Opinion: Debate did nothing to change the equation

Debate changed nothing

Everything was going so well for John Horgan on Tuesday night.

He was having great success during the televised B.C. leaders debate, heading into election day next Saturday. 

He was easily and confidently swatting the criticisms and jabs from the robotic Andrew Wilkinson, the leader of the B.C. Liberals. The poised B.C. Greens leader Sonia Fursteneau was getting in some nice shots but she wasn’t landing tough combinations to unbalance Horgan, allowing him to roll with the punches.

Horgan’s undoing came from a question he should have handled easily, especially because Wilkinson got to go first, leaving Horgan bonus time to consider his response.

Moderator Shachi Kurl, who earned universal praise for keeping the leaders in line, asked a broad but well-worded question about white privilege that specifically asked for their personal understanding of the issue.

Like every answer, he delivered Tuesday night, Wilkinson’s point was decent but not stellar, delivered with little emotion or even enthusiasm. He simply stated that he’s come a long way from his younger days when he had little knowledge of or exposure to people of colour but learned a lot during his medical career (he mentioned he’s a doctor numerous times Tuesday night) and continues to educate himself.

And then Horgan.

A white person claiming they don’t see colour and then identifying their person of colour friends is so blind to their white privilege lens that they can’t see the contradiction slapping them in the face.

In the case of Horgan, if you don’t see colour, how do you know your buddies you played lacrosse with as a boy were Indigenous? 

To Horgan’s credit, he apologized quickly and articulately in the media scrum after the debate and again on Wednesday morning but the damage was done. The conversation was now about how Horgan didn’t see people of colour, rather than how Wilkinson sat and said nothing on a weekend Zoom call while one of his female colleagues made inappropriate jokes about a female, well-liked NDP MLA.

In the end, however, the leadership debate changed nothing. Their various supporters loved their performances and their detractors still don’t like them much.

Fursteneau did nothing to change the impression that she is a well-meaning, caring person who wants to power the province with good intentions, rather than actual jobs and development.

Horgan did nothing to change the impression he’s a charismatic Joe who easily falls back into cockiness and bluster under pressure.

Wilkinson did nothing to change the impression that he’s super book smart and a decent enough fellow but, like many doctors, lacks a warm bedside manner.

That benefits Horgan in the end because he just needed to keep the impression people already have of him while making sure people’s impression of Wilkinson and Fursteneau stayed the same, too. He knows B.C. voters are historically attracted to charismatic leaders and he knows he’s more charismatic than the other two leaders.

Tuesday’s flub on white privilege was bad but he acted quickly to contain the damage. Barring any surprises over the next 10 days (and even less time with so many people voting early by mail-in ballot), Horgan appears like he’s cruising to re-election.

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