(Left to right: John Horgan, Sonia Furstenau, Andrew Wilkinson/Photo compiled by Victoria Buzz)

The first, and likely only, BC Leaders Debate of the 2020 election has come and gone, but the 90 minute conversation Tuesday night has given voters a lot to think about as they look to general voting day on October 24.

We here at Victoria Buzz tuned in like so many of you, offering live commentary and an ongoing highlight reel. Here are five moments that stood out to us in particular:

 

1. An expertly moderated panel kept the debate on track

The debate was moderated by Shachi Kurl, President of polling firm Angus Reid. Kurl started things off by clearly laying out the evening’s proceedings, which were agreed upon by all leaders prior to the debate, with topics selected by the province’s Broadcast Consortium.

Topics were broken down with some questions directed from the moderator to leaders, and some “head-to-head” portions where leaders were allowed to question each other.

It meant that the debate ran like a swiss watch, with precise allocations of time and limited moments of cross talk.

Kurl was widely lauded on social media for keeping leaders on time, asking pointed questions, and observing when they dodged answers.

Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson was notably called out by Kurl on a question about carbon taxes and the environment.

“It wasn’t a clear answer to the question,” Kurl said. “Would you like 10 seconds to answer it again?”

If there was one flaw in the evening’s structured proceedings, it was that there were so many topics to cover, and a limited amount of time to do so.

Early in the election Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson called for three debates, and judging by the slightly rushed proceedings on Tuesday he might have had a point.

That said, the recent circus sideshow in the United States has soured many on debates, even if millions of eyes were glued to Trump and Biden like a crowd watching a trainwreck.

Did the consortium’s format make the B.C. debate less entertaining? Perhaps. But what voters sacrificed in reality-tv style meltdowns was more than made up for in a tone of civility, professionalism, and clarity.

 

2. “Dad” vs. “Doctor” – Horgan and Wilkinson trade barbs and labels

Even with a strictly choreographed format, NDP Leader John Horgan’s “Premier Dad” persona was on display as he needled Wilkinson with some barbs.

“You gotta get out of your neighbourhood,” Horgan said in an exchange on housing. The NDP leader also referred to Wilkinson as “man” on more than one occasion.

“You sold the land, man,” Horgan said in a back-and-forth with Wilkinson on hospital construction in Surrey.

Wilkinson observed, perhaps correctly, that Horgan was leaning into an “us vs. them” approach, portraying the BC Liberals as a party of elites.

But if the Liberal leader was truly offended by that approach, he didn’t seem to mind promoting himself as a doctor.

“My medical background is very helpful in this,” Wilkinson said about 15 minutes into the 90-minute debate.

That title-drop kicked off a series of soundbites throughout the event, with the Liberal leader reminding voters time and time again of his credentials as a physician.

With polls showing the NDP in a wide lead and the Liberals trailing distantly behind by double-digits, it seems that both leaders felt the wisest move was to play to their bases.

 

3. Three white people talked on stage about racism. One did okay.

If there was one moment that truly exposed the flaws in pre-canned, playing-to-personality messaging though, it had to be the exchange on diversity and racism.

“How have you personally reckoned with your own privilege and unconscious bias as a white political leader?” Kurl asked, leading into the biggest moment of the evening.

Wilkinson stuck to his doctor message, then bizarrely pivoted to an anecdote about how an indigenous patient (maybe?) named her son after him.

“I believe there’s a young man in Lillooet now who’s named after me when I delivered that baby from his mother,” said Wilkinson. “That’s the kind of experience that makes you feel like we’re all equal.”

But if Wilkinson’s response was somewhat tone-deaf, it was quickly overshadowed by Horgan’s.

“I grew up in Southern Vancouver Island, I was a lacrosse player, I played with indigenous friends, I played with South Asian friends,” the NDP leader began, sending off alarm bells somewhere.

“For me, I did not see colour.”

Oof.

The moment was widely seen by commentators as the one true slip-up of the evening, as two practiced personas — doctor and dad — came up against the reality of racism.

Yet one leader confronted the question with a degree of humanity.

When it came time for Sonia Furstenau’s turn at the topic, the Green Leader quietly bowed her head and paused for three seconds before answering.

“I think the moment for me that really hit it home was imagining being a mother and saying to my child: if you’re approached by a policeman, don’t do anything, just put your hands up.”

It was a human beat in a debate that was lacking in them, and Horgan’s loss turned into Furstenau’s gain.

 

4. “Unnecessary Election” may not have traction with voters, but it still makes for a great one-liner

If the polls are to be believed, the Greens are not just in danger of losing their voice in a minority government, but potentially may lose their legislative caucus altogether.

Furstenau has struggled in the early stages of the campaign to move beyond a rote message that this is an “unnecessary election” brought on by Horgan and the NDP.

Voters may have expressed a reluctance to punch the ballot box in the first days of the election, but polls show they aren’t alienated from supporting the NDP.

That said, while there was no single “knock-out punch” in the evening’s proceedings, Furstenau may have scored the one-liner of the night in an exchange with Horgan.

When asked — inevitably, perhaps — by Furstenau why he had called the election, Horgan brought out an oft-repeated line.

“I did so because I believe we need to put the politics behind us,” the NDP leader said.

“It’s astonishing to hear you say that you needed to put politics behind us by putting politics front and centre in a campaign election,” Furstenau shot back.

It was a solid hit in a night mostly filled with whiffs, and it came from a leader who has only had her job for a month.

 

5. Two men entered, one woman won.

Yet ultimately, while Furstenau may have been the leader with the least to lose, she came out with the most gains.

A quick Twitter poll held by our own Brishti Basu found the Green Leader in a relatively close second behind Horgan.

It may seem odd to proclaim her a debate winner based on coming in second in a poll, until we consider that result against an earlier poll from Victoria Buzz that placed the Greens in a far distant third.

In Tuesday’s debate, Furstenau evoked a sincerity that distanced her from the more pre-programmed responses of her NDP and LIberal counterparts.

If the Green Party’s goal is to retain their existing seats and to position themselves as a left-wing alternative in a future election, Furstenau’s debate performance has teed them up nicely.

Heading into the debates, a poll from Leger found that roughly half of their respondents (47 per cent) intended to watch the event.

It remains to be seen if that half-portion of the electorate will be moved significantly by Tuesday night’s conversation, but we can bet on the Greens hoping for an uptick in support.

Who do you think won last night’s debate? Let us know in the comment section below!

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