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.