When in doubt . . .

Premier Lorne Calvert, Liberal leader David Karwacki, Saskatchewan Party leader Elwin Hermanson


When in doubt . . .

FTLComm - Tisdale - Wednesday, October 29, 2003
There were few people who viewed the leader's debate on Tuesday night who were not disappointed at the appalling bad manners. There was really nothing about the one hour harangue that would even remotely resemble a debate and if your kids got a peek at it, all the time and effort you put into showing and reminding them about proper behaviour was severely tested.

For those of you fortunate enough not to have witnessed this television episode of standup uncomedy, here is what happened. A hired gun moderator from the CBC was on hand to dryly spell out the rules and then each candidate had a short opportunity for some opening remarks. Then one at a time each of the three journalists, Murray Mandryk from CanWest Global, Tara Robinson from CTV and Stefani Langenegger of CBC put their questions to each candidate with the others having an opportunity to also respond to the directed question. Though this was the plan what ensued was something quite different.

The question was put, the answer given, then as each speaker attempted to say his piece, he was interrupted and interrupted, so that few if any points were made and little could be understood by the viewer because of the confusion.

Most viewers had found the remote control long before the second or third question. This was bad television, it was bad behaviour, it was all told, bad. But to understand what was happening, tells us something about the way this world is swinging steadily out of control. When ever we as a society attempt to reinvent behaviour, unless we follow the rules of conduct that have stood the test of time, chaos is the inevitable result.

More than a week before the election was called the work had begun by CBC and CTV executives to work out a deal between the three political parties to establish the format for the "television debate". For those of you who have worked in committees, you know that these things can sometimes come up with miraculous products and sometimes hard lines and unwillingness to bend, will produce unspeakable failure. This was a case of unspeakable failure. The negotiations went on right up until a day before the scheduled broadcast and Premier Lorne Calvert, Saskatchewan Party leader Elwin Hermanson and Liberal Leader David Karwacki were put in a situation that made all three look bad.

Instead of someone known here in Saskatchewan and respected by the party leaders and by the public, the committee had agreed upon the Toronto hired gun moderator, who did is job with such indifference, that he could have been replaced by any computer running Windows. To make his role even more useless, he made no effort to encourage civility, or follow expected norms of Saskatchewan behaviour, his only interventions related to time.

The questions had been prepared long before hand, each politician had prepared their answers, perhaps as long as a month ago and lacked any relevance to the issues that have transpired since then. Then to even further reduce the positive nature of the event, two polls had been released, one on the weekend and the other Tuesday morning, that showed about 15% of the electorate undecided, the NDP about three points ahead of the Saskatchewan party and the Liberals less than 15%. Headlines described the situation as a "dead heat" as the error factor for each of the polls was about the distance between the two front runners.

This meant that a lot was riding on this televised debate. Mr. Hermanson had to show that he was capable of looking like a future premier, Mr. Calvert had to show confidence and the reserve that goes with being the elected leader of the province and Mr. Karwacki had to go all out to make a showing, so that he could position himself in the legislature with at least one or two members, so that he could control power in what is certain to be a minority government.

With this kind of pressure and prepared scripts, endless rehearsal and a format that was completely silly, as the traditional rules of debate were ignored, all that was being staged was a bar room argument, without a bartender to maintain order. In such conditions the old axiom "when in doubt, attack" became the standard.

I had video taped the thing so that I would have these pictures for a summary article I intended to write, so I have had the displeasure of seeing this thing more than once, although I have to admit, I really found it impossible to get past the half way point in the taped viewing.

Let us consider how each of these three men seeking the highest elected office in the province faired in the bar room argument. First of all, we need to ask ourselves would we want any of these people to be our leader, if being able to out shout and out interrupt an opponent is the criteria for elected office and leadership.

None of these party leaders were forced into public life, but have presented themselves to their fellow citizens as a realisation that they need to serve their fellow man, because the rewards of public life are far outweighed by the negative hardships of offering ones name for elected office. With this in mind, it is hard to understand their lack of manners and no matter what explanation I give here, I cannot justify the lack of decorum and respect that each man should have given his opponents.

The winner of this bar room argument was Liberal leader David Karwacki the loser was Saskatchewan Party leader Elwin Hermanson and the most embarrassed was Lorne Calvert to find himself in such a distressing situation.

Mr. Karwacki is substantially older than he looks, but on television, positioned in the centre, each about ten years older than he, his appearance alone gave him an edge. Though he was as bad in his manners, interrupting and refusing to let either of his opponents complete their responses, he gave the appearance of speaking from his mind and using his common sense to engage in the discussion. For the points he made I would give him a mark of perhaps 38% for it was only in his summary that he was able to rise above the clatter and engage the audience

Mr. Calvert is known for his ability to work with others and seek out compromises while encouraging those around him to make positive contributions to the issue at hand and he twice gave credit to Karwacki for good ideas and by so doing, demonstrated respect for the young Liberal leader. His problem was that he was over rehearsed. He had his points scripted in his mind and was unable to engage in what is really the stuff of debate, taking an argument, turning it around and making positive points with known recognised facts. Unlike the Liberal leader, Mr. Calvert's marks for content and making debating points was a passing mark of 59%. But his clear discomfort at being in such a rude situation showed from beginning to end.

Having served in Ottawa and the provincial legislature we have to assume that Elwin Hermanson is not a stupid man. He is strongly motivated and his supporters appreciate his sincerity and determination to follow issues in which he believes. However, if you were a TV situation comedy writer with enormous skill, you could not have written a script that would portrait this man as dull as he appeared in this "so-called" debate. From beginning to end, he could not make a single point that was credible, often repeating himself and more often shouting out his repeated dumb lines over and over as though he knew nothing else to say. I gave Kerwaky a failing mark in content but Mr. Hermanson scored a 0% though in all justice, his performance and what he said was well into that -30% range. Perhaps the most glaring example of the man's total lack of awareness was his misuse of a Saskatchewan Energy document several years old, dealing with partnering possibilities for securing natural gas reserves and calling that evidence, that the present government was talking about selling the Crown Corporations, while at the same time failing to indicate what the Saskatchewan Party's position is on this issue.

(Mr. Hermanson will be on the CBC phone in show tomorrow from 1:00 until 2:00, 540 on the AM dial and the number is 800 716 2221)

With nothing credible to say, his summation and over all delivery was that of the kid in your class who used to make smart ass answers to questions from the teacher and smirked at his classmates, all several years younger than himself. I am certain he just can not be this dysfunctional and believe that it was the circumstances that made him look so completely incompetent. If I knew nothing about him I would seriously question the appropriateness of letting a person with so little ability obtain a drivers license, or operate heavy equipment.

Yesterday you may have read
Mr. deSantis' article in which he urges voters to vote against the government. Mr. deSantis makes some very valid points as he notes that the present government is responsible for having undertaken some really questionable programmes where really significant amounts of money were poured into the pointless Saskatchewan Health Information Network. We also know that the provincial crown corporations have been spending money outside the province in various ventures, many of which were failures. During last nights argument, some of these issues were hinted at, but every attempt by the Premier to respond was shouted down and even the way the issues were raised by David Karwacki were fired as shots rather than reasoned concerned issues by a future wannabe Premier. Unfortunately, Mr. Hermanson simply avoided any of the issues that might have illustrated his grasp of reality.

The shortcomings of the Saskatchewan Party platform were all but lost in the confusion. The premier pointed out that impracticality of the massive tax cuts that the loopy idea that this would attract people back to Saskatchewan and thus improve revenue and the Liberal leader pointed out that the Saskatchewan Party has openly stated in the house and elsewhere, it intends to sell off the crown corporations, but these points were lost in the jumble of interruptions

The Liberal Party was mainly attacked by the Premier for its Federal failures to support Saskatchewan in its agricultural crisis with drought and mad cow situations and the Liberal leader made a feeble attempt to indicate that he had done his part in getting Ottawa's nod, if only for a moment or two.

The really sad part about this televised argument was that Saskatchewan voters really need meaningful input. They need to hear what the NDP is proposing to do that will clean up some of its shady past. The Saskatchewan Party needed to express some credible alternative rather than dump rhetorical crumbs. With the two leading parties so close and the undecided vote so narrow the Liberal Party needs to get its middle of the road moderate message out because if their leader is elected he too will be faced with the same situation that his predecessor had to deal with after the last election.

Let's for a minute consider some of the stuff that Saskatchewan people really need to have addressed by the constitutional responsibilities of provincial government.

1. Saskatchewan is big, its population in the rural areas widely dispersed and emergency health care is a real issue. Adding to its health care needs is the fact that its population is growing old and significant money and locally rooted planning needs to be implemented to see to the people's support. Waiting lists are not acceptable and urban concentration of service is reason enough to move elsewhere.

2. The poverty, overcrowding, health care and educational needs of Saskatchewan's growing aboriginal population is drowning the whole society. Unless some workable deal with Ottawa is reached and some massive intervention, or self help given the bands and people themselves, Saskatchewan's crime and racial situation will continue to deteriorate exponentially.

3. Though the Saskatchewan party has dragged out the tired and unworkable, unsuccessful boot camp concept Saskatchewan's high rates of urban crime and even a growing threat of rural crime is rapidly turning a great place into a bad place. There is every reason to believe that growing crime stems from over spending in the Devine era which produced underspending in the Romanow era leaving so many desperate people that being law abiding has little or no reward. Only sound generous government will reverse this trend.

4. Depopulation is a fact of this era in agricultural economies. If you want to make Saskatchewan a great place, development is the key. More rural industry, more expansion into the wilderness and more people seeking a new life in a new land. Some local politicians are talking about this issue, but the three main parties seem to have a problem with vision.

5. Though we in Saskatchewan spend a lot of money on education, it is the key to success. Both the premier and Karwacki have talked about this issue while Mr. Hermanson's party is not known for much more than having a lower minimum wage and lower taxes. The future is rooted in information technology and knowledge based industry. To get the most out of a society, creativity in all fields of endeavour are a necessity, not a frill and every kid in Saskatchewan needs at least the first two years of post secondary education, ideally provided by the province. Put out that kind of money and people will move here in droves just to see that their kids get the best start in life possible. Education, not training, is the key to making a truly boundless future oriented society. (Keep in mind that the drop out rate among Saskatchewan's aboriginal students is 50%)

It was you the viewer who lost out Tuesday night, so take matters into your own hands and talk to your prospective MLAs find out where they stand, we have no alternative but to make the system work.

Murray Mandryk


Stefani Langenegger



Timothy W. Shire


All the images used here were from the CBC feed of the Leader's debate, the same feed went out on CTV.


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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
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