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28 2011

What You Didn’t See at the Leaders’ Debate

Syndicated from: Steve Paikin

I've had the honour of moderating five leaders' debates. But this one featured some unprecedented behind the scenes incidents, at least in my experience.   In the past, whenever the leaders have been ushered on to the debate set just a few minutes before start time, they do everything in their power not to make eye contact with their opponents. They look at their notes. They look at their shoes. They make sure their water glass is filled and that their camera is where it's supposed to be.  Anything but acknowledge the presence of the other leaders.   Everyone's extremely nervous and it's one reason why I've traditionally told a joke just before start time, to get everyone a little more relaxed.   Such was not the case last night. The leaders marched on to the set about seven minutes before start time, and almost instantly, they began talking to each other, even joking with each other and with me.   Here's the video of them walking on to the set:             One of my traditions is to snap a picture of the leaders just before the debate begins. Again, it's one of the little things I do to keep everyone relaxed and not thinking about the daunting task ahead of them.   And here's that picture:       The set was built in the atrium of the CBC Broadcast Centre and as Tim Hudak's body language shows, and if you looked up, you could see 10 floors of balconies above.   There's been a ton of post-mortem on the debate already. One thing I was looking for was whether Premier Dalton McGuinty's having done leaders' debates three times previously represented a real "home court advantage" for him, especially since this was the first debate for both Hudak and Andrea Horwath.   As we shook hands at the debate's conclusion, I asked the premier, "So, does it get easier on the fourth try?"   He laughed. I inferred that meant "no."   "Just a little," he said.   I was surprised at how not nervous both Hudak and Horwath seemed to be. Given how close the polls are and what's at stake, one might have expected more jitters from the rookie leaders. Obviously, I don't know how it appeared on television, but in the room, there appeared to be none of it.   We also got a reminder of how much more difficult it is to be a female leader. During the afternoon walk-throughs, we discovered that Horwath wouldn't be wearing a jacket with pockets or a belt.  Big deal you say?   Turns out, it was. What it meant was, there was nothing to clip the microphone hardware on to. So Horwath had to be seriously "duct taped up" to ensure her microphone paks stayed attached to the back of her dress. No doubt, that could have significantly contributed to her discomfort in a way the male leaders never had to worry about. But I saw no signs of that.   What I still find noteworthy is how, with just a few exceptions, civilized the debate was. The stakes were high. And yet, most of the time, the leaders allowed each other to finish their sentences and there were no temper tantrums against one another.   Maybe they know each other too well to do that. Or maybe the experience of being in the hall, rather than watching it on television, gives me a skewed view of what really happened.  Feel free to let me know in the space below.   Oh, and one more thing. At one point in the debate, Hudak said McGuinty had racked up as much debt as all 35 other premiers combined. 35? McGuinty is Ontario's 24th premier. So what did that mean?   If you know, do let me know.  

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