Moderator Steve Paikin held Layton down and let Harper take another shot

The English debates on Thursday night turned out to be much more exciting due to the inclusion of an additional debater in the televised debates.

No, no, I’m not referring to Elizabeth May, (although I thought her performance was both intelligent and effective).

No, I’m referring to Steve Paikin, the supposed ‘moderator’ of the debate.

Much to my disbelief, Paikin actually entered the debate himself after Stephen Harper reacted to Layton’s factually correct statement that Harper had been the head of an organization whose stated goal was (and still is) the destruction of Canada’s healthcare system.

Harper reacted by saying, “Let me just be very quick on this. I use the public health care system. My family uses the public health care system. In fact, in the last federal election campaign at one point it turned out I was the only national leader actually who had used exclusively the public health care system.” (source)

Harper was perfectly within his rights to make that point — in fact, in my opinion, it would have still been perfectly within his rights to even elaborate on the point and try to stick the knife into Layton further if he thought it would advance his case.  That’s debating.  That’s the whole point.  At the same time though, Layton should have been perfectly within his right to retort that he didn’t pay for his hernia operation, it was covered through his OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) card and thus he never cue-jumped and never went outside the public health care system.

But what came next was completely unexpected.  ‘Moderator’ Steve Paikin actually stopped the debate there and entered the debate himself.  Just to make sure that the public understood precisely the reference that Stephen Harper was making, Steve Paikin not only repeated the claim himself, but further elaborated on it by giving the name of the clinic and so forth.  Paikin thus saved Harper from having to get himself bloody, by personally ensuring that the knife was into Layton deep enough.

Layton, obviously flummoxed by being attacked on both sides by the moderator and the Conservative leader, only retorted that the grand daughter of Tommy Douglas (an NDP supporter) thinks that that qualifies as public health care.

In my opinion, Layton collapsed like a house of cards for about the next 20 minutes of the debate, clearly having lost the vigour, energy and confidence that had characterized his performance prior to the Paikin incident.

Because of this incident, I was shocked to learn that Layton had placed second (behind Harper) in the English language debate according to the polling firm Ipsos-Reid.  I was certain that he would have fared much worse.

But then again, I thought that Gilles Duceppe slaughtered everyone else at the French Language debate, but Ipsos-Reid gave the debate to Dion (who I thought at best tied Harper for third behind Layton and Duceppe).  I also thought that the English debate would have been called for Elizabeth May who, in my opinion, was the winner, but Ipsos had her in third.

I guess I should get out of the debate predicting business and stick to the polling and seat projection business.

7 Responses to “Moderator Steve Paikin held Layton down and let Harper take another shot”


  1. 1 Walkswitthcoffee 4 October, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Yes, he leaped to Mr. Harper’s defence a few times.

  2. 2 Sean 4 October, 2008 at 10:53 am

    I’m not really sure what the problem is. If all Paikin did was reiterate and add the name of the clinic, is that so bad? I don’t really see that as ganging up. If he began listing off other examples of Harper’s use of public health care, ok, I could see that as going to far, but I can’t have a problem with it as you describe it, especially if it was accurate.

    I watched the debates, but I did flip a little to the US and missed some bits and pieces here and there, so I don’t remember this particular part.

  3. 3 janfromthebruce 4 October, 2008 at 11:05 am

    I do and was unpleasantly surprised by Paikin playing 6th wheel. It’s one thing to ensure the leaders answered a question, but quite another to enter the fray. What would put Jack off is the total unexpectation that Paikin was doing this, and how to respond, by a) not attacking him, and b) seeing the power of MSM in your face rather than just on the pages, opinions, and news daily.

    Watching with others, we all thought that Paikin should not be the moderator again as obviously he was bias. And there should be complaints go forward after the election with that clip exposed to the consortium. Better still these debates should be under election Canada and not media consortium.

  4. 4 Ken Chapman 4 October, 2008 at 11:09 am

    I think the moderator was masterful. He did intervene on the basis of fair play. When a shot was taken he let a response happen. Most of the shots were at Harper and well deserved in my opinion. to let a shot just hang and the event move on is not fair to the parties and the audience.

    The old stype debtes were designed for conflict focused, quasi-reality televison programming. This format and the skill of the moderator enabled serious and significnat exchanges on key issues.

    You examples are telling. Harper did not respond ot the Layton statement of fact about Harper’s values expressed a a lobbyist. Layton’s response to invoke Shirley Douglas was lame but that is his own fault.

    When Harper took an unfair shot at Layton’s private clinic visist, the moderator also gave him an instant chance to reply…which he did.

    Don’t blame the moderator. On Thursday we had as close to an intelligent and engaging exchange on real issues between political leaders as I have ever seen in Canadian politics.

  5. 5 paulitics 4 October, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Ken, I do agree that the debate was overall an intelligent and engaging exchange, but I think that it was intelligent and engaging in spite of Paikin, not because of it. I thought that it was intelligent and engaging because of Elizabeth May who quoted more facts, cited more statistics and OECD reports than anybody else.

    I think her position on Afghanistan is atrocious, and I’m not likely to vote for her, but I did think that she won the debate and that it was an intelligent debate largely because of her, not Steve Paikin.

  6. 6 Doug 5 October, 2008 at 11:17 am

    Thanks for posting this commentary, Paul. I think you’re spot on, and to add what you’ve looked at, Paikin also corrected Layton after Layton said that McGuinty supported the NDP cap-and-trade and did not support Dion’s carbon tax plan. Paikin corrected Layton and said that McGuinty refused to endorse Dion’s plan.

    While Paikin’s point of information was valid, the correcting of Layton stood alone. At no other point in the debate do I remember Paikin correcting other leaders, even when Harper and Dion were accusing each other of lying about each others platform. And they *were* lying and distorting facts, especially Harper. Where was the obviously well-informed Paikin on these issues?

    The point is that Paikin waded in to correct Layton and no one else. Either he corrects everyone or he corrects no one.

    That said, I do think Layton won the debate in that he landed some serious blows on both Harper and Dion while promoting the NDP agenda. May and Duceppe were excellent in beating up Harper, too, but were ineffective in putting across their own platform (which we all expect from Duceppe, but not May). Dion was useless.

    Harper’s performance was effective at the outset but his calmness through out the entire debate ultimately undermined him, especially when Layton called him out on a lack of a program and everyone teamed up on Harper over his complacency (and corporate tax cuts) amidst an economic meltdown. He was largely a robot, except for his patronizing and condescending tone. I don’t know why anyone thought he won. There was no outright winner, but the losers were definitely Dion and Harper, with Layton, Duceppe and May the most effective. I would actually place Layton and Duceppe as the closest to winning.

  7. 7 martinp 9 October, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    I never watched the debate, I don’t know why anybody would make a decision based on a debate since that’s not actually what legislators DO (they do DO it, but its largely a show and the most important part of government is the legislation that actually affects us-not the chattering we tend to ignore). Anyway, this wasn’t the first complaint I’ve heard about Steve Paikin. I’ve always been on the fence about him, The Agenda is one of the few decent political shows, but I’m not sure that that is because of him. I actually liked Paula Todd much better. Steve seems to really like the sound of his own voice and feel as if he’s irked that he’s not in the interviewee’s chair.

    Anyway, just wanted to add that those moderator complaints certainly aren’t exclusive to this blog.


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