A note on class acts - Macleans.ca

A note on class acts


Simply because this corner is sometimes quick to call out colleagues whose work is slipshod or off target on any given day, I wanted to pause to congratulate the monstrous tentacular broadcast consortium that is organizing this week’s teevee debates for the choice of moderators: Stéphan Bureau and Steve Paikin.

Paikin you surely know better, even if you live outside Ontario, for instance because he’s already moderated an English-language leaders’ debate before. Bureau is less of a known quantity in English Canada, but suffice it to say he established himself as Quebec’s predominant interviewer and news anchor in the mid-1990s, at a very tender age; proved a master of the “big get” who had landmark interviews with the Bouchards, Parizeaus and Johnsons of this world at key moments in the runup to the 1995 referendum; turned TVA’s nightly newscast into formidable competition for Radio-Canada, then jumped ship to Rad-Can; and nearly vanished from regular broadcast television several years ago, dissatisfied with the quick-march, deadline-and-market approach to television news at even our most serious-minded networks. Lately he has hosted an interview-magazine series whose intellectual ambition hasn’t been matched by its public prominence, but those of you who understand French can spend hours digging through its sumptuous web archive (I liked the interview with conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin a lot, but then I’m a rich gala kind of guy). And he’s lost and kept off a formidable amount of weight since his anchor days, the jerk. It will be very good to see him onscreen again.

Steve Paikin is basically the English Stéphan Bureau: serious, unpretentious, fair-minded — while everyone else was talking around (or ignoring) the Human Rights Commission unpleasantness earlier this year, only Paikin worked hard to get both Mark Steyn and his stand-in stunt detractors together on one soundstage. His TVO program The Agenda is essentially unmatched in English Canada for regular long-form political discussion. Steve called me “the cynic” last time I was on, which I hated, but if nothing else, I am one compared to him because everyone’s a cynic compared to Paikin. His books about political lives are based on a presumption of good faith that upends the rote assumptions we all have about what politicians are like.

These aren’t the only potential moderators. Some of the obvious candidates (Kevin Newman, Bernard Derôme) are hobbled because the monstrous tentacular consortium doesn’t seem to like moderators who are too closely associated with one of the networks. But Paikin and Bureau aren’t compromise candidates; this year, in the choice of moderator if in very little else, the monstrous tentacular consortium has sought higher common denominators.


A note on class acts

  1. I completely agree. Steve Paikin was absolutely brilliant in 2006 and The Agenda is by far one of Canada’s best television programmes.

    As for Stéphane Bureau, I have hardly seen him since he left Radio-Canada. I look forward to seeing him again.

    Good choices, though I wish the consortium had done like they did in 2005/2006, which is to have two sets of debates (2EN/2FR).

  2. Stéphan Bureau is a good choice. I don’t know much about Steve Paikin, but presumably he will be an effective moderator. You are a cynic, Mr. Wells, but I’d be worried about your mental health if you were still an idealist after covering Canadian politics for a career.

  3. What always really impresses me about Steve Paikin is that while I get that benefit-of-the-doubt vibe from him, he is obviously very intelligent, very quick on his game — he does not screw around giving people soft questions. Well he was kind of soft on Chretien when he was recently there, but the guy’s retired, so, questions, for me, I put it under the okay column.

    I was pretty happy with how he responded when Kinsella asked him how he voted, too. He just seems like a very solid guy who is ridiculously fair, and I am glad he is the moderator.

    But Mr Paikin! If you read this! Blogs should have more than one sentence per paragraph! The Agenda blog is … less than I hope for.

  4. I don’t know Bureau, but I think Paikin is a fantastic moderator, mostly because he does not try to involve himself, he does ask tough questions and he does try to be fair. His modesty is evident.

  5. I know it’s too late to do anything about it, but I wish they had scrapped the separate French andf English debate formula in favour of two (or three) debates on separate subjects, while leaving it for the participants to determine when the wiegh in which language.

    For me, the idea of a french language debate suggests that we have one debate for Quebec issues and one for ROC issues. If that’s the case, Duceppe has no business being in the English debate.

    And, while we’re at it, I still don’t agree that May should be in the debates at all. Yeah, yeah, I know, move on already. But, it still makes me uncomfortable. The Greens have not yet demonstrated they are a real party.

    I also though her use of the I’m a woman argument diminished her cause, not helped it. But then I recognize that it’s politics that makes the case, not logic.

  6. I don’t know about Paikin. I’ve had serious doubts about him after he lost control of Mark Steyn on the Agenda that night. But in this venue, I’m sure he’ll do fine.

    I don’t really care about these debates anyway. They don’t really feature substantive content and the punditocratical analyses that come after them, in which the performances are discussed almost as if a wine tasting had occurred (‘this candidate had a rather fruity nose, granular on the palate and a slightly oaky finish’) are nauseating.

  7. We are really blessed with the quality of our political journalism in Canada. Good to hear these guys are going to be in charge of the debates. I hope they can keep things civil.

  8. Jack, normally I’d agree with you but I am disappointed that the media is not reporting very much on the fact that the prime minister has them hopping to daily photo opps during an election — the timing of which was illegal, the governing party has no platform, and their campaiging amounts to a series of photo opps with local candidates who are whisked away before media can ask them anything, under the protection of our national police force.

    Does that seem usual or necessary? And where is Gerry Ritz? He’s a cabinet minister in hiding during an election campaign; he’s not been spotted in his riding and won’t take calls from local media.

    I’ve seen media blasting the American pols for keeping Sarah Palin away from them. I’m disappointed Canadian maistream media are allowing themselves to be so manipulated.

    This is not a comment on the debate moderators selected; It sounds like they’re well respected and I look forward to watching them both.

  9. Sr. Patchouli, I must say you’re right about the whole avoiding-the-media thing. It really is appalling.

    I wonder if it’s the lack of partisan (in the best sense) media figures here that keeps such things off the front page. All our media guys & gals are of the Jim Lehrer / Chris Matthews / Tom Friedman stamp, seemingly, without prominent Andrew Sullivans, K-Lo’s, or Ariana Huffingtons. (Not to say that we don’t have some good non-journalist bloggers, but they’re not as prominent as in the States.) I wonder if the professionals are reluctant to go for sustained criticism of the avoiding-the-press tactic because they fear it would make them look self-absorbed, and perhaps partisan. I dunno, what is the professional view, Mr. Wells? I don’t mean to psychoanalyse the host…

  10. On avoiding the press: I honestly see very little difference between Harper’s behaviour and that of his predecessors. The “bubble campaign” was invented (I stand to be corrected, but this is my recollection based on reading Christina McCall and John Duffy) for Pierre Trudeau; Mulroney ran one similar in ’84, and by the time I covered my first national campaign in 1997, we would get one scrum from Chrétien a day, probably. It was more loosey-goosey, which meant some days he’d come out twice, but then when things were a little hot he’d simply stay away from us for a day.
    Martin was the first leader I’ve seen who had his press secretary keep a list of approved questioners. (I’ve read that, as PM, Trudeau started doing that after a few years.) Harper’s innovation is non-trivial: no followup questions, which means he’ll only come under sustained lines of interrogation if a few reporters in a row selflessly drop the question they’ve prepared — often in consultation with their newsdesks in Toronto or Montreal — to take up the previous questioner’s question. That’s not unheard of, but it’s rare.

    Then there’s Carolyn Stewart-Olsen siccing the cops on cameramen, which is utterly appalling, but again, I can tell you about past excesses. Once in Bull Arm, Nfld., Buzz Hargrove had his colleagues blockade the Chrétien press bus. We wanted to go off the bus to scrum the protesters. A Chrétien tour guy (hi Dave!) said we couldn’t because of RCMP orders. He was making it up.

    So nobody has entirely clean hands here. This doesn’t address all of MJ and JM’s points and questions, but I have to go show up late at the Ottawa Centre all-candidates’.

  11. Ah, interesting, thanks. Damn, plus ça change, eh? Sorry to learn that about Trudeau. Somehow I’d always thought that his famous contempt for the media took place in a climate of mutual respect & esteem. There’s nothing worse than sincere contempt for the media.

  12. You know, reading the above comments, it occurs to me… the thought of Harper saying something like “there’s a lot of bleeding hearts around here … just watch me,” is just breathtaking. Now that would get people to line up, lib or con, at the polls. I wonder if every day was exciting politics back in those old days – now, with the Shut Up Or Leave Tory Cabinet, and the Never-There Liberals, it’s pretty hard to find some political grass to make hay out of. (Is that too stretchy of a metaphor?) I’m reduced to watching Kady watch the PMO website. Which is great fun, of course, because Kady’s a great tour guide, but it’s no October crisis, I tell you what.

  13. Right on, Mike G! Man, I wish I’d been alive in the days of the Salmon Arm Salute, fuddle-duddle, “Just watch me,” etc. The man had style. And in those days that apparently wasn’t a disqualification for public office.

    Seriously, we need a leader who’s not a closet egomaniac. Duceppe almost qualifies from a body-language POV, but I’d still buy home insurance from him or any of these bourgeois types. Someone like Danny Williams may be a channeling Salazar, but at least he’s larger than life.

  14. The moderator choices are remarkablely balanced. The focus should be on the leaders, and both Mssrs. Paikin and Bureau will endeavour to manage a difficult forum.

    Hopefully, Canadians will see a debate about ideas and substance rather than infantile bickering.

    In fact, we deserve it!