Observers call election debate underwhelming; ‘none of them are great debaters’
TORONTO — The lukewarm sparring between Ontario’s major political leaders in the election debate Tuesday night failed to impress observers, who said all three leaders missed an opportunity to sway undecided voters.
“I don’t think any of them would set the Oxford Union on fire with their debating skills,” said Ryerson University politics professor Wayne Petrozzi.
“I suspect that bus has left the depot,” Petrozzi said. “I’m not sure that they got a lot of help tonight, if they’re really relying on it to help them make up their mind.”
One of the biggest potentials for fireworks during the debate was around Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan. It has been much maligned by political opponents and economists, who say his pledge to create one million jobs over eight years is based on faulty math.
But neither Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne nor NDP Leader Andrea Horwath successfully attacked his plan, said Luc Turgeon of the University of Ottawa.
“Considering that basically Mr. Hudak’s proposal has been at the centre of this campaign I was surprised that the two other leaders didn’t attack him more and more specifically,” he said.
One of the many missed opportunities was after Hudak told a personal anecdote about his father teaching him math, Turgeon said.
“He opened himself up for that,” he said. “I was kind of waiting for a zinger by the two others about his plan.”
Social media users didn’t let that opportunity slip by.
“I don’t think Hudak’s dad helped him with math often enough,” one Twitter user wrote.
“Maybe (at)timhudak’s daughter should check the math of her (father’s) jobs plan,” wrote another user, referring to another anecdote Hudak told about his daughter getting an A in math.
When people don’t know specific policy points, they connect with leaders’ personalities, said York University political science professor Robert MacDermid.
Several Twitter users zeroed in on the leaders’ body language — specifically, their hands.
“If you mute the audio, it looks like Kathleen Wynne is a really good beat poet,” one person wrote.
“I wonder how long they could talk for if they were made to keep their hands in their pockets? ONdebate jazzhands,” wrote another.
Partisans will all be pleased with their leaders’ performances, MacDermid predicted, though no leader came across as particularly strong.
“None of them are great debaters,” he said. “Any of these people, I think, would come off in a bad light if they were put up against really articulate debaters who could think quickly on their feet.”
A common weakness among the leaders was that they tried to cram in too much information, MacDermid said. The leaders should have talked more in principles, in broad outlines, and not the ins and outs of policy details.
“They all get so prepped for these things their heads are full of the platform and factoids and stuff and they feel the need to spew this all out,” he said.
“Unfortunately for a lot of voters it’s this bewildering array of semi-explained promises.”