Friday, August 7, 2015

A Few Thoughts On Last Night's Debate

I generally leave the assessments of debates to other more analytical and attentive minds, so I will offer only a few observations, for what they are worth. My overall impression is that all, even Stephen Harper, performed well last night. Very ably moderated by Paul Wells, who seemed to know when to sit back and when to intervene, the debate offered viewers their first chance to see our four national leaders confront each other as they sought to convince us that they are all worthy of our trust and our vote.

Justin Trudeau, as I think most would agree, did not make any real mistakes, except perhaps to talk over Harper at times; he presented himself as knowledgeable and even, at times, passionate. I felt he was strongest when disparaging Mulcair over his stand on the Clarity Act, in which 50% plus one would be enough for Quebec secession to proceed.

Elizabeth May always impresses, and although her debate contributions seemed modest compared to the others, she always made valid points. One of my favorite moments was when she took Harper to task over his claim that greenhouse gas emissions were down substantially thanks to his government, something she dismissed both as a result of the 20008 recession and Ontario's closure of coal-burning plants. I also thought her closing remarks were powerful, especially pertaining to the fact that this debate might be the only one to include all four national leaders, and that many more topics need to be covered in subsequent ones.

Mulcair was generally measured and quite competent, except for the initial part of last night's encounter, where he seemed to have trouble finding his voice; that hideous simile of his did nothing to enhance his presence, although that moderated as the debate progressed. I thought one of his best moments was when he got Harper to admit that we are in a recession, one the prime minister blamed on the falling price of oil. Did he look ministerial? That's for others to decide, but I doubt many would have come away from the debate not being able to envisage him leading the country.

With regard to Stephen Harper, it occurred to me that unless one follows politics closely, the impression he made last night was not a bad one. He was restrained and respectful, something we rarely witness in his persona, one clearly crafted by his handlers to make him appear prime ministerial. With unusual facility, Harper lied about and distorted his record, especially as it pertains to climate change and the economy; fortunately, as indicated above, he was called on those lies. But it also occurred to me that few watching last night would likely have been political neophytes given that it was conducted during the middle of the summer, so likely few were taken in by his dissembling performance.

What I think I regretted most about the debate was that the issue of the debasement of our democracy, both inside and outside Parliament, got barely a mention. The closest any of them came to that topic were the restrictions imposed by the Fair Elections Act, which Mulcair labelled the Unfair Elections Act that will disenfranchise many voters in October. Harper's response sounded reasonable, ("I'ts not unreasonable to ask voters to prove who they are"), but, of course, that doesn't really address the problems inherent in the act.

I liked the format of the debate, which allowed for more freewheeling discussion than we have seen in the past. I look forward to the next one, hosted by The Globe and Mail on September 17. But since Elizabeth May is being exluded, it will doubtless suffer in comparison to this one.

For more detailed analysis, be sure to check out Maclean's, which includes some video highlights.


  1. "What I think I regretted most about the debate was that the issue of the debasement of our democracy, both inside and outside Parliament, got barely a mention."
    With one of the segments dedicated to "democracy" I too had hoped for a more substantive focus on the decline particularly within parliament..

    1. Since the next debate apparently will deal exclusively with economic matters, Rural, it looks like last night was the best opportunity to explore this crucial subject.

    2. I agree with rural. The opposition leaders have remarkable in their inability to hold Harper to account on his dramatic destruction of our democratic institutions. This is a massive and easy target and simple communications strategy to tell them to hit him over and over with simple, understandable accusations. But they just seem unwilling or unable to do it. May is the only one who comes close.

    3. I wonder, Kirby, despite the fact that it is a crucial issue, whether Trudeau and Mulcair thought it too abstract a concern to pursue in the debate? After all, they did focus a lot of their attention on Harper's poor economic record, which corresponds to the chequebook and 'retail politics' that Susan Delacourt wrote a book about. I hope I am wrong here, because ultimately nothing can be more important than the health of a country's democracy.

  2. Most noteworthy to me was the action by the moderator when Elizabeth May posed a well-prepared question, for which Mr. Harper was the obvious target, on the subject of the investment deal with China. Harper moved around nervously and appeared to be about to attempt a response, but was spared when Wells called an end to the segment. Because of the thoroughness of May’s question and because in this forum Harper would be aware that, had he been forced to continue, his standard glibness and evasion techniques would make him look the fool, the audience, having been given the opportunity to hear his rationalization for making the deal, would have come away far better informed by the debate than by hearing repetitions of his claims and pretensions regarding Canada’s economic stability relative to the rest of the G7. A similar situation occurred at the next recess, but I can’t recall the question under discussion. I do remember that May brought up in detail the issue of the unchecked and excessive power that has been exercised by Prime Ministers in majority governments and that this question went unaddressed as well.

    Of course, .it may have just been the clock, and I may have become overly suspicious through the years I have spent watching members of the media continually letting the man off the hook and seldom foregoing the opportunity to bury within the context of random questions and commentary, at least some minor personal praise for his intellect, or for the cleverness of his tactics, whenever his outrages have been exposed.

    In any case, I believe that if this debate informed us anything, it’s that when it comes to questions that he would rather not hear, Harper is, and should be, far more wary of the Green Party leader than he is of “the other guys”.

    1. Thanks for your comments here, John. I agree that May is a force to be reckoned with, perhaps one of the reasons she has not been invited to the others debates?

      I did think, however, that this debate was less prone to previous ones I have seen, if memory serves me, when the participants tended to answer the question they wished had been asked as opposed to the one actually posed. Whether it was the more freewheeling format of this debate that made the difference, I do not know, but this one seemed more satisfying to me than most.