Being that it’s a mere three days to Coronation Day when (if the polls and anecdotal evidence are accurate) we crown Queen Kath, make Princess Lorraine our Opposition leader, and officially confirm Court Jester Kevin, I do feel a certain obligation (and egotistically assume there might be a minor slice of expectation in readership land) to pontificate on Provincial Election 2011 (as it will come to be labelled in newsroom archives).
But just what, pray tell, is left to say at this point?
Well, very little, really (I’m committing a cardinal sin in the doctrine of the Church of Journalism here by implying there’s no reason to continue reading, the equivalent in column language to a dull “lead” in a newspaper story or a vacuous or unappetizing “intro” to an item on television or radio).
Be that as it may, you certainly can’t blame columnists or other observers, communicators and messengers for the fog of resignation that seems to have enshrouded Election 2011.
I’m quite sure the political science profs, for instance, have continued to try and generate excitement in their classes of all-ears, easily influenced students of innocence. The open-line show hosts have consistently given each and every candidate, even those who can’t string five words together, a weekly, stupor-inducing, mind-numbing five minutes of free air time, offered in the guise of some nebulous notion of aiding public discourse. And rank and file journalists, from all media have made coverage of life on the hustings an illustration of turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse or — as it’s sometimes described in unmannered circles, where the pious are uninvited and unwanted — of making chicken soup out of chicken shit.
You certainly can’t fault the pollsters, although Kevin Aylward attempted to do just that last week with a weak counter-attack to the latest numbers showing the Liberals falling further behind the NDP and the Tory government in waiting (someone should have told Aylward a long time ago that shooting the messenger is a tactic that rarely helps a politician, coming off, as it usually does, as a defensive measure of desperation).
I’m actually starting to feel sorry for the Liberal leader. Aylward had a lengthy career in a profession where the most successful are able to think quickly on their feet or, at the very least, are capable of faking it, of sounding when need be as if they actually know what they’re talking about, even when operating without a clue. But those abilities, those talents, were nowhere in evidence for Aylward on the election campaign, particularly during last week’s so-called debate, the only bonafide chance for him to make any kind of headway. To say he looked discombobulated for that hour is being kind.
Not that the debate was all that enlightening. It was still another example of a format that has always had limited success in just about any jurisdiction. With stringent rules of strangulation that prevent interviewers from asking natural, followup questions and an impotent role played by moderators who either can’t, or won’t, bring a halt to leaders trying to out shout one another (the Moe, Larry and Curly show), the debates are invariably an exercise in futility for voters seeking insight or, for that matter, television viewers switching the dials in search of entertainment.
Can be done successfully
The most successful debate I ever witnessed occurred in Nova Scotia years ago when the anchor of the CBC supper hour news show there was alone with the three political leaders, and was in total control: he made sure no one dominated, he asked followup questions, he was the one to draw the line between energized, feisty exchanges and bar room noise. It required, and does require, a strong, take-charge journalist. But it can be done.
What can’t be done at this late date is turn Election 2011 into something it is not. Then again, maybe the pundits of Newfoundland are all out to lunch, and Tuesday night will see a drama unfold that will shock the entire province.
On another note here: as many have said this past week, Nancy Riche’s premature death was a loss for Newfoundland.
I don’t claim to have known Riche particularly well, but we crossed professional paths many times, and I once produced a documentary on her career for the CBC program “On Camera,” a chance to closely observe her profound dedication to the feminist and labour movements. (I also recall from that time years ago that she had a delightful penchant for cussing, a woman after my own heart, and that she smoked like a tilt and seemed to even out-fag my own three packs a day back then).
Riche was a force to be reckoned with. Yes, she could be abrasive and scathing. But she was blunt and gutsy and took no crap from anyone.
And we need more, not less, of that kind in Newfoundland.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.