A regrettable comment from John Horgan about race and calm moderation stood out on debate night.
British Columbia held its only debate of the snap election campaign Tuesday night, and those looking for the fireworks of the recent U.S. presidential debate were likely disappointed by the relatively polite and calm discourse on stage.
Where the Donald Trump-Joe Biden battle was full of interruptions, outrage and very little substance, Tuesday’s event, broadcast from the University of British Columbia’s Chan Centre, was a civil and comparatively fireworks-free affair from the province’s three main party leaders.
With a hearty lead in the polls, NDP Leader John Horgan was tasked with not rocking the boat too much. Meanwhile, Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson was looking to ignite some kind of spark in a listless campaign marked by controversy, while newly elected Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau made her debate debut less than a month after taking on the job.
Moderated by Angus Reid Institute president Shachi Kurl, the debate still proved to be interesting, with a fair share of key back-and-forths and memorable moments including a hot-button question on white privilege for the three leaders.
Here are five takeaways you need to know
The calm moderation was a far cry from the “garbage fire” in the U.S.
A big win for the night was certainly the debate’s structure and moderation, particularly after the poorly moderated mess of the U.S. debates.
Kurl kicked off the evening by warning the leaders they must keep to their allotted times, not interrupt each other and would be prompted if they don’t answer the specific question.
And she kept to that script. At several key moments, Kurl offered more time to leaders to answer the specific question they were asked, such as when Wilkinson avoided a question around pipeline protests.
And when giving leaders time to ask each other questions, Kurl also stepped in several times to remind Furstenau to actually ask a question in the allotted 15 seconds.
The debate cycled through all four predetermined topics — pandemic recovery, cost of living, environment and resource policy, and social issues — in a smooth fashion, and even ended earlier than the expected 90-minute runtime.
Many Twitter users were quick to suggest the U.S. should take a page from Kurl’s book.
And it wasn’t all on Kurl. While there was some crosstalk, interruptions were at a minimum. Speaking after the debate, all three leaders felt it was a civil affair.
Kurl even offered them a special treat at the end for staying civil.
“Thank you,” she said. “Y’all get a cookie.”
Horgan walks back comments on white privilege
In the jam-packed “social issues” section, Kurl asked all three white party leaders to reflect on their personal experience with white privilege and describe how they planned to work through it.
Horgan and Wilkinson both referenced their past experiences with diverse communities and were panned for it.
Wilkinson spoke about working in Indigenous communities as a doctor, and puzzlingly boiled down his experience down to an Indigenous child he helped deliver who was then named after him.
Horgan outlined his childhood growing up and playing lacrosse in a diverse community, and offhandedly said he “doesn’t see colour,” a phrase widely used to minimize the systemic impacts of racism and disadvantages faced by racialized communities.
The comment was certainly the most memorable of the night, and sparked a slew of online outrage.
Speaking to reporters after the debate, Horgan apologized for the comment.
“I certainly mischaracterized the challenges that people of colour face every day,” he said. “It was inappropriate to say that I don’t see colour. That was a mistake on my part. I have to work every day to improve on that, as do all leaders that aren’t of colour.”
As for Furstenau, she approached the question on white privilege and race differently than her competitors, getting emotional as she spoke about the everyday dangers people of colour face and how mothers shouldn’t have to worry about their children.
“We aren’t all equal. I wish we were, but we’re not,” Furstenau said. “The three of us cannot reckon what that’s like, because we are white. But we have to, in our roles, work to end that systemic racism.”
As the rookie, Furstenau made her mark
If there was a winner out of three, it was probably Furstenau. Tuesday’s debate was the first time many voters likely got to see her in action, and she likely won over many new fans.
The new Green leader vastly outperformed expectations after assuming leadership of her party only seven days before the writ dropped.
While Wilkinson and Horgan pushed each other on their respective weaknesses and repeated their talking points, Fursteanu came across as calm and passionate while communicating her own talking points.
In her closing statements, she made an impassioned plea to voters to consider the Greens as a viable third option and keep power out of a single party’s hands. Under former leader Andrew Weaver, the Greens propped up the NDP minority government for three and a half years leading into the election.
“I know that we’re in a really hard time, all of you are facing pressure and challenges that could not have been imagined before this year,” she said.
“The best thing in this election is to not hand power to a single party, but to have the kind of collaboration and cooperation that put the people and their needs first.”
Wilkinson reminded us he’s both a doctor and a lawyer — a lot
The Liberal leader’s performance started off robotic and rehearsed, as he stared down the barrel of the camera in the early portion of the debate. As the event progressed, he loosened up and repeatedly brought up his broad resume.
Wilkinson attended medical school in Alberta and worked as a doctor across B.C., but was also called to the B.C. bar as a lawyer before joining politics.
Throughout the night it seemed every question could relate back to Wilkinson’s professional experience, from that discussion on racism to his assertion that he knows how to think rationally and put people first from being a doctor.
During one moment, Wilkinson likely tried to win over a few new fans by comparing his experience to that of widely acclaimed B.C. chief medical officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who’s guided the province through the pandemic.
We’re in this for the long haul, Horgan says
B.C.’s snap election is a short one, with the campaign lasting just over a month in total. But the COVID-19 pandemic? That’s long-term, according to Horgan.
Horgan battled questions from both Wilkinson and Furstenau regarding his decision to call an early election despite the pandemic and a prior agreement with the Greens to maintain the government.
He repeated the same points he’s reiterated since the start of the campaign, arguing that the pandemic and recovery will last longer than just this year or even next year, and British Columbians should have a say who guides them through it.