There should have been an onscreen warning of the dangers of operating heavy machinery while watching the Ontario election leaders’ debate.
It was that much of a snoozefest, beginning with the incredibly boring production design. The set looked like it was dressed by the same colour-blind trolls who made the Coxwell subway station.
And what was with the funeral attire? With Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne in gunmetal grey and NDP chief Andrea Horwath in mortician black, it was left to PC head Tim Hudak, of all people, to add a dash of colour with his powder-blue tie. When Hudak is your fashion trend-setter, you’re in trouble.
Viewing the debate from the perspective of a movie critic turned out to be a not-so-nutty idea. All three party leaders made references to film while contradicting each other, including that favourite old put-down, “I’ve seen this movie before.”
And Hudak addressed the artificial nature of pretending to be regular folk while standing like three wax statues melting under hot TV lights.
“I’m not even going to be the best actor on the stage tonight,” Hudak said near the start.
Actually, he was wrong. He was the best actor of the three, but that wasn’t saying much for this trio of stiffs.
Hudak reeled off so many hard-scrabble stories about his family and regular Ontarians, I half-expected him to wind up the evening by quoting Jimmy Stewart’s title character from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: “I wouldn't give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn't have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little looking out for the other fella, too.”
I also kept waiting for a great Oscar-clip line like Jack Nicholson’ ferocious “You can’t handle the truth!” from A Few Good Men.
It looked like we might get such excitement right off the top, as both Horwath and Hudak closed in to Wynne over the gas plant scandal that has plagued her government.
They coaxed some contrition out of her for what she admitted was “a breach of trust . . . I’m so sorry that public funds were wasted in the way that they were.”
But neither opposition leader could really make Wynne wear the shame, although they tried repeatedly.
Nor could she or Horwath made hay out of the 100,000 jobs that Hudak wants to cut from the public sector, as part of his interesting arithmetic he says will actually result in one million new jobs across the province.
All three leaders made slips that likely didn’t play well across unforgiving TV screens.
Wynne often refused to look at her opponents, choosing instead to stare straight into camera, a move that made her look rude and dismissive.
Horwath often seemed as if she were reading from a teleprompter.
And Hudak had a Nixonian problem with his shiny face. He could have used a little more powder, especially on that sweaty upper lip.
Best lines of the night?
Hudak had a good one when he noted that Horwath’s NDP has supported the minority Liberals 97 per cent of the time in votes at Queen’s Park: “That’s not leadership, that’s a rubber stamp.”
Horwath got her licks in by referring to a popular cough medicine commercial to describe Hudak’s pain-before-gain approach to government: “Your tough medicine is not Buckley’s. It tastes awful, and it’s not going to work.”
You know that one was good because Wynne weirdly chimed in on it.
Strangest line of the night?
It had to be Wynne’s unintended praise for Hudak: “I hear the passion in Mr. Hudak’s voice.” Is she running against him or voting for him?
This was not Wynne’s night, but neither was it an Oscar-winning performance by Hudak or Horwath.
In the end, I didn’t hear much that I hadn’t already heard many times before.
Watching the debate made me think of the painful effect suggested by the title of another movie: The Hangover.