#onpoli newsletter - The debate that wasn't really a debate

Why were the Ontario Liberal leadership candidates so darned nice to each other?
By Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath - Published on Feb 25, 2020
Steve Paikin moderates an all-candidate Ontario Liberal Party leadership debate at TVO.

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Hello, #onpoli people,

On the latest episode of #onpoli, we look at how the Ipperwash Crisis of 1995 and the death of Dudley George have shaped the police response to the Tyendinaga blockade east of Belleville, Ont. Plus, hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath dive further into the Ontario Liberal leadership debate.

Reflections on a debate

John Michael: Well, Steve, it was a notable week here at TVO last week. We had all six candidates for the Liberal leadership race in our studio for a debate on Wednesday, as we’ve done before for other parties. (The last time we did it was for the Progressive Conservatives, in the… interesting leadership race of early 2018, which you may remember.) If you don’t mind me saying so, you’re a bit of an old hand at this — we talked about your history of moderating debates on the podcast last year — so with the benefit of a few days to think about it, did anything stand out for you in this debate?

Pulling their punches

Man with glasses.
Steven Del Duca prepares to answer a question from Steve Paikin.

Steve: The thing that stood out for me the most was how collegial they all were with each other. And when I watched the U.S. Democratic candidates’ debate on TV after ours was over, you couldn’t have imagined a more different experience. Those guys spent two hours ripping each other’s faces off. The biggest difference, of course, is that the Democratic nomination is a long way from being over, while the Ontario Liberal race basically is. Or sure looks like it is. Steven Del Duca finds himself with 56 per cent of the pledged delegate support heading into the March 7 convention, which means if he can get his troops to show up, and get his share of the “super delegates” (former MPPs, nominated candidates, etc. who don’t have to run for a delegate slot), he’ll win this thing on the first ballot. I suspect everyone on our debate stage knew that and therefore saw no value in aggressively going after Del Duca during the only televised debate. But how about you? Any moments that stay with you, or perhaps something you learned from the exchanges that you didn’t previously know?

Will Coteau run again?

John Michael: I think you’re right about the general collegiality of it all, and I’d just add that another reason for people to pull their punches is that a lot of political parties worry about TV clips living forever on the internet, now — nobody wants to say anything their opponents will be able to recycle later. I was also surprised when Michael Coteau said he might not run again in 2022. The usual answer to these kinds of questions — “Will you run again even if you don’t win the leadership?” — is “Of course, I’m committed to my party and winning, etc., etc.” But Coteau’s answer was that two years is a long time and he couldn’t say for sure if he’ll run again. And, you know, he’s not wrong: two years is a long time in politics! The other wrinkle, of course, is that it might not be up to him: if Steven Del Duca is in fact the leader, he could in theory support a different candidate in Coteau’s Toronto riding in the next election. (For what it’s worth, I asked Del Duca about that prospect after the debate, and he says he wants Coteau in the party in 2022: “Michael’s a dear friend, he’s been a great competitor in this race, a great MPP and a great cabinet minister.”)

Just a reminder...

Want to know more? Check out the latest episode of #onpoli, out today.

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