Canadian Leaders debate, round one


Canadian party leaders

Well, the four main candidates have just finished two hard-fought hours of non-stop hammering. (A CBC replay is available here.)

My thoughts: Very good format. The best I’ve seen in recent years. The participants seemed to know the rules and (mostly) follow them. The mix of one-on-one with the four-way back & forth was useful and (mostly) well-balanced.

The questions were pre-selected and taped from Canadians across the country. Sometimes that everyman approach seems like a cynical gimmick, but I thought it came across as reasonable and sincere in this instance.

Unlike some past debates here, the moments when too many spoke at once and no one could be heard were very few. Leaving aside the question of if the Green Party Leader should have been included or not, kudos to the organizers and the moderator, TVO’s Steve Paikin, for a good event.

And how did the four candidates do? In my opinion, the first night’s match-up changed almost nothing. Matter of fact, if the challengers had to shift opinions by taking charge of the debate, they failed.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper stayed calm throughout, making frequent use of the rebuttal line “That’s simply not true”. Even though it was usually three against one, Harper was unruffled and stayed on message. Speaking in terms of tone, body language and impact, Harper looked and sounded like a competent leader.

So much for style, what about content?

Yes, I’m happy to say there was a fair degree of content. The problem with content in this debate is that I doubt many minds were changed, by any candidate on any subject. There were many moments of real contrast and interest, but I’d say the debate was devoid of game-changing, headline-making zingers.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff made some good points throughout. But in terms of tone he was uneven: sometimes passionate, sometimes strident, sometimes almost laid-back.  Surprisingly, Ignatieff seemed caught flat-footed by the NDP charge that he has one of the worst attendance records in Parliament. (That may or may not be a small matter, but Ignatieff certainly needs a smoother answer.)

Speaking as a viewer, it seemed to me Ignatieff came across as more of a loud critic of the current Prime Minister than as a better choice for that role. (Which ends up counting as debate points for Harper.)

Ignatieff came into the debate as someone who needed to overthrow a cloud of negative ads (some would say character assignation) from the Conservative camp. He succeeded in being human and not frightening the horses. But that may not be enough to win the job at this stage.

The NDP’s Jack Layton balanced pugnacious jabs with elder-statesman gravitas. His criticism of both Harper and Ignatieff was largely effective and articulate. Layton looked and sounded like Prime Minister material. But few believe the NDP can actually win the election. You might think the Liberals and the NDP could see their way toward teaming up to maximize this potential. But no, they say they won’t. Not yet anyway.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe had some sharp, pointed charges to lay against the other three leaders. He was the most confrontational.  I confess a certain admiration for Duceppe – he can be quite funny and seems more plainspoken than is often the case in politics. But so what? As he proudly states, the Bloc exists to represent and protect the interests of Quebec. I couldn’t vote for him even if I wanted to. The Bloc remains a potent player and something of a spoiler on the national scene. Voters in Quebec have every right to send a separatist to represent them on the national scene. It’s just a bit hard to mesh that into the bigger picture, at times.

Round two, the final group debate, takes place in Ottawa, Wednesday evening at 8 pm, this time in French. Some outlets will carry the debate with English translation if (like me) your language skills are not up to understanding the debate in both official languages.

All in all, a good debate, though not a game-changer.

Did you watch the debate?  Any comments?

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2 Comments on “Canadian Leaders debate, round one”

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  1. madeleine ladouceur says:

    Durant le débât de ce soir je trouve que M. Duceppe est très arroguant et il ne me représente pas….. M. Harper essai de parler et M. Duceppe comme d’habitude parle par dessus lui, avec une colère et désinvolture: il est qui lui……. certainement pas Dieu…. le gouvernement Harper essai de changer des lois sur la criminalité et M. Duceppe n’arrête pas de tout bloqué…. comment voulez-vous que le gouvernement puisse changer les choses…..Duceppe dit qu’il ne pense qu’aux québécois……non il est là pour son salaire…. voté pour Duceppe un vote dans l’eau et tout mélangé encore…… le débât devrait être avec les partis qui peuvent prendre le pouvoir et dans ce débat Duceppe est de trop…. il ne pense qu’à son arrogance envers un fédéraliste….. Voilà ce que je pense…….Nous sommes un Pays…… fédéral…….Si toutes les provinces étaient en débâts comme en ce moment ce serait une chicane monumentale. Pourquoi M. Duceppe est-il toujours choqué et pourrait être pausé et écouter ce que les autres de temps en temps….Les bloquistes nous n’en voulons plus……..

  2. Fred Goss says:

    I had been meaning to e-mail Ellen and Martha suggesting more coverage of the Cdn election on NCPR..I’m interested and although I can see Canada from my window, it’s not easy to get news…papers dont come over the bridge. But 2 excellent posts, thank you, have generated only one comment so I guess there isnt that much interest. on this side of the StLawrence.

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