Notes on the (non)debate

The English-language debate by the Federal Party leaders was interesting in some ways, and deadly-boring in others.

Okay; I admit it. I watched the October 2nd debate between the Fab Five of Canadian politics. It was a lot like watching an accident. An intellectual train wreck.

There’s a great photo of the party leaders on the Globe & Mail’s website. (I can embed it here because it’s illegal, even though I’d be providing free advertising for the Globe. Still, the link to the image is here.) The picture shows the party leaders apparently posing for photos – all but one of them, who seems less than interested in participating. I think it’s nice that the Globe use that particular photo to lead their report, and more than anything, I think that photo captures the real spirit of this debate.

Why was the debate interesting?

  • Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, showed she actually knows a lot about how Canada works. She was professional, with just the right mix of emotion and rationality (compared, at least, to the others). I would bet that she really could be the Prime Minister someday, once she gets her feet a bit more wet in the vile muck of federal politics. I’d like having her as a neighbour.
  • Liberal leader Stephane Dion came across as sensitive, strongly affected by all the crap that’s going on these days, and landed a few good punches too. It’s so unfortunate that people can’t see past Dion’s shortcomings – which are mostly about his style rather than his substance – because he is probably the “safest” bet of them all.
  • Jack Layton of the NDP did his pitbull act again, chomping down on Harper and just refusing to let go – which is always fun to watch. Jack also wins the prize for best smackdown IMHO when he fired this salvo at Harper: “The economy is not fine. Any Canadian will tell you that. Either you don’t care or you’re incompetent. Which is it?” Jack’s the guy I’d want in charge if times got really tough, because he’s a fighter with a bit of idealism; he’s the least likely to sell out, I think.
  • The Bloc‘s Gilles Duceppe came across with surprising elegance and diplomacy. He became insistent and pressed Harper (and the others) at various points, but he didn’t hit below the belt, and his carriage and demeanour was probably the best of five. If we needed a Prime Minister that could fit with any global crowd, and finesse them all, I’d go with Duceppe. Too bad about his party.
  • Stephen Harper, our ultra-Conservative and insipid leader, looked – well, stoned. Not Cheech-and-Chong-hey-man-pass-the-bong stoned; just securely ensconced in his happy place. I think he was trying to be detached and “above the fray,” but it didn’t work. He came off sounding like a simulacrum, a dollar-store imitation of a human. And his insistence on repeating tired, old, and exceedingly bald assertions really made me think he didn’t really want to be there. (Why is this “interesting” to me? Because it strengthens my belief in ABC – Anyone But Conservative.)
  • Steve Paikin‘s deft moderation was the intellectual equivalent of fine refereeing at a boxing match: jump in to break things up with they get out of hand, then step away quickly to let the fight continue. Far better than the blantant MC’ing by Gwen Ifill at the American Vice-Presidential debate. (Yes, I did channel-flip to the Yankee debate once or twice; but it made my teeth hurt.)

Now, why was the debate boring? No one really said anything. One generally watches a “debate” expecting to see more than just posturing and complaining. Unfortunately, that’s all we really got. While it was useful to me (and hopefully others) to assess the personalities of the leaders, that in itself really isn’t enough. I wanted to see more discussion about particular programs and policies, more rigorous challenges to the underlying philosophies that are supposed to distinguish the parties from one another.

These debates aren’t really helping Canadians make informed decisions on Election Day, because there isn’t enough real information coming out of them. The best we can do is adjust our “gut feeling” of who we believe might be the better PM. And that’s ‘way too fluffy for a decision as important as choosing a federal government.

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