Tomorrow night’s televised debate offers Ontario’s three political party leaders their first and only chance to speak directly to potential voters prior to next week’s October 6th provincial election.
Debates have given candidates the opportunity to seize victory from the jaws of certain defeat – or to snatch defeat from the jaws of certain victory.
Sure, there are lots of reasons why elections are won (or lost) but at its most simple form, elections are often won on sound bites and catchphrases.
Don’t believe me? Remember: “it’s the economy, stupid,” and “gravy train.”
Sadly, most reporters, news outlets, bloggers and central political party campaigns already know who won tomorrow’s debate – and they are already ready to tell you.
Will tomorrow night’s debate change any minds?
I hope so.
But I don’t think so.
I hope there is a definitive moment like in the 1984 U.S. Presidential debate.
During the 1984 Presidential election, Democrat Walter F. Mondale’s only chance of beating popular incumbent, 73 year old Ronald Reagan, was to make it seem that he was too old to be president. When asked about his age, President Reagan responded that;
“I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purpose, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
By that point, Walter Mondale was 56 years old and a former vice president of the United States. More important – former Vice President Mondale laughed at President Reagan’s joke. By laughing at President Regan’s joke on national television… Walter Mondale seemingly handed President Regan a second term in office.
In that same year and closer to home, Brian Mulroney ended John Turner’s 79 days as prime minister and chance at being elected to Canada’s highest office by stating directly to Prime Minister Turner during a debate:
“You had an option, sir. You could have said, I am not going to do it. This is wrong for Canada, and I am not going to ask Canadians to pay the price. You had an option, sir — to say “no” — and you chose to say “yes” to the old attitudes and the old stories of the Liberal Party. That sir, if I may say respectfully, that is not good enough for Canadians.”
John Turner was visibly shaken by Brian Mulroney’s attack on alleged liberal patronage, and when most of the next day’s paper’s led with “you had an option sir – you could have said no” it all but sealed John Turner’s electoral fate.
Will tomorrow night’s debate bring us a defining election moment? I admit to being fiercely loyal to one of the leaders, so I sure hope so…
However, Adam Radwanski’s Globe and Mail article from Friday, September 23rd speaks very aptly to what ails the modern provincial election campaign and how tomorrow’s debate could be the last time a leaders’ debate takes place over televised airwaves.
I hope you’ll be watching with me tomorrow night. May the best sound bite win.