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TV Leaders Debate: The lost 4 minutes

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Call it what you want, it was as shrewd as move we’ll likely see this campaign.

If you missed last Friday’s TV debate, go to the CBC website and zip to 40:45.

Premier Greg Selinger has just come off a quick round with PC Leader Hugh McFadyen and has the last question.

"If you want to continue this debate with Mr. McFadyen, that’s your choice," moderator political scientist Paul Thomas says to Selinger.

Selinger doesn’t bite.

He instead goes after Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard on a topic few viewers other than us in the bubble would understand.

But then, I don’t think the topic really mattered.

It had to do with a 2010 Tory budget amendment the NDP claim would have chopped $500 million out of the their spending blueprint at a time other governments were opening the money gates to fight off the recession.

(Inside baseball backgrounder: The PC amendment was introduced by finance critic Heather Stefanson during the vote on the NDP's five-year recovery plan with the intent being to shorten the time needed to control the deficit from five years to two. The NDP’s 2010 budget was the first year of their five-year economic recovery plan and called for five deficit budgets before the government's books are back in the black.)

In the next four minutes Selinger gets Gerrard to answer twice that his support then of the Tory amendment was a mistake.

Watching the video, you can hear McFadyen say something off camera, but I can’t make out what it is.

Whatever it was, I’m willing to bet the PC leader was as pissed off as he’s ever been this campaign.

Here was Gerrard, I think caught in the headlights, dissing a Tory amendment and McFadyen powerless to shut him up other than to yell "FIRE!" and pull the nearest alarm.

There’s also those lost four minutes. We see only Selinger ask two quick questions while the camera stays focused on Gerrard as he answers.

McFadyen comes back on at 45:10 for his sum up. In hindsight, he could have used those few seconds to respond to Selinger’s questions and defended the amendment, but instead he stuck to script.

Afterwards, I talked to a Tory handler about what happened. Suffice it to say he was outraged at what Selinger and the NDP strategists had done.

In an interview minutes later, McFadyen said it was odd Selinger would launch an attack on the Tories through Gerrard.

"I think it causes damage to Mr. Selinger in that he’s demonstrated that he doesn’t have the courage to direct his attack directly at me," he said. "He decided to attack me via Dr. Gerrard which is just a further phase in the descent into desperation."

Whatever, all I know is the man who could be premier Oct. 5 was off camera, along with Green Leader James Beddome, for four minutes.

Four long minutes.

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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