Debating the Debates

I was disappointed by the debates last night. Disappointed that Steve Paikin didn’t intervene more often to stop Harper ragging the puck during some of the hard questions. And astounded that so many of the mistruths that rolled so easily off the tongue of our Prime Minister were left unchecked.

In Harper’s version of reality, there was no contempt ruling by the Speaker of the House. I think he said something, when it was raised by Ignatieff, like ‘there wasn’t any court ruling, no-one found us in contempt, that’s just not true.’). As for the grotesque spending for the G8, which the Auditor General’s various reports have described as not transparent, why, according to Harper, every penny was accounted for and properly approved. The fact, as Ignatieff pointed out, that the money came from a budget intended for border infrastructure some 300 kms. away from the summit, was simply ignored by him.

The scary part for me was that I’m not even sure Harper knows he’s lying anymore, he does it so naturally. I would almost like him better if he did, given the sociopathic alternatives.

One small quibble with Harper’s performance: I wondered what the heck he was looking at, because it wasn’t his opponents and for the first two/thirds of the debate, it wasn’t the camera either. It was something or someone slightly below it. As one of my friends, who watched the debates with me said, he looked like someone had given him a roofie.

But I wasn’t as satisfied with Ignatieff as I wanted to be either. I would have liked to see him bring a broader tool kit for this one. To be less intent on making his talking points (which he then made over and over again) and use more of that precious air time to sell himself, his vision for the country.

And to be more specific.  I expected to hear examples that Canadians could relate to, like the $300,000 toilets and the $ 100,000 gazebo, or stories of people he’d met on the campaign trail. Breaking down the narrative he needs to tell.

I would also have liked to see him charge in more often, instead of waiting for Paikin to let him speak. Because by the time Paikin did, the discussion had often shifted to something else because Jack Layton wasn’t waiting.

And at times, with his hand up in the air, waiting patiently for Paikin to notice him, Ignatieff looked like a kid asking the teacher if he could go to the bathroom. Yes, it’s a debate, but it’s also politics. Tonight he needs to act: no, ifs, ands or buts. This isn’t about appeasing the moderator: it’s about Ignatieff’s political future. He needs to speak up when he has something relevant to say and not let someone else interrupt the momentum of his point; he can ask for forgiveness later.

Ignatieff’s learning, but with the timeframe he has left, he needs to ‘up’ the pace. He also needs to remember that what he says after the debate in the scrum is as important as what’s gone before. He was caught off-guard by Layton’s accusation that he was almost never in the House during the debate: he should have responded directly. He needed to explain that he was out meeting Canadians, travelling the country, hearing what ordinary Canadians want done. Walking out of the scrum just as a reporter asked him to respond to that question was another mistake.

And a final point: as much as I loved the idea of flowers growing into democracies, I think it’s a bad idea for any politician to quote from Chairman Mao.

Did this debate change my views on anything? No. Ignatieff proved he’s articulate and that on some issues, like foreign affairs, he’s well-informed and passionate. He reminded us that we lost the UN Security Council Seat for the first time in history; that foreign aid has been cut to the bone. Now he needs to explain to Canadians how he plans to govern differently.

The debate should have been one of the more interesting parts of this campaign. It wasn’t. But it still had some great lines. The one that deserved to be on all the stations? One of Ignatieff’s, actually and the one place where Ignatieff has Harper cold:

“You’ve got to walk the walk here, Mr. Harper, and you haven’t. You keep talking about Parliament as if it’s this little debating society that’s a pesky interference in your rule of the country. It’s not. It’s the Parliament of the people of Canada.”

Lest we forget. For other memorable moments, check out the National Post’s compilation of them, and don’t forget tonight’s debates in French. They’ll be translated.

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Peggy’s regular blog posts on writing and getting published will resume on May 3rd, after the Canadian election.

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