Picking a winner in a debate is a bit of a fool’s errand, because different people look for different things.
That being said, it says here the winner from Wednesday’s Belleville and District Chamber of Commerce was Terry Cassidy.
Cassidy had the serious advantage of being an underdog and something of an unknown in Belleville, meaning he had significantly less distance to travel to exceed expectations.
And he did, handily.
First, he was well informed about policy and platform. But then again so were all three.
But Cassidy was calm, cool and articulate. He seemed to have a natural sense for the room – which was largely supportive – and for the most part massaged his message to that crowd.
He also had the best line of the night with his reference to slow fat ones coming right over the plate and mimicking a baseball swing.
It came right after Jodie Jenkins’ horrible joke about Stephen Harper not going to any more Jays games (more on that later) and was a wonderful subtle dig that allowed Cassidy to figuratively kick Jenkins while he was down without being cruel, malicious or nasty.
If Cassidy won the night though, Neil Ellis managed the second best thing, which was not to lose it.
Ellis started strongly with some great comments about Syrian refugees being supported by the people in Bloomfield and looked like the favourite early.
But as Cassidy gained his footing, Ellis stumbled a few times trying to say too much too fast and came off on the losing end of his mini-skirmish with Jenkins about Justin Trudeau’s small business comments.
That being said, Ellis was generally steady, at times strong and most importantly he made no major gaffes.
He also showed a fair amount of restrain. Of the three, he spent the least time criticizing the other parties or party leaders and concentrated on talking about what the Liberals will do not more than what the others won’t.
Which brings us to Jodie Jenkins. While Jenkins has the biggest challenges in terms of a hostile crowd, he also had the biggest edge in terms of having a his party’s provable track record to run on. He could have afforded to be humble and gracious in the face of adversity. (This paragraph was edited to clarify it’s the party’s track record, not Jenkins.)
Instead he appeared to get more cocky as the proceedings went on, at one point clumsily trying to drag the discussion back to issues of family by saying, “I want to take this back to family” when the question really had nothing to do with family.
The only moment of humility was on the foreign workers legislation which he admitted needed work, but even then, he chose to practically brag about the meetings he attended rather than what he learned at them.
Then there was the gaffe.
The question came from an audience member, and it was a good one: what policies of your party do you disagree with and how would you go about changing them?
Jenkins had said all night that his job was to bring the riding issues to Ottawa, not the other way around so this was a particularly pertinent question; after all the riding won’t always agree with the party and neither will Jenkins.
The joke was weak – I disagree with sending our leader to baseball games – but it wasn’t a bad ice breaker. Or at least time to consider and answer.
Instead, nothing. Crickets. Finally Lorne Brooker asked if there was more. Nope, that was it.
The next sound was possibly Jenkins political career crashing, which basically sounds like several hundred people groaning and booing.
Cassidy proceeded to give a safe answer about wanting more carbon reduction and Ellis gave an ever safer answer hinting at future announcements by his party on health care and pharmacare.
The Jenkins was given a second chance and with several minutes to come up with an answer and two models to follow, he came up with…. Nothing.
Not literally nothing this time. He said there was nothing he disagrees with. Anywhere with the party policies. At all.
Which is literally beyond belief. No rational person can reasonably believe that Jodie Jenkins agrees 100 per cent with every policy of the Conservative party to the point he doesn’t even think any of them could be better!
By blowing off the question in the first place, Jenkins appeared arrogant; by not coming up with an answer he appears either ignorant. Neither is good.
Jenkins problem getting past this is that the best way to bounce back from a bad debate performance is to excel in other debates. But the Tory plan is to minimize debates (possibly because of incidents like this one.)
So at this point Jenkins has one, possibly two, chances left. Plus he has to deal with the fact if he avoids further debates he will now look like he’s scared of them.
Something will have to give if Jenkins wants to bounce back. And the clock is ticking.
From the Cheap Seats can be heard on 95.5 Hits Fm and Cool 100.1 Monday to Friday at 7 a.m. and noon.