Nobody goes to a political debate to hear about policy. If you want policy, get a white paper.
We go to see the candidates in action, sense their personalities, and watch them duke it out. By those measures, tonight’s political debate was a huge success. It’s a bit silly to name winners and losers, but if we must, I’d say Nicki Ward, the Green candidate, won. She was very impressive.
Ahmed Hussen, Liberal, was spirited and confident, confrontational and in command of the facts. He did very well, and often spoke passionately. Having watched his career, I was surprised. He’s often seemed at turns needlessly defensive and aggressive. He was very good tonight, speaking with feeling and purpose.
I can’t think of a kind thing to say about his touts, though. They were atrocious. Several times they shouted over the speakers, yelling dim-witted criticisms and true-believer hoots. They reached a nadir when they shouted down Yafet Tewelde, making him impossible to hear. I can’t imagine what Hussen is thinking. His crowd is having an effect opposite to what he intends: they’re utterly off-putting.
Yafet Tewelde, NDP, punched back hard. He took Hussen to task on his record and his (supposed?) absence in the community. He went full-tilt against Hussen, fighting hard and tenaciously. He knew the facts and had some zingers. He went at Hussen like an underdog should.
Tewelde was very good, but principled too: he stood up for both his Liberal and Conservative peers when they were unfairly heckled. It was quite honourable.
The underdog to match, though, had to be Nicki Ward. I thought that the last of the three people to find the Green’s AGM had to run as the riding’s candidate. The party has no presence between elections—they don’t even tweet—they don’t seem to have an infrastructure or pull, and they never do very well. I wasn’t expecting much. In fact, I wasn’t expecting anything.
And was I ever wrong.
Nicki Ward started off the debate brilliantly. She emphasized her independence, saying the party doesn’t have a whip, and “the opinions expressed on this stage are mine. I’m a one-issue candidate. My issue is York South–Weston.” It was a bold thing to do: to promise her brain, rather than focus-grouped policy promises. It could have been a disaster of dim-witted improvisation and talking points. I’ll spoil the ending: it was anything but.
Ward was bold, well read, and aggressive. She jabbed her opponents and wrestled with the issues. Her principled, articulate, and passionate stand on Indigenous clean water rights was the most inspiring moment of the night. She made it clear she didn’t have a monopoly on truth, too: “Take our platform. Take our ideas. But for God’s sake, implement them”, she told her peers. They’d do well to.
Gerard Racine, the PPC candidate, was both physically and emotionally distant. He sat, somewhat unfortunately, off to the right of the rest of the candidates. It suited him, though. He doesn’t seem to have any pretensions about winning, and judging from his Twitter feed, I thought he was a bit of a kook.
He may be, but he was charming enough as a bit of a grump, all function and no inspiration, pointing out that the feds don’t do transit, childcare, or healthcare, that the climate crisis is merely a climate problem, and that “complex problems have complex solutions”. He put his foot in it a bit when he said that kids these days should “learn a little more about Canada”, but I doubt he cares. He said he wasn’t going to pander. He kept that promise.
Jasveen Rattan, PhD, and the Conservative candidate, did fairly poorly. There’s a kind of academic who speaks knowledgeably, because she knows. There’s another who speaks bullshit, as if she knows. And then there’s the kind that figures out answers based on what they know already. I like this kind of academic. They puzzle things through. They’re honest. They’re great to drink with. But they’re not the least bit fun to watch.
I think Rattan is that last kind. She fumbled. She spoke in fragmented sentences as if she was figuring things out as she went—because, I think, she was. She didn’t nail any zingers as a result, and she didn’t seem in command of her platform.
Rattan also, frankly, screwed up. She said that she has a lot of experience with youth, “but not in York South–Weston” and humblebragged that she’s travelled to more than 200 cities and learned so much. She is a parachute candidate and privileged. She doesn’t need to emphasize that. When I met her, she said she was in the race to win. If that was the case, she should have spent more time prepping.
The organizers, as always, did an excellent job. They deserve our thanks. For the first time, the livestreamed the debate, and it’s well worth the watch.