HORNER: Relax, everything will be just fine

This week, NEWS columnist Neil Horner takes a look at election debates past and present

  • Apr. 4, 2013 5:00 p.m.

It was a showstopper.

The candidate had so far performed well, fielding questions at the all-candidates debate along with her fellows in a calm, knowledgeable, self-confident manner.

She made it all the way through to the  closing comments before she met her electoral Waterloo.

At the crucial moment I’m guessing she meant to say something innocuous like, “It would give me pause to …”

What came out however, was “It would give me menopause.”

At once, as if on cue, the high school theatre venue hushed to stone-cold silence.

“I mean, it would give me pause …”

Too late. The damage was done.

Filing out into the parking lot later, I could hear the word menopause uttered several times amongst the general mutter. I didn’t report that gaffe in the paper, but I didn’t have to. It was the talk of the town.

All candidates meetings. You’ve got to love ’em. Even with the forced sterility that nowadays passes for debate, there’s always a chance for someone to screw up and go down in flames — or even stir people’s hearts with a genuine expression of heartfelt humanity.

The screwups are more fun though, and far more frequent. That’s not surprising really. It can’t be easy to stand up there in front of all those people.

I heard one tale of a candidate getting so nervous he got a back spasm at the podium and fell to the floor. He was unable to get up and had to be carried off the stage.

By the time you read this we’ll have already had one all candidates meeting and I’m sure it will have gone really well and everyone will have been able to get all their points across in a lucid and calm manner, darn it.

It’s not just the candidates who screw up. Moderators can sometimes open wide enough to stick one or even two feet well past the ankle.

I remember one all candidates meeting moderated by my editor, the late, much-mourned  Jerry MacDonald.

One of the candidates was a guy called Robert Eyford. It’s pronounced eye, like eyeball, but for some reason Jmac slipped up and pronounced it as aye, like hay in his opening introduction.

“It’s Eyford,” the candidate politely corrected.

“Right, sorry,” said Jmac.

He was rattled. I could tell. Upon the next reference, Jerry once again called him Ayford.

“It’s Eyford,” the candidate said, with a terse laugh.


And the next time, Jerry made sure he got it right, or he thought he did. “Ayford,” he said triumphantly.

“Eyford,” the candidate hissed.

In the introductions for the closing statements, you could tell he had been rehearsing silently to himself.

“And now the comments from Richard Eyford,” he said carefully.

“It’s ROBERT!” the candidate roared.

Jerry threw up his hands and the audience howled.

I understand my latest editor is going to moderate one of the provincial all candidates meetings in the very near future. He seems at ease with the thought and I’m sure everything will go just fine.

However, I did suggest that if he gets nervous, he should think about me naked.

The public speaking wisdom of course is that he should think about the entire audience being naked, but with a mixed crowd like that it just wouldn’t be right.

It’s a little embarrassing, but that’s OK. I’m willing to take one for the cause of democracy.

Obviously, thinking about one person likely won’t prove as effective as an entire crowd but you never know, it might help a bit.