The big debate

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Last place where leaders are 'completely exposed'

Tonight's televised election debate 7:00 pm on NTV and CBC as well as CBC Radio is going to be intriguing indeed.

Frankly, I am surprised that Premier Williams even agreed to do it. He has nothing to gain from this debate having already maxed out his support levels among the voting population and so much to lose. Williams can be hot-headed and is prone to red-faced outbursts, and this is exactly what the Liberal and NDP leaders will try to provoke.

Because they have nothing to lose and much to gain.

On today's CBC Radio Morning Show, MUN Political Science prof Michael Temelini said and I paraphrase that tonight, Williams has to be unflappable, polite and good-natured. He has already won the election and should thus behave like a statesman, not a muck-slinging, spittle-firing politician. For Williams, this is easier said than done.

Either way, it promises to make for entertaining if not enlightening television.

Some of my media contacts had speculated that CBC must be annoyed that NTV is hosting the debate for the third year in a row, suggesting that it is customary to alternate between networks every other year.

Last week, I interviewed Jim Furlong, director of news with NTV, who said securing the debate was simply a matter of putting forward the strongest proposal to the political parties.

"We just made a presentation that we thought would be acceptable to all three of the parties and were fortunate enough in that we were smiled upon favourably," he said. "It's a pleasure to do it and an honour to do it. In the 21st century, (the election debate) has become an important part of the political process.

"Politics has become such a managed affair in my ways," Furlong added. "Photo opportunities, the campaign bus where you are moved around by the political parties. At the televised debate, they don't get to bring their handlers to the podium. They don't get to say I'm sorry, can we take that again?' It's probably the last place where they are completely exposed. And that's a good thing."

Furlong said that NTV is making available a "clean feed" of the proceedings to other networks, meaning it is unencumbered by that little NTV logo at the bottom right of the screen. "And you also won't see 800 NTV signs around the set that would be considered bad form. The last time CBC had (the debate), they offered us a seat on the panel, a clean feed and all that, so that's fair enough."

I spoke with Janice Stein, managing editor of CBC News in this province, and she said there are no hard feelings about not winning' hosting rights for the debate.

"I don't have any problem with it all," Stein said. "The key thing is that people get to watch and hear the debate. And one of our reporters, David Cochrane will be on the panel so we get to influence some of the questions, which is good. It's all about getting people out to vote, and making sure they have the information they need to make an intelligent vote."

For his part, Furlong said the most interesting aspect of all this has been the interactions with the political parties. "Dealing with the parties is always interesting. It takes on a life of its own. We are having a drawing of coins today, a little mini-ceremony, using the same metal coins that have been used for the last two debates. Some people put great stock in where they are (in the speaking sequence) while others don't care. But today there will be three parties together in the same room, and that's always interesting, watching how they react to each other. There's obviously a politeness but at the same time, there's an election on! It's civility held together by gossamer."

If anything, CBC is getting more bang out of the debate than NTV, since it will also be aired on radio and webcast on their web site.

Please note that the photo-collage above of the three leaders is from the CBC's special election coverage web site and blog. I strongly suggest that you check them out.

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  • pat
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    I think that this debate is of the past watching it is disgusting. With the technology available. It should be a town hall with newfoundlanders and labradorians able to ask questions. CBC and NTV could do a better job of this. With St. John's as th main center say using the convention center or mile one then add in claren, matyst, gander, c.b. st. anthony and labcity or g.b.. Indeed a missed oppportunity by the media. By the way NTV shows why they are not Canada's Superstation as they say in thier ads.