Manitoba party leaders make election campaign a lose-lose for voters

UPDATED 9/9: PC dates of correspondence added

UPDATED 9/8: Liberal leader interview added

UPDATED 9/6: NDP info added about phone call with media rep

There’s a provincial election on the horizon and Manitobans largely don’t care… again.

It is a shotgun campaign of sorts with about one month of door knocking, mudslinging robo calls and leaflets left in mailboxes. For most homeowners, they pretended not to be home, ignored the calls and threw out the leaflets.

There was one televised leader debate and by all accounts that was one too many. It was a prime example of why I have no interest in following an election campaign and how my fellow Manitobans feel the same.

When the party leaders were given the opportunity to lob a question at another candidate, they opened with a rambling monologue about themselves and what their party is doing before the moderator quietly, and almost drowned out, interrupted with, “What is your question?” Even then, they steamrolled her and practically ignored the prompt to move along.

Finally, the questioned candidate began to answer but not before taking a swipe at the questioner. You could’ve fast-forwarded a good 20 seconds or 30 seconds just to get to a somewhat answer to the question. Even then, there wasn’t anything meaty about the response.

It was a long 50 minutes where the four party leaders seemingly overruled the moderator and three journalists who clearly came prepared to ask hard-hitting questions that would essentially go unanswered.

NDP leader Wab Kinew creepily looked into the camera every time he spoke, ignoring the person beside or across the room who was actually talking to him.

PC leader Brian Pallister often looked spooked or like he was getting electrocuted and appeared to come with rehearsed questions to zing Kinew. He failed at that, in my opinion.

Liberal leader Dougald Lamont tried to stand out but his performance went largely unnoticed. He wasn’t quite the annoying little brother but rather the third wheel who longs to be taken seriously.

Green Party leader James Beddome didn’t know where to look when he spoke, often talking into the distance as his hands flailed with every response. (His hands got more screen time at the debate than his party does in the legislature.)

What lost me during the debate was the fact that nobody gave direct answers. It shouldn’t be shocking to anybody who’s heard politicians speak before. I ran into this last year when I questioned the candidates running to be Winnipeg’s mayor. It was frustrating to ask a yes or no question and after a three-minute response think to myself, “So, was that a yes or a no?”

Indeed, the provincial party leaders seemed more eager to spar with each other than to use the time to highlight their own campaign — with the exception I mentioned when they made a soapbox statement about themselves before questioning another candidate.

When I conducted the mayoral interviews I didn’t allow the candidates to mudsling. I told them the time was about them and only them. On two occasions when someone veered off course, I interrupted and told them to focus. I didn’t prepare any zingers. I asked them questions I, a voter, wanted answered.

I attempted to do the same thing for this provincial election. Right after the campaign was announced, one of my radio producers began reaching out to the parties to arrange interviews with the leaders. For nearly a week and a half, repeated emails went unanswered. It wasn’t until we got aggressive that we finally got responses. Even then, we were unsuccessful.

The Green Party was the first to respond but failed to arrange a five-minute phone interview, citing no time with three weeks remaining in the campaign.

The NDP media rep appeared to consider the invitation but twice asked who else was participating as if that would determine Kinew’s involvement in a phone interview. (UPDATED 9/6: After a combative phone call with the party’s media rep, we still couldn’t get confirmation of an interview with Kinew. UPDATED 9/8: There was a brief and pleasant phone call with the rep and she said she would attempt to schedule something with Wab after an event that afternoon. It did not happen. UPDATED 9/9: I sent a text to the media rep asking for a chat this evening but was told no.)

Credit does go to the Liberals who proposed one time for an interview but it didn’t work with my schedule. They never reattempted to make a call happen after several more almost-daily requests from us. (UPDATED 9/8: After we continued our aggressive email chase, I personally reached out and called the media rep on Sept. 6. We successfully arranged with Lamont two days later.)

LIBERAL PARTY LEADER INTERVIEW (ADDED 9/8):

 

The PC party ignored emails sent to multiple addresses (on Aug. 13, 15, 16, 19, 21) and two voice mails that were left. Finally, I was able to get through on the phone and insisted I be given a direct media contact for the request. Eventually a media rep replied on Aug. 23 and apologized for the delay however didn’t accept or decline the invitation for a brief interview. Our emails asking for followup (Aug. 26, 27, 28, 29, Sept. 3, 4, 5, 8, 9) went unanswered to the media email address we were directed to. (UPDATED 9/9: I jumped in on the email chain started by my radio producer and got aggressive with the media email address, citing our desire to “relay this experience to voters with our sponsored social media posts and tweets tomorrow as we go to the polls.” Hours later — at 9 p.m., the night before the election — I got a reply. In part, it read, “Please accept our apologies for being unable to meet this request. Election campaigns are an incredibly busy time for all parties and it’s not always possible to accommodate every request from media and stakeholder groups and citizens as well.”)

The response was telling. It was frustrating and rather saddening – disheartening to say the least. Here, these four men seem to be clamouring to win our votes but some couldn’t make time for a quick phone call with a voter. I realize we don’t directly vote for these individuals (unless they live in our riding), we vote for their party. But their words — or refusal to face the voting public — reflects on the party. Doesn’t it? Maybe not if nobody is really listening, anyway.

It was made explicitly clear that I’m not a political commentator or expert. I’ve never had any political affiliation, and we were upfront about that in our pitch. But to have general requests from the public ignored is disappointing.

They couldn’t afford five minutes of their time during the entire campaign to speak to the little people. Perhaps if I offered them a platform to trash talk the others, they’d have gone for it. “You’ve got five minutes to tell us why so-and-so is a dick. Annnnnnd… go.”

I’m not writing this to bash the politicians and take personal digs because, quite honestly, I don’t know enough about them — even after watching them on TV for 50 minutes. I’m not writing this because I want to rehash their respective scandals and drag them through the mud and embarrass them on my radio and web platforms.

I’m writing this because I never thought it would be such a struggle to gain access to someone (by phone nonetheless) who wants to make a living off of my tax dollars. I’m writing this because it’s concerning that I can’t have a civil conversation with someone who will lead my province for the next however many years. I’m writing this because these candidates have no trouble flapping their mouths about each other but when push comes to shove won’t give me the time of day when I want to question them on their own campaign.

At the beginning of this column I noted how Manitobans don’t care about the campaign. Well, if the candidates don’t give a shit about us, why would we give a shit about them? Problem is, it’s our future that’s at stake and if we don’t get involved, we’re only screwing ourselves. Seems like a lose-lose situation with this provincial election campaign.

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