a too clever dentist that was entertaining to watch, and two men that more or less failed. I'm going to bed now... hopefully not the one Rob Lantz shit all over.

* DING DING DING! We have a winner for the "Holy shit that's a pure garbage answer" award! Redmond, not happy with his first two attempts to win the award just pulled away from the crowd with, and I wish I was making this up: "We want to involve as many voices and ideas... and when you don't have a fixed election date you leave a lot of women out..." I mean.... WHAT? This even confused Green party candidates. I know everyone wants the female vote but that is a STRETCH.

**I mean, really? This I really hope the producers recognize what a colossal failure of judgement it was to have this event in a giant auditorium and then encourage people to show "spirit". This isn't a sporting event, stop treating it like one. If a leader can't even say that he uses email a lot without getting boo'd, clearly this format doesn't work.


  1. I LOLed more than once. I hope you do the same for the Guardian debate.

  2. BR is a top-shelf anchor/sportscaster. If 2011 repeats itself, then the true 'amateur hour' is yet to come (Thursday night).