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round table

Dawn Black, left, and George Abbott are former B.C. MLAs.The Canadian Press

Each week during the campaign, former MLAs George Abbott and Dawn Black will be joining us for an online chat about the hottest issues of the election. This week, our panel of experts discusses Monday's televised leaders debate with The Globe's Justine Hunter.

So let's assess each leader's performance – good and bad – starting with the Greens' Jane Sterk.

Abbott: I thought Jane Sterk did well. The challenge for a minor party leader is getting into the centre of the action. Not likely to shift any balance around Green support but good enough to sustain those few candidates that have a chance.

Black: Jane Sterk comported herself well but I don't [think] she was really a factor. As the only one with leadership [TV debate] experience, she appeared relaxed, but she wasn't able to really insert herself into the main debate with the two front-runners.

Hunter: But I do think Ms. Sterk was effective on chipping away at Mr. Dix on whether he is doing enough – on poverty, for example. It's an example of where he has struggled to rein in expectations about how much he hopes to accomplish in a single term of government.

And how about the NDP Leader's showing?

Abbott: I thought Adrian Dix was stronger last night than he was in the radio debate. He was very nervous out of the gate but gathered some steam over the course of the evening; didn't win the debate but sustained his position perhaps sufficiently well. [He's] weakest on the question of how to balance economic growth with environmental concerns: He has promised increased health and education budgets but it is not clear where corresponding growth in revenues will come from.

Black: Adrian Dix looked a little nervous at the beginning but he found his footing very quickly. He was clear on his positions and didn't allow Ms. Clark to define the NDP positions or the terms of the debate.

Hunter: Adrian Dix only needed to walk away without a clear loss, given the state of the polls. Christy Clark, who was very polished, likely closed the gap a bit – for example, when she talked about the NDP being the party of "No" on resource development. But the narrative coming out of this is that, perhaps, it wasn't enough.

On to Ms. Clark … A lot of people get their cues in TV debates from the visual, not the verbal. Do you think the Liberal Leader won on that front?

Abbott: Christy Clark was smooth, confident and polished. Her style was superior to her content but nevertheless she projected well for television. It will be interesting to see whether it produces any bump in the polls for the B.C. Liberals. She clearly needs that going into the last two weeks of the campaign.

Hunter: I thought Ms. Clark was trying last night to be less hyper-partisan and more positive than she was on Friday.

Black: She performed as well as anyone in her circumstances could. The problem is with her message. People are not buying it – she and her party have lost credibility and she has not been able, even after trying many different issues, to find any issue that resonates with the voters.

And finally, let's not forget B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins.

Hunter: I liked his opening statement, which went something like this: "The Liberals can't win, so you are all viewing this to see what a Premier Adrian Dix looks like. But we are offering an alternative." But he was so weak on his party's candidate vetting that he didn't do himself any favours by the end.

Abbott: Cummins was pretty good out of the gate but had some challenges keeping up with the details as the debate rolled along. It tended to reinforce a sense of "amateur hour" around the party's candidates.

Black: John Cummins was speaking directly to disaffected Liberals whom he hopes will vote for his party.

Any final thoughts?

Hunter: It was a well-run debate but it doesn't look like it will decide the election. So the 1991 debate still stands as the last time one of these events provided a defining moment.

Black: The next week will be an interesting one. Many people don't plug into the election campaign until after the leadership debates.

Abbott: A very critical week ahead. Expect the unexpected!

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