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BOB WAKEHAM: Liberal leadership debate was a dull dud

Liberal leadership candidates John Abbott (left) and Andrew Furey (right)
Liberal leadership candidates John Abbott (left) and Andrew Furey (right) - Telegram file photo

If nature is forgiving enough to allow you to stay around, as I have, for seven decades plus and are fortunate enough to survive, as I have, nearly 50 years of that journey in the news racket — there was an abundance of tolerant bosses, or perhaps they were all astute judges of talent, along with an eye for modesty — chances are you've spent hundreds of hours bored out of your skull.

Now, granted, those examples of sleepy-time listening — to some Kiwanis or Rotary speaker drone on about his time catching a record tuna (complete with slides) or taking a notepad or microphone to a gathering of pimply-faced, precocious youngsters in a “youth parliament” —were more than offset by the excitement, the adrenalin rush, of covering the most consequential stories taking place on a given day in this smiling land of ours.

And many of those events were of a political nature — politics, after all, being something of a blood sport in Newfoundland, as highly entertaining at times as some of those cable programs my wife and I have been pigging out on these past few months.

But the political world has its duds, as well, as I was reminded last week when I masochistically tuned into the Liberal Leadership debate between John Abbott and Andrew Furey, the former civil servant and the doc.

TIME POORLY SPENT

However, there's no assignment editor to blame for that 58 minutes I'll never get back (but who was counting?): A glutton for punishment was I for having decided, all by my little old self, to see what Furey and Abbott had to say for themselves, or about each another, an opportunity, I thought naively, that might give me and the province a better idea which of these leadership contenders had the moxey, the wherewithal, the gonads, even the charisma, to become the next “honourable the premier."

Alas, my eyes were constantly heavy, a trip back in time to those lunch-time speeches at the Hotel Newfoundland (at least back then I could fortify myself with a few beers).

I should acknowledge in all fairness that this was another of those “virtual” events we've been forced to swallow during this pandemic spring, and the crowd at NTV was limited in terms of visual bells and whistles (in fact, there were none, zilch); there was no stage with a colourful background, no podium set up allowing the candidates to face each other, no desk for the moderator or the reporters asking the questions, no cameras surrounding all the participants.

Again, that was nobody's fault, just the nature of these “virtual” broadcasts.

Good gawd, Abbott and Furey were forced to pose in front of the blandest background ever to be used in a television program, neutral to a fault, nothingness, the kind you'd see in a mugshot of Al Capone and John Dillinger.

And it wasn't as if Abbott and Furey were the type of engaged, animated and experienced public speakers who could overcome such limitations: Abbott, in particular, looked as comfortable as a seal hunter at a Greenpeace Convention, and appeared, at times, as if he couldn't wait for this uneasy hour to be over and done with. Furey was only slightly better.

I should acknowledge in all fairness that this was another of those “virtual” events we've been forced to swallow during this pandemic spring, and the crowd at NTV was limited in terms of visual bells and whistles (in fact, there were none, zilch); there was no stage with a colourful background, no podium set up allowing the candidates to face each other, no desk for the moderator or the reporters asking the questions, no cameras surrounding all the participants.

But I did try to ignore all those broadcasting shortcomings and absorb as much as I could of the material both the former deputy minister of health and the orthopaedic surgeon had obviously prepared in anticipation of predictable questions. Their professional backgrounds at least give the province some promise that in at least one area, the budget-draining health department, there will be a set of experienced eyes at the very top of the chain making the crucial calls.

Ironically, their pasts in the health field prompted the one and only saucy exchange of the “debate” — I would have loved more aggressiveness — when Furey mocked Abbott's self-praise of having years as a deputy minister of health by suggesting he (Furey) had spent his time “on the front lines, not behind a desk at Confederation Building.”

For the most part, Abbott and Furey talked in generalizations, (although Furey seemed insistent on bragging that he was not going to engage in “platitudes” and then consistently travelled in that direction.)

MUSKRAT FALLS DIVERGENCE

It was of passing interest, I guess, that they had dramatically different takes on Muskrat Falls, Abbott warning that he would not allow the turbines on that boondoggle (my word, and that of others, not his, at least during the debate) to be set in motion without certain financial guarantees from Ottawa, whereas Furey rejected any confrontational approach, no “us versus them.” (“Them,” of course, for what it's worth, would include Furey's father, George, head of that useless, antiquated, patronage trough called the Senate).

I'd prefer Abbott's approach, but I have a feeling he won't get an opportunity to take his belligerence to the steps of the parliament buildings, and we'll have to live with Furey's cap in hand philosophy on that G.D. Muskrat Falls.

But enough of politics, especially of the boring type: I'm in Bay d'Espoir as this Saturday piece of mine is being read, murdering mud trout, and not caring one iota about John Abbott, Andrew Furey or, for that matter, COVID-19 or Donald Trump.

I'll be at peace in my 35-year-old, 12-foot aluminium boat, a two-horse-power engine guiding me to the best of the fishing holes.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com

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