There was a “debate” among the leaders of the three main Nova Scotia political parties on Tuesday evening – Rodney MacDonald for the Progressive Conservatives, Darrell Dexter for the NDP and Stephen McNeil for the Liberals.

The discussion following such a debate often starts like this:

“Did you watch the debate?”


“Who won?”

“I don’t know.  I haven’t heard what the pundits are saying yet.”

The “debate” is not really a debate at all.  It’s not a discussion or even a conversation. It’s a series of fairly predictable questions and answers which gives the leaders a chance to display their personalities and to demonstrate their ability to think on their feet and to present themselves for your approval.  The pundits will usually declare a winner based on how comfortable they are with the performance and/or the views of one of the participants.

One of the things the pundits can be counted on to say – as a criticism – is that the leaders were “scripted.” That’s lazy punditry.

There’s a fine line between “scripted” and “prepared.”  If Rodney is asked a question about whether his budget put the province into deficit and his response is, “Dexter has no plan,” that’s scripted. If he’s asked about health care, education and the weather forecast and his answer is, “Dexter has no plan,” – scripted.

But if Darrell is asked a question about removing the HST from your electric bill and the answer is something you’ve heard many times before, that’s not scripted – he’s being consistent with his answers. He’s been answering that question and giving the same answer for some time now.

I have no doubt that the pundits themselves, when they make their pronouncements about winners and losers are armed with notes of varying detail – and rightly so.  I’m sure we’d rather listen to someone who we felt had cared enough to make her/himself ready for the gig.

One batch of pundits asked for the leaders to have more charisma, to show more passion and a sense of humour.  We’ll leave charisma aside but I hate to think of the pundits’ reviews if any of our leaders had shed a tear, thrown a punch or told a joke during the debate.

Nowadays, another indication of who “won” is the number of comments in favour of one leader or another at the end of news stories online – the amateur pundits.  Mostly what these comments tell us is which party is best at getting its support mobilized and ready to flood the site with their views at debate’s end.  The comments are like lawn signs or getting the vote out; they indicate the degree of on-the-ground organization that each party can turn to.

I’m giving the pundit prize to this comment. You have to admit, it takes some nerve to offer this as an analysis of the debate:

If there was a winner – and this is debatable – it had to be the Liberals’ Stephen McNeil … because he was least often the target of his opponents and therefore suffered the fewest body blows.

Surely by this reasoning, Stephen McNeil would have been a runaway winner if only he’d stayed at home.

This is the view of Chronicle Herald columnist Marilla Stephenson, ( ) considered to be a hereditary Liberal.

Oh P.S.  Darrell Dexter won the debate.  He was knowledgeable, intelligent, poised, sophisticated, gracious.  What more do you want?