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2004 Federal Leaders Debate

I'm a bit late, since the entire Canadian blogosphere has already written their thoughts on the debate, but here's what I thought:

In General

Thinking about it on the morning after, one interesting thing that I've noticed is that it's the style points that come to mind first. Before I remember what he said, I remember how I didn't like Paul Martin rocking back and forth, flapping his hands, and making grimaces. As much as I wish it were otherwise, I suspect that most other viewers' responses are dominated by non-content, too.

Many people complained -- both watching with me, and online -- about the circus nature of the event. There certainly were some times when things got out of hand. On the whole, though, I thought the debate was okay. It was designed to allow a lot of time for arguing between 2 or more individuals, and that's how it played out. Rather than blame the debaters, or the organizers, I think we have to accept it. There is no perfect debate design that I have seen that would allow for uninterupted, polite discussion, simultaneously mixed with challenges and counter-points.

Overall Result

I think that all the candidates did a fair job of shoring up their base. If you liked someone going into this debate, you probably saw things in him last night that would reinforce your position. The result is that we are going to have a fiercely fought 12 days, ending up with a minority government. I thnk the Liberals and Conservatives will be within 10 seats of each other, unless something remarkable happens.

Stephen Harper

Harper fans certainly had reason to like their guy last night. He was calm, logical and thoughtful, looked interested in having a real debate, and seemed to be above the fray. On the other hand, it sometimes felt to me that he was alone on the sidelines, and perhaps too recessive.

He took some hits -- on Iraq, on cities, on his fiscal policy, on Kyoto -- but I certainly don't think Paul Martin was able to really hurt him. Those who were really concerned about Harper likely remain so. But I don't think anything was done to weaken the inclinations of those who are leaning his way.

One thing I did not notice -- but that deserves some scrutiny -- is his comment about "economic union and monetary union".

Jack Layton

A lot of commenters seem to have found him quite annoying. I actually reacted well to most of his performance.

In the opening remarks he looked somewhat spacey, and I had a bad feeling. But later, he was pretty strong in some of his attacks on Martin.

When the Prime Minister said, exasperatedly, "Did your handlers tell you to talk all the time?" it felt like a bad move by Martin. However, it did make me more sensitive to Layton's unstoppable talking later on. There really were times when he should have eased off.

Overall, though, I liked his performance, and felt that his attacks on Martin should be effective enough to shore up NDP support.

Gilles Duceppe

Attack-dog comedic relief. I quite enjoyed it.

I also have to wonder what effect his performance will have on those who are wondering about a Conservative minority. If you like some of what Harper is saying, but are afraid of his stances on foreign policy or social conservatism, Gilles Duceppe should be somewhat of a relief.

On the other hand, what we do know is that a Harper-Duceppe quasi-coalition will attempt to substantially weaken our federal government. That, I certainly do not like.

Paul Martin

As I mentioned above, I did not like Paul Martin's body language. I just thought he looked bad all night. He seemed to be struggling to keep his head above water. If I wasn't already sitting on the floor, I would have fallen down when he begged Stephen Harper to save him from a Layton attack: "Didn't you have a question to ask me?"

In speaking, he also failed to address the weaknesses and criticisms of his party. At the same time, I began to feel sorry for him. There were so many challenges and attacks, and so much talking over him, he didn't really get a chance to address everything.

I liked the fact that he tried to stand up for traditional liberal values. However, I remain somewhat cyncial. In the case of same-sex marriage, for example, Gilles Duceppe effectively pointed out that Martin punted on the issue in an attempt to avoid discussing it during this election. Martin, under pressure, seems like a guy with a convenient new-found belief in issues like climate change, etc. But where was he a few months ago when he was hoping to win 250 seats by being all things to all people?

Frivolous Stuff

What's with the diagonally striped ties?

Those "DEBATE 2004" signs behind the leaders looked just like Toronto subway station signs (in some of the newer stations).


I didn't see anything here that is likely to change my voting intentions. I'm leaning Green, because I like them as an alternative to a Liberal Party that I feel has been decent but complacent, arrogant, and just not good enough recently (with the exception of 2003). I have my problems with both the Conservatives and NDP. (This isn't the time to get into it, but in case people ask, those problems include Iraq, Kyoto, fiscal issues and federalism on the right hand, and fiscal/economic issues and federalism on the left hand.)

Still, there's nothing about Stephen Harper -- or more specifically, nothing about the chance of a Stephen Harper minority -- that makes me panic, or makes me want to vote Liberal just to block him.

In fact, I'm not so sure that a Stephen Harper minority government wouldn't be better. Hopefully it would give the Liberals the chance to reinvent themselves, and renew for a comeback.

But I also ask myself if, by deciding to vote Green, I'm avoiding a tough question. I do like what the Green Party stands for, and with what I feel I'm saying by voting that way. So, I'm happy enough with my (tentative) choice. But I haven't given enough thought to who I would vote for if I had to choose a government out of the three contenders. And that's a question I should probably think about, rather than just watch from the sidelines.



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