There's a certain pleasure in watching smart people express thinly veiled contempt for one another, like eavesdropping on an imagined high society that elevates barbs to a form of art.
There's a certain sadness, too, as the line between the personal and political begins to blur, and you recognize the extent of the baggage quietly lurking beneath the surface.
The candidates in the Trinity-Spadina federal by-election faced off for the last time on Wednesday night, in a Rogers TV debate moderated by Dale Goldhawk. Questions came from callers to the live show, not all of whom were campaign plants.
Taking part were:
• Joe Cressy (NDP), the chosen successor to the Layton/Chow dynasty, whose excessive polish can often obscure his sincerity.
• Adam Vaughan (Liberal), the former councillor for the riding's east half, who has no qualms about being an asshole if that's what it takes to advocate for his constituents.
• Camille Labchuk (Green), the criminal and animal-rights lawyer, who's been one of her party's most prominent voices in the past decade.
Conservative Benjamin Sharma declined to participate and instead submitted a short video statement, as did the Christian Heritage Party's Linda Groce-Gibbons and perennial independent John "The Engineer" Turmel.
(Subscribers to Rogers cable services can watch the debate online.)
Here's what you missed:
Best argument for idealism
Cressy: People are struggling. But what they know - we've had eight years of Olivia Chow as our MP - is that when you elect strong local representatives, they stand up and fight for you. We've had that for eight years with Olivia. It's why when I talk to people, they say not only do we want her to be our mayor, we want to keep [up] her legacy. And Liberals in downtown Toronto, they had their chance in 13 years [in government], and they didn't stand up. You can count on the NDP with people to stand up for you every day.
Best argument for pragmatism
Vaughan: When the NDP pulled the plug on Paul Martin, you put to rest the pharmacare program - and you gave us Stephen Harper instead. And this is the challenge we have with an NDP that constantly says they want to collaborate, but every time you get to the point of a progressive policy, they pull the plug on the Liberal government because they don't want the Liberals to get credit for it. We've put that policy in place. And you pulled the plug on it. Because, as I remember at the time being told by New Democrat candidates, there was no difference between Paul Martin and Steve Harper. There is a fundamental difference.
Best there's gotta be a better way
Labchuk: The Liberals and the NDP are welcome to blame each other for the mess that this country is in.
Goldhawk: Well, as you can see, they're very good at that.
Labchuk: And I can see that they are very good at that. The Liberals always blame the NDP for pulling the plug on the Paul Martin budget, and voters can decide if that-
Goldhawk: And you blame them both?
Labchuk: I blame them both. Joe's right that the Liberals had 13 years in power to get a variety of things done, including housing, including childcare, including reducing emissions, and they just didn't do it. The NDP voters can decide if they think it was the right move to pull the plug on that budget, 'cause I acknowledge there was some great stuff in that budget. But what the Green Party is saying is we need to start looking at bold new ideas. And one way to get seniors and other people out of poverty is to start having a conversation about a guaranteed liveable income: a base amount that can be provided to Canadians who need it, to take away the shame-based approach to poverty that we've currently adopted, and move away from that into a new direction.
Best and what have you done for us lately?
Vaughan: I'll [dispute] that the Liberals went to Ottawa and didn't give back to the city. Harbourfront - what we all described as a beautiful project - is a project that Jean Chrétien delivered back to Toronto because he had a strong Liberal caucus. There are countless examples of where the Liberals have delivered back to Toronto.
Best fight! fight! fight!
Cressy: There's one key piece in here, if you don't mind coming back to, and that is the Toronto Port Authority. This was created against the wishes of the City of Toronto in 1999. We need to dissolve the Toronto Port Authority and give control of the port and the [island] airport back to the City of Toronto.
Vaughan: That is the most irresponsible statement you can possibly make. Having fought this fight over eight years. For eight years...
Cressy: You used to be opposed to the TPA, Adam, and now you-
Vaughan: I was opposed to its creation, and the reason you need it is because I've been working at council, and if you surrender the airport and the waterfront to the will of council, there are not the votes there to protect the waterfront. If you were to do that-
Cressy: I have to push back on that-
Vaughan: If you were to do that-
Cressy: That's like saying-
Vaughan: I have been marshaling the 23 votes to prevent this issue coming forward when your office refused to send staff from the NDP-
Cressy: Sorry, from which office?
Vaughan: Olivia Chow's office refused to send their staff to the fight when we started the No Jets movement. When your office refused to do that-
Cressy: My office?
Vaughan: ...refused to allow, the NDP refused to allow their staff to even be identified as New Democrats because the polling hadn't been done yet. We were fighting the fight at City Hall, and in that fight-
Cressy: With all due-
Vaughan: You have got to stop city [council]. You need a check and a balance...
Moderator Goldhawk finally steps in to break it up.
Cressy, on housing: Adam, you've done great work on this file. You really have in ward 20. I voted for you in the last election. But you're running for the wrong party. If you cared about housing, you wouldn't be running for the party that killed the national housing program. It's like a Conservative running and saying he's running to restore the long-form census.
Best long and winding road
The show's final caller, "Tom in Toronto": Well, you know, it's funny, I called, um, to talk about one issue, and then I, as I've been listening and just reflecting...
Goldhawk: Alright, but get on with it, because we're running out of time.
Tom: Alright, alright, I understand. Alright. A lot of the issues we've been talking about have been domestic issues, um, I'm a traveler, um, I've been to over 50 countries, I notice Joe Cressy likes to travel a bit, has done some things, I've been to Africa a few times as well. Um, I've noticed over the years that, you know, that prior to the Harper government, I used to travel around on a Canadian passport...
Goldhawk: Question please, Jim, or we're just gonna run into the weeds!
Tom: The question is, okay, um, what is your take, foreign-policy-wise, on the Middle East and specifically Israel and Palestine...