First off - I like the format. The leaders got a chance to explain themselves and still got to mix things up a bit. However, I do agree with Coyne that they really need to replace the French and English debates with a series of bilingual ones, because this was really "the Quebec debate" rather than "the french language debate".
As for the participants...
Elizabeth May reminded me a lot of 2004 Jack Layton - very much the attack dog. She was forceful and showed some personality, but her attacks were mostly ineffective cheap shots ("you're a liar!" "your plan is a fraud"). I don't think I learned much about the Green Party or was given a compelling reason to vote for them over the Liberals, NDP, or Bloc. But Elizabeth May seemed nice enough and if I was already leaning her way, I don't think she would have turned me off.
If the story tomorrow is just "everyone gangs up on Harper", then Harper probably was the winner. He was definitely the only Prime Minister on the stage and he defended himself adequately on policy issues. However, there are three big negatives about his performance. Firstly, from a "likable/optics" perspective the creepy smile just wasn't working tonight. Second, if I were a Tory strategist, I'd be very worried about Harper's messaging on the economy right now. You can only say "kay cera cera" so many times before people will begin to think you don't have a plan to handle what everyone assumes will be an upcoming recession. More damaging to Harper could be if voters start thinking he's "out of touch" - Canadians are worried and if they don't think he realizes this, that's trouble with a capital T. Third, surviving the debate is fine for the English one, but Harper needed to land some punches on Duceppe tonight. And he didn't.
Jack Layton was Jack. He did his Jack thing. He showed concern for the problems "normal people" face and tried to relate to Canadians as much as possible. If he does the same thing tomorrow he did tonight, he'll win the English debate, but I'd be surprised if he gave many voters a reason to vote for him over the Bloc.
Stephane Dion was good. He exceeded expectations and didn't get tied up in his words. I thought he struggled explaining himself on the environment but he did well on most other topics. And, most importantly, his attacks were forceful and not flustered. I'm not a big fan of launching policy during a debate (can you guess who did debate prep?), but if his action plan on the economy gets some traction, it could give him some credibility on the issue that everyone cares about right now. The question now is can he pull off an equally strong performance in English?
Gilles Duceppe was good. He's always good. He's been doing this thing for a long time and he does it well. Separatism never came up and Harper failed to make the Bloc out to be the inept anachronistic entity that it is. Considering the Bloc is leading in Quebec right now, there was a shockingly low number of attacks directed Duceppe's way. So Duceppe is certainly a winner, if not the winner.
I won't pick a winner since I think you could make a case for any of the five as having "won" the debate. But it was fun - let's do it again tomorrow!
Debate Live Blog
Feel free to post predictions, reaction, and analysis in the comments section.
Before we get going, be sure to check out my debate drinking game - I'll try and keep a running tally of which leaders does the best job of inebriating watchers tonight.
7:37 - A note on format. More time will be spent on the economy which is good...but the opening and closing statements have been nixed which is kind of dumb. The candidates will also be sitting around a table which is really dumb. We're not on The View here, this is a debate to lead the country - hell, let's just break out the couches and sweater vests and do the whole thing casual!
8:01 - OK, fashion report. Harper has the blue tie! Dion goes with a red tie! Way to be original guys. May mixes it up with teal.
8:03 - First question is on the economy. Harper: "the fundamentals are strong!". May: "the fundamentals are weak!"
Bureau asks the leaders if they have RRSPs - I hope so, because a few of them may soon be unemployed...
8:12 - Duceppe makes an attempt to shore up his Ontario support: "you're ignoring Ontario and Quebec in favour of Alberta".
8:15 - Duceppe says Harper is in bed with "big oil" for the fourth time...and we're only 15 minutes in. Look, I appreciate a straw man as much as the next guy, but those Alberta oil companies have been funding Quebec equalization payments for decades.
8:19 - "You guys willing to go into deficit?" "No", "nope", "no way", "not a chance", "no". Glad we cleared that up. (oh, and Duceppe goes after big oil for the fifth time tonight)
8:21 - The economy is done (Err, the topic, not the actual economy. Not yet anyways.). I think all five leaders stuck to their game plan and did what they planned to do. Harper stuck to his "sunshine lollipops, the fundamentals are strong" approach - he argued the point well but I wonder if he's going to look like he's out of touch. Dion hyped the Liberal record and attacked Harper hard for squandering the deficit. Duceppe...blamed big oil for all the economic ills of Canada. May quoted economists and didn't sound like an enviro-nut. But I think Layton may have won the round, since he was able to relate to average Canadians and showed that he shared their concerns about the economy.
8:37 - And it's chaos!!! Even the translators are talking over each other!
Dion attacks Harper on listeria, quoting a Canadian Medical Journal article, and Harper dismisses it "because the author is a Liberal" - no doubt he's also part of the Elections Canada-Supreme Court-Civil Service-CBC conspiracy.
8:45 - It's hard to say who's winning the debate, but I think the May translator is leading at this point - she's feisty, raising her voice, and showing far more passion than the candidate she's translating from. I'm not such a huge fan of Dion's Scottish translator.
8:51 - Harper's got a "isn't that cute" smirk on his face, whenever Elizabeth May talks.
8:53 - "Can you say one good thing about the opponent to your left". Gag. When does the sing along start?
Jack is almost glowing as Harper compliments him...I think he's blushing.
May: "Mr. Harper has nice children"
9:00 - "What do you think about negative campaigning."
Jack - Ed Broadbent! Take a drink!
May - Ed Broadbent! Take a drink!
Harper - "We don't need personal attacks"
9:03 - Dion has perhaps his best moment of the debate, attacking Harper for his ultra-partisan attack mentality.
9:11 - Duceppe gets the fear mongering award of the night: "Mr. Harper's vision is to have more guns and more criminals". Harper defends his policy by saying the President of the Quebec police union supports it. Yeah, but that guy's probably a Conservative...
9:23 - Quebec nation question. Duceppe gets the laundry list of grievances out. Harper: "notre government agit, the Bloc réagit". Then Harper and Duceppe get into a long argument about...I have no idea...something about faxing the motion to the wrong address...I think this argument deserves a debate of it's own!
9:34 - May: "We haven't talked about climate change in a while...so I'm going to bring it up in the culture section."
9:36 - The vision of a hunched over and smiling Stephen Harper is going to give me nightmares for weeks. He just looks creepier and creepier by the minute.
9:46 - Afghanistan. It's weird - Dion has the most convoluted Afghanistan position of all the leaders but he came across the strongest on this topic. Yet, on the environment, where Dion has the strongest position, he came across fairly wishy washy.
9:55 - Dion confuses Layton and Duceppe with a somewhat funny "the reason Mr. Duceppe will never be Prime Minister...". I don't blame him for mixing the two up, giving the love-in between Layton and Duceppe tonight.
9:56 - Layton to Dion: "The difference between you and I...is that I have a mustache!". OK, just kidding. The difference is that Dion wants to stay in Afghanistan.
9:59 - Harper, for some reason known only to himself, decides to bring up Kyoto, and Duceppe rips him a new one.
Labels: Leaders Debate