I enjoyed taking part in the True North Political panel on Friday; it was one which didn’t see the usual partisan attacks that we associate with such shows. Instead there was some pretty good discussion and analysis as we looked back at the Thursday leader’s debate.
I don’t think it was a stellar debate by any standard, but it was well run and all the leaders did what they had to do, IE survive. Few realize that everything about these debates is scripted right down to the cheering partisans outside of the studio, to how the leaders get off their bus, to how they will stand behind the podium. There is nothing natural about the whole thing; it’s just highly scripted politics.
Trudeau survived and proved that he could at least hold his own with the other leaders. Mulcair tried a bit too hard. He appeared too scripted and obviously nervous. Pretty normal for someone labelled as the front runner doing their first national debate. He will get better as things move along.
Harper was basically himself; he even seemed slightly amused by some of the attacks from his opponents. All he had to do was swat back the attacks and not lose his cool or say something really stupid. If you know the man, that was not going to happen.
In spite of the morning after rhetoric and tweets from partisans and loyalists, neither of the big three won anything. As with most of these debates it is rare for someone to win and even rarer for there to be a knockout blow like the one Mulroney delivered to Turner in 1984.
I deliberately left Elizabeth May to the end because I think the general public would have been surprised by her performance. She was at the top of her game. She was knowledgeable about more than the environment, asked focus questions and could pounce with quick rebuttals. Top marks go to Ms. May. Unfortunately as we all know, May will not be at future debates.
Going forward, May’s challenge will be to get the media’s attention when so much of it is focused on the big three parties. May has to push herself to move beyond environmental issues and continually demonstrate to voters her knowledge about other key issues (as she did in the debate). Telling people to read the party platform is not enough, she has to deliver the platform to Canadians every day of the campaign. Her fallback position is always the environment (which is in her comfort zone); can she deliver the rest of the platform to Canadians? For example, most Canadians know her position on pipelines, but they couldn’t tell you her position on taxes, or on NATO or on health care. Whoever her advisors are, they have to get her out delivering and repeating those platform messages.
Ms. May has a long way to go to lift her party up from its roughly 4% support in 2011. This will be difficult for her to do when an election becomes polarized between two main parties. Her best hope will be to attract those voters who want to park their vote this time or who are disillusioned with the big three. But to do that those voters need to know her complete platform.
Politicians being politicians being politicians. Can anything less be expected from party leaders at an election debate?
As far as federal political debates go, this one was much better than any I’ve seen in recent memory. The format was simple and clean without the phoney “questions from Canadians” and the glitzy production tricks that we’ve become used to from “the consortium”.
Being a political junkie, I hope there are more.