The first English debate is over.
Here are some quick observations to help you cut through the huge amount of noise coming from the conventional media.
Debate host Paul Wells showed why he’s one of the best political journalists in the country. Read his opening column on the campaign, in case you missed it.
As for the party leaders, here it is in the short form:
Looked and performed like Stephen Harper, the guy who has been prime minister for the past decade.
His weak spot was the senate. He wasn’t clear on the party policy. When discussing who controls senators, Harper admitted his gang are puppets. You can say the same thing of the senate that Harper said of the Bloc-NDP position on a sovereign Quebec: who the frack wants to bring THAT up again?
Other than that, steady as she goes.
What was most remarkable about the PM was that he was the same old steady-as-she-goes guy. For his folks, that is reassuring. For his opponents, that’s a bad thing since it means none of them managed to get a knife edge under his armour and expose a bit of flesh to chew on.
Three words: smug, uncomfortable, robotic.
Having not watched much of Mulcair in the House, your humble e-scribbler now understands that conventional media journalists who praise his sharp debating skills or his strong style are on something.
Not onto something.
Weak moment: What’s your number?
The alliance with Bloc supporters is Mulcair’s greatest liability. Both Trudeau and Harper took turns savaging the Bloc-NDP leader and he handled all of it badly. They will return to this again and again in English Canada. Mulcair cannot run from it, as much as he clearly wants to. Without that huge base in Quebec, Mulcair is just another small party leader with a beard.
To go with that strategic problem, you had a really clear tactical blunder: Whoever told Tom to recite “What’s your number?” should be shot. It made him look condescending, and that’s the most generous thing you could say about it. The fact Mulcair set Trudeau up for his highly quotable riposte mirrored the way the NDP strategy is playing neatly into the federal Conservative agenda.
Funny moment: when he slipped in the line about standing with Jack Layton. It looked scripted and desperate at the same time. Expect to see Mulcair ditch his own wife for campaign appearances with Olivia Chow by his side and lots more references to Layton, the Dipper Ronald Reagan.
Mulcair’s strongest moments were on the economy, which is also where Harper was the weakest. Reciting economic stats. Nerds got wood. No one else did. This could have been the spot where Mulcair shone.
Could have been.
Give her some rest and you have by far the strongest performance of the night, overall. May spoke clearly, intelligently, and succinctly about her party position. She did the same when going at the other four over theirs.
Weakness: prefacing every comment with “all due respect”.
At best, it was tedious. At worst, it was transparently passive aggressive.
Given Mulcair’s evident discomfort and May’s strong performance, don’t be surprised if the Bloc-NDP start shying away from other debates. Bloc-NDP support is notoriously soft. The Greens could bleed NDP support in the west. If May performs like this again and again, that could erode the Dipper position in some close races. They’ll want to hide their man away and let him only appear in tightly scripted moments as they did on opening day of the formal campaign.
He showed up with his pants on, the right way around.
The Conservatives lowered expectations of Trudeau to the point that his performance will surely help change perceptions of him in key ridings. The Cons might want to rethink that strategy.
Weak point: the closer. Ugh. Did he end? or wait. There are a couple of words I forgot. Let’s. stumble.
Strong point: my number is nine.
A scripted line drilled into the candidate’s head. The boys and girls in the Grit backroom did their oppo in spades or have a spy in the Dipper debate camp. They anticipated the NDP line and gave Justin a rejoinder he delivered with consummate skill. It was probably the only quotable moment of the night in a debate that was surprisingly devoid of the quotable one-liners we are used to.
Trudeau isn’t out of the woods on credibility yet but his debate performance was a step in the right direction.