BC Liberal leader Christy Clark fashioned herself as the stoic, fearless leader, unafraid to stand up to the protectionist urges of Donald Trump. NDP Leader John Horgan portrayed himself in more prosaic terms, as the champion of the everyday person. Green Leader Andrew Weaver tried to convince a skeptical public that the policies of his party were needed to rid Victoria of the decades-old stench created by the cynical politics of the province's two mainstream parties.
Those, in essence, were the critical paths taken Wednesday by B.C.'s three party leaders in the only televised debate of the 2017 election. But in an event with a history of producing campaign-altering interactions, this one did not have that one memorable moment that left the public laughing, confused or more certain than ever about their vote.
While there may not have been a major faux pas, or a singular performance that eclipsed the others, there are certain to be many people now who know more about Mr. Weaver and like what they see. After a nervous opening statement, the distinguished academic settled down and did an often impressive job dissecting the failed policies and failed policy proposals of his two opponents.
In a past election an unexpectedly strong performance by a third party such as the Greens might not have made much of a difference. But Mr. Weaver seems to have tapped into an anti-establishment sentiment that has allowed his party to become a credible force in this campaign. They have the power to wreak havoc on the NDP's traditional stronghold of Vancouver Island. They have the ability to hurt the Liberals, too, in key ridings.
There is a scenario that is not utterly fantastical in which the Greens hold the balance of power in a minority government after May 9. Certainly, Mr. Weaver would have done nothing Wednesday night to diminish the chances of that anyway.
He may have been strongest on the issue of campaign finance. The Greens are the only party not taking either corporate or union donations. This is a matter that the governing Liberals were most vulnerable on, given the general outrage over the millions pouring into party coffers from corporate interests, and the fact that for six years, Ms. Clark drew an extra salary that was paid from those same political contributions. Mr. Horgan and the NDP have vowed to ban corporate and union donations if they become government, but until then they are accepting them.
During the campaign, the Liberals revealed that the NDP received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Steelworkers union, which has also been paying the salary of a few of the party's high-profile campaign workers. While not nearly as contemptible as the massive amounts of money the Liberals have been raking in from, say, the development industry, it did compromise the NDP's position on this issue, one that Ms. Clark was only happy to point out a few times during the debate.
It was only Mr. Weaver who could say his hands were completely clean, and he did several times.
Mr. Horgan, meantime, did not allow his Irish temper get the better of him, although the subject was raised during the debate. He gave the best answer he could: Sometimes the policies of the Clark government, and the impact they have on working families, do make him mad. He was particularly strong on the issue of housing affordability. He may have had his best moment of the debate on the question of education and the Supreme Court of Canada decision ordering the Liberals to rebate the education system hundreds of millions of dollars the Justices found was taken illegally by the provincial government stretching back to 2002, when Ms. Clark was education minister.
"You stole from a generation of kids because of your bullheadedness," Mr. Horgan said to Ms. Clark in a standout moment.
For Ms. Clark, her job was more straightforward: Convince voters why they didn't want to mess with success. That achievement was the highest job creation numbers in Canada, an economy that has been the envy of the country and finances that earned a Triple A credit rating. But Ms. Clark was also battling voter fatigue and the normal desire for change that sets in when a government has been in power as long as the Liberals – 16 years.
The fact is, her biggest weapon is her personality. She is easy to like on screen. She looks vibrant and sunny and optimistic. Her more easy-going style and demeanour was often in stark contrast to her two opponents, especially when the two men faced off against one another and the discussion disintegrated into a full minute of talking over one other. It didn't happen when either Mr. Horgan or Mr. Weaver talked to Ms. Clark – maybe that was out of respect.
It's evident Ms. Clark also plans to try to take advantage of Mr. Trump's actions on softwood lumber, suggesting during the debate that she and only she can stand up to the American president. Give her marks for chutzpah. But the fact is trade is a federal file, not provincial. There is very little Ms. Clark can do that will scare Mr. Trump.
I know that people want clear winners declared after these types of events. But I don't think that's possible here. All three had their moments. All three likely won supporters and lost some too. But it's hard to imagine the provincial election swung in any discernible way as a result of it.