The English debate

10.02.08

Well, it was lively and even funny at times. That’s all I can really say about the debate format that provided more of a chance for attack zingers than real reasoned debate. Still, I guess it made for good TV, since we were all glued to the screen for a couple of hours – the longest I’ve watched the CBC for in a while. My initial impressions:

  • Stephen Harper seemed surprisingly nervous. Though his calm tone of voice contrasted well with the others, as it did two years ago, and he had the advantage of incumbancy, his positions lacked the moral clarity that they used to hold. He seemed almost wishy-washy, and he got backed into several embarrassing corners, namely on Iraq, on arts funding, and on a promise not to raise taxes that will surely come back to haunt him. He seemed rattled by May’s presence, and his showing was surprisingly poor, especially compared to expectations. I can respect someone whose views I don’t necessarily agree with, but it’s hard to respect someone who doesn’t show the courage to have those views. He missed chances to take the stance of the right on issues such as foreign policy. But then, he also had a horribly biased moderator (I mean, what kind of question is “do you think Harper is a barbarian?”). And ultimately, he can be declared the winner if only because he won the portion on the #1 voting issue, that being the economy. The rest probably won’t matter much. Still, I was surprised to see him looking so shaky.
  • Stephane Dion is obviously the worst debator of the group, and had the worst showing tonight by far. His debate style mirrors the problem plaguing his election campaign: He lacks charisma, leadership ability, and the confidence to get his ideas across. I did like that he talked about standing up for what it means to be Canadian, believing in our accomplishments, and regaining our place in the world. And I also believe that he has better ideas than his debate skills would seem to indicate. But there’s no doubt that he needed to do a whole lot better than he did in order to have any chance of picking up votes tonight. This was a missed opportunity for Dion.
  • Jack Layton accomplished something I didn’t think possible: he managed to make me hate him even more than I already do. I will give him points for consistency, mind you. He consistently managed to take the exact views I disagree with each and every time. Quite the achievement. Seriously, though, he was the only candidate who actually managed to get across what he stood for, rather than just spending all of his time attacking the others, and he deserves some grudging praise for that. I still can’t stand his used car salesman smile, his annoying little moustache, and his habit of saying “Exxon” in every second breath.
  • Gilles Duceppe had nothing to gain or lose in this debate. He didn’t make nearly as strong a showing as he did in the English debate in the last election, mind you. As expected, he talked a lot about the province’s rights, and issues important to Quebec. He also scored the most points on the arts funding issue and – surprisingly – did a better job of defending environmental rights than either Dion or May. He had one of the best lines of the debate, when asked what he would do first if elected Prime Minister, he glibly said that he won’t ever be PM… and neither will three other people at the table. But mostly, he seemed tacked on, since he didn’t really answer any of the questions with a real policy answer.
  • Elizabeth May was impressive. Period. She’s obviously a skilled debator and, though her style seems vaguely reminiscent of our neighbours south of the border, she scored a lot of clear zingers. I disagree with her on a lot of issues, but she did the best in terms of being prepared with statistics, facts and researched answers. She scored a lot of points that way, and she rattled Harper’s cage more than once. Where I felt she missed an opportunity, though, was in getting her party’s message across. The Green Party platform is all about how every other issue is related to the environment and cleaner, healthier, better living. May’s debate style lended itself well to the format, but she scored more points on attack than on ideology. Since people voting Green are mostly doing it out of ideological reasons, I felt she could have been clearer on what she stood for. Still, I think a lot of heads were turned by her showing in this debate. And she certainly had a right to be there, probably even more of a right than Duceppe.

Overall, the debate won’t lead me to change my vote, but then, I wasn’t really on the fence. For undecided voters, I suspect that Dion will have lost ground, Layton might have gained some among people who actually agree with him (read: not moi), and May probably picked up some points. What this will mean for Harper’s chances at a majority, though, is anyone’s guess.

And no, I didn’t watch the US vice-presidential debate.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 just a voter 10.03.08 at 5:21 AM

so who are you voting for?

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