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B.C.'s only televised leaders debate of the provincial election campaign came and went this week without a Gordon Wilson moment.
Just ask Gordon Wilson, former leader of the B.C. Liberals.
"I'm not sure there was a knock-out punch kind of thing," Mr. Wilson said.
His quip in a 1991 televised leaders' debate helped lift his party from zero to 17 seats.
"You have to put out a one-line comment that makes the stark contrast between what you're doing and what your opponents are doing to the point that it's clear, beyond doubt, that what you're saying is really going to resonate with the people of the province."
Since 1991, pundits have watched B.C. election debates looking for a moment akin to that instant when Mr. Wilson intervened amidst an arguing Mike Harcourt for the NDP and Social Credit's Rita Johnston.
"This reminds me of the legislature and here's a classic example of why nothing ever gets done in the province of British Columbia."
The NDP went on to win the election, but Mr. Wilson's Liberals gained a foothold en route to winning 77 of 79 seats in the 2001 election under successor leader Gordon Campbell.
But the morning after this week's debate, Mr. Wilson said in an interview that there was no turning point in Monday night's 90-minute debate.
B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark and B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix were largely too evenly matched to allow the other to get the rhetorical drop as they argued over NDP plans to run a deficit to fund their agenda while Liberals profess to be committed to a balanced budget. B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins and B.C. Green Party Leader Jane Sterk got in some good lines, but their parties will be lucky to get a seat among the 85 in the legislature after voters cast their ballots.
At dissolution, the Liberals had 45 legislature seats, the NDP 36 and there were four independents.
The absence of a game-changer could confirm the presumed outcome – and provincial and national consequences – of an election which the NDP approaches, according to the latest Angus-Reid poll, with a 14-point lead.
While B.C. Liberals are cheerfully plucky about their chances, there is little empirical evidence for any other outcome than the end of 12 years of Liberal government. Among various consequences, it's likely to give the federal NDP an important base in federal-seat rich B.C. ahead of the 2015 federal election. Prime Minister Stephen Harper will also likely face a new premier at odds with him on some key policies, including pipelines.
Still, Mr. Wilson said he thought Ms. Clark's performance solid enough to inspire Liberals. "She had to keep her base pumped up and her troops out there working. That was critical for her last night and I think she did accomplish that."
Mr. Dix, he said, "seemed extremely nervous" but was unscathed except when asked about being fired as chief of staff to then-premier Glen Clark in 1999 for backdating a memo on a casino application to protect his boss. "He really didn't look good at all. His body language was terrible."
Thousands of British Columbians watched the debate at home. Former federal Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day watched it with the media at the downtown CBC complex where the proceedings were held.
Since departing politics in 2011, Mr. Day has taken up the cause of the B.C. Liberals, working to help the party on several fronts. They include making the case against vote splitting on the centre-right between the Liberals – a kind of coalition party that includes federal Liberals and Tories among its ranks – and the B.C. Conservatives.
Mr. Day said the race now transitions back into the province's 85 ridings. "It's all about feet on the ground and knuckles on the doors," said Mr. Day. "This is very much a ground game now."
So what about the odds of a Liberal rebound? "This is an uphill battle. It's tough," he said. "Every hour and every door is going to count."
B.C. New Democrats proceed on a steady-as-she-goes approach with Mr. Dix on an intensive campaign agenda in the coming days of highlighting jobs, the "generous society" of policies to deal with economic inequity and the environment in various stops that will include B.C. Liberal ridings the opposition expects it can win. Mr. Dix told a post-debate news conference he expects the race to narrow. However, he added: "I'm feeling good."
Ian Bailey is a reporter in the Vancouver bureau.