Tuesday, January 10, 2006

English Election Debates--Majorly Conservative

Here’s a little summary of the four leaders’ performances last night in the English debate:

Overall, the format was good. The moderator, Steve “you want in on that” Pacon, followed the flow of the debate, let them go at it as much as he could. The lack of one-on-one debates was disappointing in some ways, but it also avoided having to watch Duceppe and Layton tell each other how much they like each other. I would like to see Martin and Duceppe go at it on national unity, though, because that was the most entertaining topic. I’d even be willing to host it in my living room. Best question was to Duceppe: if we shouldn’t revisit same-sex marriage, why do we need to revisit sovereignty? He answered well, too: because one is about assuring individual rights—a universal—and the other is a test of the collective will—changeable over time.

Gilles Duceppe: I take exception to Andrew Coyne’s post-debate comments on the CBC that Gilles doesn’t belong on the English debate. Gilles Duceppe may be a separatist, but he still represents Canadians as a leader of a party, and as an MP (my MP, in Laurier-Ste.Marie). He has the right to send his message to English-speaking Quebecers. Besides, his English is better than Harper’s French. I thought he got that message across well enough, though not as well as in the debate last June (the December debate was, to quote my friend Stephen, more of a “joint press conference”). He looked haggard, and it took him a while to get going. That said, once he did, he used his nothing-to-lose position to take shots at Martin and Harper, and was strong, I thought, in defending his nation’s right to sovereignty. He was confident, and, though he was careful not to make predictions, his “optimistic” assessment of his fortunes in Québec this time around is likely accurate. One CBC viewer commented that they would vote for Duceppe, were he running in Ontario—a comment I have heard before. I will reiterate: Gilles Duceppe would make the best Prime Minister of the four party leaders. Too bad about that separatism thing…
Best Line: (to Martin) “You are a living democratic deficit”
Most like: Tie Domi. Effective at what he does, but a one trick pony.

Jack Layton: A changed man, he was very calm this time around, sticking to his message. Many viewers, in their post-show comments, thought he sounded like a commercial. I agree, though I think someone watching the debates who does not follow politics as closely as some of us might find that at least informative, and perhaps even refreshing from the personal attacks the rest were firing off. Also, Layton and the NDP are the only party that have actually done all the things they’ve said they’ve done. I felt like Jack was the only one up there (other than Gilles) who was telling the truth. Sadly, I think, an election campaign is no time for the truth. The NDP leader did look strong when he turned to challenge Martin, and he was, in fact, best, when he was reacting, rather than just reciting his platform. He did avoid the question about swingers’ clubs, but really, what kind of question was that, anyway?
Best Line: calling Harper’s tax cuts “a shell game.”
Most like: Matt Stajan, last year. He’s up and coming, playing smart and safe. Last year he was Darcy Tucker on uppers, pretty much gnawing on Martin’s lapels every chance he got. This year was better, but he’s still not quite ready for the big time.

Paul Martin: He came out strong, took control, and tried to create an “intellectual debate.” Fat chance, Paul. Despite being the target most of the night, he managed to elevate himself, and push his vision for Canada. He was the only leader to look prime ministerial, and his closing statement offered much more to the casual viewer, saying all the right things. He mentioned working together, looking long-term, and, not in so many words, a welfare state. Martin tried very hard to differentiate himself from Harper. On the passion scale, he clearly did, but I don’t know if it will be enough. I thought he did well to tackle the sponsorship and other scandals: he said he reacted as he should have. Well, what else is he going to say, really? The policy announcement of taking away the notwithstanding clause was desperate for a couple reasons. First, because it only really appeals to the pundits and political junkies. Most Canadians probably don’t care. Second, because, as those pundits pointed out, he’s the only one who has really been in a position to use it (to save Churches from having to perform marriages they don’t want to). Despite my aversion to his corrupt party and to the arrogance of a big government, he did well.
Best Line: Didn’t really have one, so I’ll resurrect “Voyons donc!” from the French debate in December.
Most like: Mats Sundin, post-eye injury, post-lockout. He is still the natural leader, or at least, he wants to be. But does he still have it?

Stephen Harper: Like the rest of his campaign, slow and steady wins the debate for Harper. He was quite upfront about his position, admitting to not being outwardly passionate, and only started to do the “Harper bobble” towards the end, perhaps when all that smiling was making him tired. He made his case. The problem is, his case is pretty much the same as the Liberals’, and in some cases the NDP’s and the Bloc’s. The other parties made sure to point out that Harper and the Tories voted against many of the proposals they claim to want to implement. Doug Saunders wrote in Saturday’s Globe about conservatives trending towards the left, but found quiet reassurances to traditional right-wingers that once in power, it would be business as usual.
Two moments stuck me, one good, one bad. He made points against the NDP by saying how tax cuts to large employers (like the auto companies) would help workers; however, his child care benefit ($100 a month to every family with a child under six) is just ridiculous. The government’s job is to redistribute the wealth to those who need it, not just give it back to everyone. Westmount and Rosedale parents don’t need an extra hundred bucks a month. That’s a tip for the nanny. Sorry, he’s got to be more creative than that. Mostly, Harper is doing and saying the right things, but should we believe him?
Best Line: Didn’t really have one. The barb about the auto workers was good, but not exactly catchy. To his credit, he didn’t say anything stupid, either.
Most like: Eric Lindros, at the moment of signing. He is on the verge of getting what he has most wanted. Will he get the chance, and can he deliver? Or will Canadians be scared off by his party’s moral “concussions”?


At 2:20 PM, Blogger Ian LeTourneau said...

Good analysis, John. Although i thought the most memorable line was Martin's about a "drive-by smear." Do you remember that?

I also agree with your comments on Jack. He made a lot of good points but everytime he spoke, near the end, his tone turned into the infomercial tone. My vote is still with him.

Good blog. I'll have some updates on the wedding for you soon.


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