Three NOW editors weigh in on the federal leader's debates.
By Michael Hollett
The re-formatted Canadian federal election debates remind me of a dysfunctional family function.
Instead of the leaders standing statue like behind lecterns as in the past, we had an oversized eggplant of a dining room table with the now five party leaders gathered around, easing into classic family roles.
The arrogantly smirking Stephen Harper was like a briefly returned deadbeat dad. He was comfortable being resented, unapologetic for the stances that enraged the rest around the table and pealing off 20s -"here go by yourself a sundae, or a ballet lesson" - instead of offering any real enduring support to the family unit.
NDP leader Jack Layton was the ascendant, eldest son just a pair of antlers away from unseating the undeserving Dad and ready to take over from the old man. He attacked Harper confidently and repeatedly with carefully chosen, maybe studied, words that were never shrill.
Liberal leader Stephane Dion was the petulant middle child, resentful of being ignored and convinced his great ideas would someday be valued. Until then, he'd wait until asked to speak and rarely rolled his sleeves up and went deep into the fray. He looked like a man who had imagined this all working out very differently from the fate that appears to await him. It was as if he hoped that by whispering, the rest of the "family" would have to pay closer attention to him.
Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe was the care-free uncle from out of town. With nothing to lose, the relaxed Duceppe just made uptight l'il nephew Dion seem all the stiffer. He always had something to say, confidently pushing out his ideas and told tales of a place called Quebec.
Green Machine Elisabeth May was the little sister delighted to finally being listened to. She used her time at the grownup table pretty well, knowing when not to push it and working hard to fit in. Not quite as bound by ceremony as the big kids, May was capable of being fresh and unrehearsed.
Moderator Steve Paikin was the uneasy dinner guest, trying to help the family not consume itself, his tightly squeezed smiles meant to assure himself as much as the rest of the table.
And we're left to hope we're not all chewing on some burnt and over-cooked electoral turkey October 14, the day after Canadian thanksgiving.
PM playing it cool
by Enzo Di Matteo
The most important leaders debate in maybe a decade - amid the scariest economic crisis since the Great Depression - and the Liberal Toronto Star gives the U.S. vice-presidential debate and trash queen, Sarah Palin, primacy on its front page this morning?
Guess the Canadian runoff isn't sexy enough. Harper was probably hoping more than just a few more apathetic Canucks - half the young people don't even vote in this country - would be tuning in to CNN to watch the Palin wreck.
The numbers aren't in yet, but if I were to make an educated guess, I'd say the veep debate captured a larger share of last night's television audience in Canada than our own election debate.
Blame the media, those gatekeepers of information, who've been saying for weeks that Harper's Tories are a shoo-in. The public's been anaesthetized.
Harper's performance was blander than the vest sweaters he's been sporting in TV ads. It's a beautiful day in the neighbourhood, isn't it?
Underneath a toothy grin, the PM managed to keep the red heat noticeable under his collar from rising above his eyeballs.
Even on those occasions when he was caught telling outright lies - on his shilling for the U.S. on the war in Iraq, on funding for the arts or on big buck subsidies to his Big Oil buddies, for example - Harper managed not to look too embarrassed when the camera panned for a close up.
The knockout punch from his able opponents never came. All Harper had to do was smile and keep his cool, all the so-called "experts" said going in. Mission accomplished.
Benign, Harper can do. He didn't get carried away and let slip out what he really thinks, like happened the other day with his attack on the arts.
Now there, was a glimmer of the real Stephen Harper. We haven't seen that straight shooter since he was kidnapped by high-priced image makers and turned into some kind of Mike Harris/Brian Mulroney clone, complete with soothing monotone reassuring hand gestures.
Back in the day when he was the enfant terrible of the Reform party, there was little in the way of BS in Harper.
Younger than the ten-gallon-hat-wearing fobs who littered the party, Harper cut a decidely more intellectual figure. He spoke French. He started out in politics as a Young Liberal.
Yes, he'd spent his adult life out west, but he was born and raised in Etobicoke, a nice middle-class kid by most accounts. He was, or certianly seemed, more cosmopolitan than the armed land rights nuts and Quebec haters running Reform.
Harper stood out. You didn't necessarily have to agree with his politics. He was articulate and engaging enough on his own to win more than a few admirers in the media.
Was it all an act?
He sure had me fooled.
Who won, lost and glossed over the truth in the federal leader's debate
by Alice Klein
So interesting to be experiencing the leaders themselves last night instead of all the media spin of them.
The highlight of last night's debate has to be the presence of Elizabeth May who showed that she had most certainly won a place at the leaders table with her smart, articulate and well-informed stabs at Stephen Harper.
Of course, beyond that, it was just so damn refreshing to be watching a debate that had a little estrogen added to the testosterone-leader imaging culture that has been served up so much during this election campaign coverage. She really did make it look like blondes have more fun.
May also shredded the commonly-expressed slander that the Green Party is a right-wing party. It's a convenient concept for the NDP to push but one that has no real leg to stand on. Clearly there are differences between the two parties but not on a cliche left-right basis. I would be very surprised if the Greens don't get a bump in the polls after last night.
At the same time Jack Layton did a great job holding his own as we all have come to expect from this leader who has proven himself a media star. What surprised me, was that Dion came across as well as he did. Just shows how the spin-meisters have exaggerated perceptions of the leaders - in particular Harper's strength and Dion's weakness, ad nauseum.
Both Dion and May were able to give more substance to their carbon tax/green shift approach though it is late in the game for voters to really understand this important but complex policy that addresses both the environment and social justice.
What I found most hilarious was Stephen Harper's criticism of Dion that, in response to the biggest financial market crisis to hit since the depression, he had announced a "whole new economic plan in the middle of a national debate."
Apparently in Harper's world, leaders faced with a genuine crisis, are supposed to be smug and complacent and above all deny that there is a problem. Sounds pretty much like his enviro approach, no?
I've always had Quebec-envy over Gilles Duceppe. In my opinion, he showed himself to be the best political leader-qua-leader in the country, once again. He's experienced, a great debater and he's real. You never feel he's just glossing over the truth to score his points which is Jack's unfortunate weakness.
Above all, once again we see a fine range of opposition parties and one clear opponent to a vision of Canada most of us share. To me, Stephen Harper's tax cuts for piano lessons instead of funding for the arts sums it all up. There's a program announced in the middle of a campaign that is clearly insane.
We have the opportunity to enhance the fortunes of all four of his opposing parties by working together as informed citizens on election day. In most ridings across the country, and especially in Toronto, that means voting with our hearts for the party or candidate we love best.
But in the 70 plus ridings where strategically voting for the NDP, Liberal, Bloc or Green candidate most able to defeat the Conservative would keep another Tory out of Parliament, let's use the power of our combined intelligence to get the Government we deserve. VoteforEnvironment.ca is part of a huge tide of organizations and initiatives that are pulling us toward an outcome that could astonish even ourselves. In just the last week, VoteforEnvironment has reached 121,061 Canadians with detailed riding by riding information.
Let's keep the momentum growing so we can give Harper a little crisis he can't deny.