Debate

I watched the second English leadership debate last night. I preferred how regular Canadians asked the questions in the first debate, but everything else was far better this time around. I very much enjoyed how the candidates made statements and then rebutted those of the other candidates. Sure it wasn’t a debate in the way we tend to think of them, but it struck a nice balance between confrontation and avoiding a free-for-all of people talking at the same time. First off, thumbs up to TVO’s Steve Paikin for his moderation. Not only did he enforce the rules, but he was a little more aggressive than I expected. At a few point he improvised questions to have a candidate clarify what they said. I also enjoyed how the general themes were revealed to the candidates in advance, but specific questions were not. Most seemed caught unawares at least once.

Let me describe how I saw the candidates (from left to right, as they appeared on stage).

Conservative:

Stephen Harper appeared as somewhat of a cold fish to me. I don’t need politicians to display volatile emotion, but at least part of a leader’s job is to inspire those he leads. Harper dressed very nicely. I know he’s been criticised for not appearing friendly enough, but I’m not sure why. I’ve got plenty of friends so I don’t need a politician to step in to the role. Regardless, his image people want him to smile more so he did this. The problem was, it came and went almost as if there were a lit sign hung from the camera that his people would trigger from time to time. He did smile, but some of the time it was where there was nothing to smile about. I found it somewhat unsettling and it made me feel bad for the guy. He’s trying to keep all the issues and his platform straight, but he’s got to smile and be friendly or people get upset. Sheesh.

I found Harper utterly devoid of inspiration. He might be a whiz-bang politician, but I can’t see him as a leader.

Bloc Québécois:

Gilles Duceppe was at somewhat of a disadvantage since English is not his mother tongue but despite a few flubs, he did well. I’m pleased to not have heard any criticism of him in the media for his not having perfect English. I’ve always found Duceppe a little stiff and this debate was no exception. Still, I find him fun to watch both because he can say some bizarre things, and because he’s unique among the candidates. Since he only has to appeal to the voters in one province, he has a lot more freedom. Duceppe was the only one to step outside the rules and start talking out of turn. His microphone was off (since it wasn’t his turn) so the viewers couldn’t make out his words. He sounded like a rabble-rouser who ran up on the stage to heckle.

Something about Duceppe just rubs me the wrong way … oh yea, it’s his wanting to break up my country.

Liberal:

Paul Martin, what is there to say? He always looks tired, and based on what’s been going on with the Liberals, I’m not surprised. He must feel like a duck in a shooting gallery. With all the scandal he’s had to endure, he’s clearly the target of choice. While he makes a fine speaker, he gets tripped up more than the others when there’s no script in front of him. I don’t know if he just has trouble stringing the words together in a high-pressure situation, or whether he’s really flustered and doesn’t know what to say. It certainly seemed like the latter to me. Martin certainly did show some fire, but my guess is it was to try to get people to vote for him and forget all about the reasons his party has been in the news lately. I found it over done. Regardless, with the Conservatives leading in the polls, Martin has his target squarely on Harper, only bothering with Duceppe on the topic of sovereignty.

Martin could be a leader who actually inspires those he leads. The problem is the way we’ve seen him lead in the past.

New Democratic:

Jack Layton was the small yappy dog biting the ankles of the other candidates. Not having any real chance at winning the election, he really had no significant attacks directed at him, affording him the luxury of attacking the others at will. Despite this one-sided advantage, I didn’t see him scoring a lot of points. He was well dressed, very well spoken, but every time one of his points started to wind down, he’d launch into a practiced closing sounding so slick that I felt like he was trying to sell me a car. He sounded earnest and eager to do good, but those greasy closures would wash away any good will his earlier words had planted. Layton also went overboard with the catch-phrases. I thought an excellent drinking game would be to down a shot every time he said “working families,” but realised all the players would be unconscious within twenty minutes.

I could see Layton doing really well if he were in a party with a snowball’s chance in hell. He’d also have to cut back on the canned speech closers. He’s otherwise very well spoken and charismatic.

I pulled some interesting quotes out of the debate so let me get into those with some comments.

Mr. Harper says we must crack down on gun crimes, and he will do everything except of course deal with hand guns. I’m saying that we have to ban hand guns. We have to take hand guns away from criminals, we have to get them off our streets.

As I’ve said for some time, banning hand guns will not solve the gun crime problem. Anyone claiming it will is simply saying what they think sounds good. I’ve said it before so I won’t do so again.

The fact is, the government is for mandatory minimums. We wanted to bring them in, we had the legislation prepared, and the government fell. The Conservatives defeated the government before we could bring it in.

Paul Martin said this about mandatory minimum sentences for those who commit gun crimes. What I find incredibly disingenuous is the suggestion that it’s all the Conservative’s fault that the legislation isn’t law. If mandatory minimums are the great idea Martin and his government believes them to be, why didn’t they table the legislation sometime in the past?

They’ve been in power for over a year now.

There are 500,000 hand guns in the hands of collectors. They’re one break-in away from being used in a crime. The mayor of Toronto has pointed out it is hand guns stolen from homes that are killing people. We’ve got to stop that. We’ve got to ban hand guns.

Another Paul Martin quote with numbers and conclusion I can’t help but question. I’d really like to see the numbers on this one. I sent a message to the Toronto Police Department almost two weeks ago and they haven’t responded. With Martin crediting Mayor Miller with saying this, it seems he should have the numbers. I sent a message to the Mayor’s office this afternoon. Specifically I asked how many of the 52 gun related homicides committed in Toronto last year involved illegal firearms. And further, based on Martin’s point, I asked how many of those illegal weapons were stolen from legal owners. The whole point of a ban working hinges on whether the guns were legally purchased, but no one seems to be telling, and I haven’t seen any journalists reporting the answers.

In countries with mandatory minimums, statistics show they don’t improve the situation. It’s not by putting more people in jail, it’s not by having a police officer on every corner that will resolve the problem.

Gilles Duceppe takes a page from the left saying punishment isn’t the solution, but rather the real answer is dealing with the reasons people take up arms in the first place. Incredibly, this is even more left-wing than the NDP. Layton did say attacking the root cause is part of his two-pronged approach to the gun problem, but the other prong is following along with the Liberals and Conservatives with promises of harsher sentences for those convicted of gun violence.

It’s election time. You can always tell [by] the way he approaches the issues with all his passion.

Jack Layton said this about Paul Martin and I completely agree. I’d rate this as the second best zinger of the evening.

That’s why we’ve proposed a series of tax cuts, one of the centrepieces of which is a cut to the GST, the only tax … that every single Canadian pays, including every single poor person. Under Mr. Martin’s plan, the 30% of lowest income Canadians get absolutely zero tax break what-so-ever. We’re going to pay a child allowance to families with children under six. Every family regardless of income will get $100 a month, $1200 a year, and that’s in addition to the national child care benefits and other child benefits that go specifically to lower-income people.

This quote from Stephen Harper has two elements I think are pretty important, one of which many people would disagree with. First, cutting the GST would certainly benefit everyone. If the goal is to put money back into the pockets of as many poor people as possible, a reduced GST is better than a tax cut. As Harper says, many low-income earners make so little that they pay no taxes at all. A tax cut will not help them.

The second point, which many would disagree with, is both Harper’s GST reduction and his child allowance does not discriminate based in income. I like that. The upper middle class pay a lot of taxes, so why should they be excluded from the goodies they pay a disproportionate amount toward? And while we’re on taxes…

Our redistributive tax system has got to make sure we take from the well off and that we redistribute it to those who need it.

Paul Martin said this as if any alternative would involve killing babies and eating them with a side of fries. I’m no economist, but I wonder what flat percentage would be required from everyone to generate the same income the government currently collects. I never like hearing a politician boasting about the Robin Hood-esque taking from the rich and giving to the poor. It just rubs me the wrong way, as if somehow earning money is a bad thing worthy of shame. I’d love to see what a truly regressive tax rate would need to be.

I would have to say, Mr. Martin, that your party has been one of the biggest recruiting agents for the Bloc and the Parti Québécois.

Congratulations Mr. Layton, on uttering the only line of the evening that made me laugh. As a bonus, it’s hard to argue with. Thank goodness the Conservatives are likely to make some gains in Quebec. If the Bloc would have taken all the votes Quebecers will cast to punish the Liberals, we’d be up for another referendum in no time flat.

I want to be clear on this. We’re not naïve. We have three national parties here, they have different platform planks, but we have one party that’s not a national party. That party may sometime agree with us. We know that when the do agree with us, it’s for entirely different reasons. We’re not naïve about that, and we will govern this country in the interests of Canada as a whole.

I’m glad Stephen Harper realizes the fundamentally different goals of the Bloc, but I’m not at all pleased he plans to foster Quebec’s acting on the world stage like it is a little country. He’s not planning on helping any other province do the same. I never expected to see the Conservatives so obviously attempt to curry Quebec favour. But then again, there’s an election on, right?

We’re running against the Liberals in ridings all across this country because we think they keep breaking their promises. We’re running against the Conservatives because they’re wrong on the issues.

Although I don’t care for the NDP’s politics, I admired how Layton comported himself until this point. I can’t imagine it was scripted. Then less than two minutes later he got all nice again:

We’ve also said that we disagree with the Conservatives. We don’t hold the same perspective on the key issues.

So which is it, Jack? Does the NDP somehow hold a monopoly on what’s right, or is it a matter of differing perspectives? Certainly he wanted to make a splash of his own, but he got himself all wet by dropping too big a stone.

So there you go. But did this investment of two hours help me decide how I’ll cast my vote? Not even a little. The Liberals need to get the boot and I don’t believe their contrition for the recent scandals they’ve been mixed up in. I’d vote for the Conservatives but for their willingness to revisit gay marriage, a Charter issue that’s been decided. I’m also not crazy about Harper’s willingness to offer Quebec privileges in exchange for a foothold there. The NDP are not in the leadership race and are much too far to the left for me. As for the Bloc, even if I could vote for the them, I sure as hell wouldn’t.

So what’s a socially left but fiscally right guy to do?

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