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Savvy tactics dictate avoiding the ‘gotcha’ trap set by one-on-one format.

I think Adrian Dix would be mad to “debate” with Premier Clark one on one.

I realize that as one who thinks Premier Clark and the entire BC Liberal government have been a catastrophe you might expect I would feel this way.

In the three elections that pitted Bill Bennett against Dave Barrett, Bennett refused the “one on one” and won all three. He said, essentially when you debate Barrett you don’t know if you’re “debating Karl Marx or Groucho….” The real reason was that Bennett knew that Barrett was the better showman — Bennett didn’t have any showmanship that one could detect and that he wanted to be premier not court jester. The public evidently agreed.

The main objection from Dix would be that as the leader in the polls he has much more to lose than Clark, thus why so put yourself in harm’s way more than you have to?

In my own small way, in the two successful campaigns I had for the Legislature I refused one on one debates.

Is this being a chicken?

I don’t think so. It’s about a debate that has no relation to a real debate. That the media calls them debates indicates they are afraid to call it for what it is — a media event where reporters try to attach themselves to bad sound bites.

On a range of topics the mainstream media’s opinion page editors and columnists have proven themselves generally biased on a range of issues, from fish farms to tankers along B.C.’s coast. And, certainly, biased in favour of the BC Liberals. What happened to the Vancouver Province and Sun which, during the New Democrat decade, held the government’s feet firmly to the fire?

If you were Adrian Dix would you trust your debate interrogators to be fair?

One line can change an election

Having said that, we have come to expect a TV debate and neither Clark nor Dix can avoid that.

The notion that our TV “debates” are in fact debates was dashed in 1991 when then Liberal leader, Gordon Wilson (without a seat in the Legislature), got off on a one-liner that catapulted his party to 17 seats up from zero. We learn from that that the party that has nothing to lose relishes these meetings.

It happened like this — NDP Mike Harcourt and then premier Rita Johnston were scrapping and Wilson shot out with “that’s why nothing gets done in this province.” In fact scrapping debates — of which Wilson was a master — are that which leaves us with a tiny bit of democracy in this province. But it killed the Socreds, never to rise again.

Global is not trying to be public spirited but to sell soapsuds. The media questioners will be looking for sound bites, not answers.

Ratings over insights

Now to the all-candidates debate. It would be courting disaster for Dix to avoid that even though he and his advisors no doubt discussed that. No doubt the usual suspects will be asking the questions.

The “debate” the media relishes is not an exchange in ideas but a political homicide. The essential weakness in both what Global proposes and the all candidates version is that a slanted media gets to ask the questions designed to increase ratings — not to find out policy but extricate one-liners. The questions asked are loaded statements with a question mark after them rather than simply raising of serious issues.

A pointed and apropos question would be, “Since the private power scheme came in, BC Hydro has become in bad shape financially. Do you agree and if so why? And if not, why not?”

Another: “Do you or do you not approve of pipelines carrying dilbut (bitumen) across the province and tankers shipping them out of ports, whether Kitimaat, Vancouver or wherever? If you agree, why? If you don’t agree, why not?”

“Do you support ‘fracking,’ there having been almost no study of the environmental issues?”

“Do you approve of Site “C” being developed at a cost of $8 BILLION+ so, as the premier has said, it can support the creation of liquefied natural gas, or for any other reason?” If you oppose, why?

“Do you approve of forcing fish farms to go on dry land? If so, why? If not, why not?”

“Do you approve of land being taken out of the ALR for industry?” Is it OK some times and not others?

“In the ’90s, the NDP government doubled the provincial debt. In the last 12 years the Liberals tripled it. What, if anything, do you propose to do about it? Will you raise taxes to carry on? What is your tax policy?”

Greens and Conservatives welcome?

I must confess to being reluctant to have parties which have no seat in the legislature be part of the debate. If you do that, what about independent candidates who are already in the legislature? Shouldn’t they have a place too? Indeed, how does one draw the line? What about “fringe” parties? How do you tell, in this case, two parties without seats, the Greens and Conservatives, that they can take part without allowing in other parties? What about the modern version of Screaming Lord Sutch and his Raving Loony Party? Sound silly?

Where do you, and how do you, draw the line?

As far as the proposed Global two-person debate, Adrian Dix has made the right decision even though this might eat into his support. Premier Clark has nothing to lose and can say what she wishes. She can be the proverbial loose cannon while every utterance by Dix will be gone over with great care as the interrogators look for unhelpful quotes.

The debate would be good for Global but that’s no concern of Adrian Dix’s.

One Response to “Dix Wise to Decline Debate Duel with Clark”

  1. Morrey says:

    Rafe – I have never heard or seen Christy Clark debate anyone. Have you?

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