Speed Dating with the Dippers
Sunday's NDP debate was a chance to get a first look at the field of candidates, for the 99.9% of Canadians who don't have the complete collection of Paul Dewar speeches on their Ipod.
With nine debaters on stage, it's impossible to get anything more than a sense of each candidate and what they stand for. This was the case with the Liberal Leadership debates in 2006. The Grits tried to add pizazz by setting up mini 3-person debates, but this led to channel changing moments whenever the moderator announced "we will now listen to Joe Volpe, Carolyn Bennett and Ken Dryden debate the environment". Click. The NDP copied this format, and the results were equally riveting.
In his opening statement, Brian Topp said "we won't win when we talk in platitudes", but followed this up by declaring "we fight for the Canada of our dreams". I don't fault Topp for that, because it's hard to eloquently describe the Canada of our dreams in 30 seconds (I know mine has free maple syrup for all!). It was equally silly to ask debaters to explain their economic platform in 15 seconds. Even New Democrats have more to say about the economy than that.
So it's better not to think of yesterday as a debate. Rather, it was more like speed dating for New Democrats - five minutes for each candidate to introduce themselves.
From the bits of the debate I saw, Thomas Mulcair made a strong impression - while I'm not sure he'll look like as promising a suitor once voters get to know him better, he was good enough yesterday to earn a second date. Niki Ashton and Martin Singh were impressive, but only in the same way Martha Hall Findlay was impressive in 2006. In other words, don't start printing those orange wedding invitations.
Nathan Cullen seemed to be enjoying himself the most on stage, but he's already tied the "merger" rope around his neck and that will overshadow anything he says the rest of the campaign. Sort of like the guy who lets it slip on the first date that he's into Scientology...or at least that he wants to set up a non-compete pact with the Scientologists.
Unfortunately, Romeo Saganash was sick, but a sick first date is rarely the start of a long relationship (with the obviously exception of Cory and Tapanga on Boy Meets World). Robert Chisholm's weak French was likely a deal breaker for a lot of Dippers.
None of the others really stood out, and attempts to paint the Topp-Dewar scruffle as the second coming of "do you think it is easy to make priorities" are laughable. If you already liked or didn't like Brian Topp, Peggy Nash, or Paul Dewar, nothing they said yesterday was going to change your mind. If you didn't know much about them, their steady performance and status as "contenders" would likely be enough to tempt most Dippers to Google them or Facebook stalk them for a bit.
In terms of an introduction, the debate served its purpose, but anyone expecting fireworks was setting themselves up for a letdown. Of course, there weren't going to be winners and losers. Of course, no one was going to start off the first leadership debate by going on the attack. Of course they were all going to agree on most policies, especially the policy of "we don't like Stephen Harper".
Labels: NDP leadership race