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Matt Galloway on prepping for CBC's mayoral debate

10/16/2014 04:43 EDT | Updated 12/16/2014 05:59 EST
Olivia Chow, Doug Ford and John Tory are not the only ones getting ready for CBC's town hall debate on Thursday night.

Metro Morning host Matt Galloway will be moderating the discussion between the three leading mayoral candidates in the CBC Toronto Atrium.

So how does he get ready? Here's Galloway, pre-debate, in his own words.

How do you see your job as a moderator?

A large part of it is shaping the conversation and moving it forward, making sure the audience has opportunities to ask questions and get those questions answered, but also keeping the candidates on track and off message track, hopefully adding something to the debate and preventing them from talking over each other and shouting at each other.

How is moderating a debate different than doing an interview on Metro Morning?

The interviews generally are one-on-one and so it’s my job to hold the guest accountable and make sure they’re answering the question. Or, if they say something that is factually incorrect or seems to be playing with facts, to follow up on that and chase them down.

As a moderator, I’m not actually debating them about anything, so I leave that to the other people who are part of the debate itself. If there are really egregious examples of it, you want to point it out, but it’s very different than simply doing an interview. An interview is an accountability interview. I’m not the one who’s holding them to account here. I’m moderating a debate.

What are the rules?

No shouting at each other. Hopefully no talking over each other — and that’s hard to enforce but it’ll be something that we’ll talk about. And hopefully keep things civil. If it’s a series of personal attacks and people haranguing each other and shouting over each other, then it is unlistenable. It becomes unintelligible and it doesn’t do anybody any good.

There have been a lot of debates, I get that. But in the grand scheme of things, ideally it’ll be a debate that features spirited passionate engagements between the candidates, but isn’t a shouting match.

We’ve seen a lot of nastiness in a lot of the previous debates. How do you keep things civil?

We’re going to chat before, hopefully, about trying to do that. This has been a long campaign. It’s been a very bitter campaign. And so I think the nastiness is in many ways inevitable. At the same time, I don’t think it does anyone any good. One of the reasons why we’re holding a debate is not to capitalize on personal attacks, but to give listeners, viewers, and people who are following along the chance to learn more about the candidates and why they think they deserve the job.

Somebody once called debates a series of job interviews, and in a way that’s kind of it. We know, for example, that a lot of people didn’t vote in the last election. You want to give them, and the people who haven’t yet made up their minds a reason to lean forward and pay attention a little bit more. And hopefully at the end of it they’ll have a better sense of who maybe aligns with their views, or at least who they think they would want running our city.

What do you do when someone doesn’t answer the question?

Tell them that they haven’t answered the question and ask it again. Make it obvious that they haven’t answered the question. Because I think people who are listening or watching are aware of that, and the candidates probably themselves know they’re not answering the question. But one of the things people want is to have the question answered.

What’s the hardest part of moderating a debate?

Making sure that people feel as though they have extra time without dominating the conversation. You want to create balance and make sure that everybody has a chance to be heard. At the same time, when people have their chance to be heard, one of the things they’ll often do is slide into a message track and speak to their talking points. This campaign has been so long that people could probably recite their talking points back to each other. So we want to try to create a series of conversations that are fresh, that bring in some different perspectives that allow questions to be asked that perhaps haven’t been asked before. And in a big sprawling city like this, give the city a chance to hear a range of perspectives.

And that’s hard — you have a limited amount of time, you have three candidates who like to talk, and you want to ensure that everyone has their say. So you can’t do that for every single question. You try to do that over time.

There have been dozens of debates. How do make sure that this one is different?

I’ve spent a lot of time out in the city, talking to people from one end to the city to the other about what they think the big issues are in the campaign. They’re very different depending on what neighbourhood you happen to be in. We’re going to try to bring a range of those perspectives to this debate. There have been debates in individual communities over the course of the campaign. This is a Toronto debate, a CBC Toronto debate, and hopefully it will reflect the concerns and issues of people across the city, which is big and diverse and sprawling.

Finally, do you have a pre-debate routine?

Tying my bow-tie.

You can watch the live stream of Matt Galloway and the candidates at cbc.ca/toronto or listen on CBC Radio One, 99.1FM, starting at 7:30 p.m.

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