When it comes to evaluating candidates, there’s no substitute for watching them “perform” in the flesh.
One can read position statements, media releases, look at adverts, written responses to Q&As, etc. — all of which is valuable and builds a public record against which to hold the winner accountable. But watching them respond to questions (especially informed ones) and spar with one another in realtime provides the best insights.
Forest and Bird provided such a welcome opportunity Thursday night, when they hosted a public exchange with the five candidates for Tukituki MP — Craig Foss (National), Rick Barker (Labour), Quentin Duthie (Greens), Duncan Lennox (ACT) and Barry Crawford (Democrats for Social Credit).
As one would expect, given the host organisation, most of the discussion revolved around conservation and environment issues.
It was mostly the Rick and Craig show, with an occasional reminder from expert witness Quentin that without the Greens around as babysitter, the children in Parliament could be up to even worse mischief.
Duncan lost all credibility when he cited “scientific disagreement” about global warming and its causes … good night, Duncan. And Barry expounded on a public financing scheme that would cure all New Zealand’s ills … sounding like the snake oil salesmen who claim going back to the gold standard will secure economic salvation.
So back to Rick and Craig.
I liked the way Rick came out swinging (which isn’t to say he’s necessarily captured my vote). He waded into the issues with gusto, fully prepared to extol Labour’s record and attack what he saw as the weaknesses of National on environmental matters, and unafraid on a couple of occasions to challenge the leanings of his questioners.
Craig had a “quieter” style. He boxed and jabbed from a defensive crouch. It seemed as though he had calculated that National’s policies would be suspect to this audience, and so he focused instead on illustrating his personal commitment to the environment. And he was more nuanced in his responses to policy questions, which isn’t always a plus in debate-like settings.
I’d give this night’s match to Barker on slim points; no knock-out here. But we’d probably see the opposite result if they were boxing at the Chamber of Commerce.
Actually, what I’d personally love to see is more direct hand-to-hand combat between Barker and Foss, as opposed to the oblique, non-confrontational method of “debating” via serial answers to the same question. But I guess that’s not the Kiwi style, except in Parliament itself.
All in all, I came away with the impression that only one of these five candidates wakes up most mornings thinking about what he might do to protect or nurture the environment … that would be Quentin.
But that’s not a knock on the others, who wake up with other legitimate priorities and concerns on their minds — like economic prosperity or social welfare — that they would like to see government address.
And for many voters, the choice of candidates and parties does not come down to one issue anyway, but rather to some individualised blend of issues, aspirations and candidate qualities.
In the weeks ahead, BayBuzz will be devoting plenty of “airtime” to the national election and its issues and personalities. And our next edition of BayBuzz Digest will focus entirely on the election. You’ll hear from the candidates themselves, and from other advocates and critics of the parties and their policies.
So stay tuned … and if you have the chance to see the candidates in action firsthand, do it!