The real one. The important one. Not the one between the second stringer of the first Capitalist Party and the second stringer of the Other Capitalist Party that was passing for surreality TV south of the border. No, I'm talking about the single all-leader English-language debate in the current Canadian election campaign. (There's another post lurking about that other situation later perhaps.)
For once in a while I must strongly disagree with Rex Murphy -- I really liked the debate format. It was somewhat more of a discussion (a bit one sided). It was more down home in character. The host did an admirable job of ensuring the discussion was fairly evenly spread. This is not an easy task given the 4 on 1 that is generally the tenor of the campaign this time around.
I came away with several perceptions:
Elizabeth May (leader of the Green Party) is probably the closest to the "winner" of the debate in my opinion. She showed she actually belonged on that set, can carry herself well, make points, and be relevant. And, as a CBC commentator remarked, she didn't use the phrase "this life-giving orb" once. However, a "win" here won't actually translate into much. She didn't have much to lose, after all. She gets extra points for being the only leader to even come close to mentioning declining easy access to resources ("peak everything") as a politically-shaping force.
Stephen Harper, on the other hand, had much on the line. As the only Right/Centre-Right party leader, and the current Prime Minister, he was obviously everyone's primary target. He came into the debate with a substantial lead in the opinion polls and is obviously slavering for a majority government. From what I saw he did well at what he had to do. Not come across as petty, attempt to look Prime Ministerial. At this he succeeded. He didn't actually score any points, but he gave up few. If the debate were in isolation, I would have considered his performance as very good for him. However, a looming global economic crisis barely seemed to register on the Harper-o-meter and his plastic smile and demeanor communicated a sense of "I'm doing okay; what are you all worried about eh?" (To be honest, I don't think there's much other reaction that would have gone over well, considering the circumstances).
Jack Layton has matured some. He's not as shrill in harping on single talking points as he was in his previous outings. He made a credible case that he would make a decent Leader of the Opposition. But he's not there yet. He loves his catch phrases, but he's got rather too many of them. Less than last campaign, but still too many. And they sound like catch phrases rather than heart-felt. His best lines were questioning Harper's financial leadership in this time ("either you're corrupt or incompetent") or the lack of any election platform from the Conservatives ("where's your platform? Is it under the sweater?" (for the Americans, in the commercials for this campaign, Harper has been shown in wool sweaters a lot, to soften his robotic image)). In the sections on the environment, he came across as sadly out of step, continuing to tout the modern-day indulgences of cap-and-trade.
Stéphane Dion... sometimes it's hard to figure out what to say. He does much better in French. In English, he comes across as out of his element more than just linguistically. He had a fantastic line of attack on Harper early in the debate and thoroughly missed pursuing it. The coining of the phrase "Laissez faire, I don't care" was a brilliant idea. But he never worked anything back to it after the first 30 minutes. Judging by the polls afterwards, it seems that he did a good enough job to elevate his numbers slightly, probably retaining him the post of Leader of the Opposition. But I should ignore this in discussing my opinion of his performance. He tried. He didn't bungle, but he didn't connect as much as I thought he would. Some of the interplay between him and Layton was also quite interesting to watch. I think Dion is beginning to see Layton as a serious opponent.
Gilles Duceppe is always the spoiler in these debates. After seeing him in several English debates I'm convinced he's there for kicks. As with the other leaders, he spent the majority of his time focussed on Harper, but he did spare a good portion for Dion, as the Liberal party has a significant presence in Québec. He has some good, progressive points and his English is at least the equivalent of Dion's. However, everything ended up coming to how Québec needs more power to do things the way it wants. Given Duceppe's loyalty and perspective, this is hardly surprising, but it didn't do much to further the debate.
From what I saw of that Other Debate, I think ours had far more fire and substance and was definitely the better choice.
A few days later, I think it's becoming obvious that Harper's relaxed "trust me, we're doing fine" attitude on the economy in the debate may come back to haunt him. He's a neocon, though, and they can be crafty. Even in the amateur leagues that is Canada.
8 days to election night. I think I'll wait another day or two before giving my projected seat predictions. Well, guesses, really.