Former British Columbia Premier Ujjal Dosanjh says there was no knock out punch in 2001 when he squared off against former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell for the televised leaders debate, he was down and out before it even started.
"We were in the low teens in terms of the polling," said the former BC New Democrat premier and federal Liberal MP. "We were at 13 to 14 per cent in the polls. On election day were up to, I think, 23 per cent."
Dosanjh's New Democrats were virtually wiped off the political map by Campbell's New Era juggernaut, winning only two seats of the 79 available. Dosanjh lost his seat and entered federal politics as a Liberal.
Twelve years later and after three consecutive Liberal governments, the political landscape has shifted somewhat with Adrian Dix's New Democrats appearing at the debate with a 14-point lead, according to the most recent polling numbers, over Premier Christy Clark's Liberals.
"Our fortunes were much worse than the BC Liberal fortunes (today)," said Dosanjh who believes televised debates present leaders with opportunities to shift the direction of an election campaign in their favour.
"The debate is a juncture in a campaign when things can change," he said, adding that Friday's radio debate between the leaders set the stage for what could be a defining moment in the 2013 campaign.
"The television debate is somewhat different," he said. "It's more visual. People know your expressions, the way you look, the way you act, the way you emote. You essentially have a dual task, you have to present your theme and main thrust of your platform and punch holes into the other person's perceived strengths, and sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don't succeed."
Dosanjh said the leaders, particularly Clark, who he considers the underdog, must decide before the debate if they want to continue with their current campaign theme or "make a slight change.
"In this debate, not that I'm giving anybody any advice, but obviously the issue of the Kinder Morgan pipeline has become a very important issue," he said. "It's become somewhat symbolic of the two opposing views (of the Liberals and NDP) in terms of economic development. That has the potential of actually changing the channel on the kind of campaign the leaders have run so far."
Dosanjh said Dix's Earth Day announcement in Kamloops that an NDP government doesn't believe British Columbians want to turn the port of Vancouver into a major oil export port to accommodate Kinder Morgan's pipeline ambitions has become a lifeboat for the Liberal campaign and Clark needs to get on board.
"This is one of those defining differences that can make or break a campaign," he said.
Dosanjh said Dix's move to virtually reject Kinder Morgan gives Clark an opportunity to challenge his plans for economic growth.
"Mr. Dix keeps talking about skills development, which is very, very important," he said. "There are lots of jobs that go wanting because we don't have the people trained with skills, but if we don't grow the economy those jobs will stop growing or disappear if the investment goes away.
"Then we can have all the skills we want, but the people will find jobs in Alberta or somewhere else," Dosanjh said.
Former Campbell aide and author Martyn Brown said the Kinder Morgan issue is a winner for Dix and Clark can try and use the pipeline to poke holes in Dix's economic strategy, but most voters are on the NDP's side.
"Most people would probably agree with Dix," he said. "This election is about trust and change, it's not about a vision for an oil refinery or a pipeline in Vancouver."
At Friday's radio debate, the provincial budget and Kinder Morgan were the main topics.
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