Ignatieff and Rae clearly had the most supporters in the audience, with Dion also having a very vocal contingent. As Lobster Thermidor commented, this led to some funny moments when candidates would say things like "we need to claw back agricultural subsidies by 0.2% over the next decade" and their supporters would burst into chants and applause.
I was surprised to see Ken Dryden didn't get more cheers. Even if no one is supporting the guy, you'd think 6 Stanley Cups for the province would be worth polite applause at the very least.
I haven't recapped every mini-debate since many weren't overly memorable. For example, when Hedy Fry, Carolyn Bennett and Ken Dryden were called for a break out debate, I took the chance to catch bits of the Star Trek marathon on SPACE. After all, the need for my sanity outweighs the need to see what Hedy Fry thinks on regional development. With that said, here are some of the highlights, as I saw them:
Volpe attacks Iggy, Rae says he's sticking around "win or lose", Iggy tells Quebecers that Quebec is their nation and Canada is their country, Dion says "help me help you" ("show me the money!"), Kennedy plays up his Afghanistan position.
Healthcare (Rae, Volpe, Bennett)
Bennett talks about prevention while making choking gestures with her hands. In the exchange, she gets a dig in against Bob, saying she decided to run provincially "after five years of Bob Rae" because the health care system was in bad shape in Ontario. To Bob's credit he took the jab with a smile and defended his record effectively.
Constitution (Rae, Dryden, Dion)
Rae was the most forceful of the three saying that, from his experience, it would be "dangerous to change the constitution". Dryden went into a Dryden-esque "what is history?" explanation, and I think he was against changing the constitution, though I can't be sure ("when I think of constitutional reform, I think of a six year old girl playing ice hockey in a pair of second hand skates in the 1920s; I think of a French Canadian mill worker trudging to his job, knowing that, in his mind, he truly believes he can provide the sustenance for his family to realize their dreams in life..."). It's a shame Ignatieff wasn't in the group for this question, as this could have provided for a great debate on what may turn into a major issue in this campaign.
Tax Balance (Iggy, Brison, Bennett)
This marked the first Ignatieff/Brison encounter since the infamous "Stockwell Day" comments Brison made a few weeks back. After kidding each other over using "tu/toi" (which took me forever to get because of the translation), Brison went into the strongest attack of the debate. He accused Ignatieff of setting high expectations on the fiscal imbalance and said there would be no way for Ignatieff to pay for all the promises he was making in his platform.
Immigration (Kennedy, Dion, Martha)
I was very pleased to see Gerard get the immigration question since he's certainly got the most detailed policy of any of the candidates in this race on that topic. I think he addressed the question well and laid out the specifics he's mentioned in his platform.
International Trade (Iggy, Kennedy, Volpe)
I'd been anticipating Volpe/Ignatieff fireworks for a long time, especially after Volpe led off his opening statements with a dig against Iggy. But instead, we got a kindler, gentler Joe Volpe and there were no real fireworks. Ignatieff said he didn't like the Softwood deal and Gerard talked about needing to show respect in talks with the Americans.
Childcare (Martha, Brison, Rae)
In the biggest softball ever, we found out whether the candidates thought child care should be delivered through a "cheque" or through "high quality child care spaces"? Well, duh, I wonder what a debate of Liberals in Quebec are going to say. Not surprisingly, what followed was four minutes of "thanks Ken" and "I agree".
Martha gave a very eloquent closing statement, but it was all in English. Ignatieff re-emphasized his desire to re-open the constitution, which led to a mix of applause and boos. Brison played to the crowd, calling Quebec both a nation and distinct society.