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.

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