I watched the French debates in French last night but flipped back and forth between the French versions and the translated ones.
I am always amused when the translator’s voices don’t quite match their subjects. Layton had a Scottish accent, Ignatieff came off as a plummy Brit and Harper sounded like he was on helium.
There were, as one would expect, some of the typical errors one expects of tired men struggling in a second language. I laughed out loud when Layton talked about wanting to punish those who recruit gang members by making it a ‘cream.’
The French debates, I have to say, were far more energized and active than the English translations gave them credit for. The moderators were superb: they brought the focus back repeatedly to the questions asked, reframing them in a way that left the speakers nowhere to hide. Perhaps the act of speaking a second language removed the ability of the debaters to nuance their words, but I got much more out of watching this one than I did the others.
Layton enjoyed himself, clearly. He looked better and sounded better than he did in the English debates. Is he Prime Ministerial material? Of course not, but he’s fearless and that’s what you want in your Opposition.
Harper, by contrast, was invisible most of the time. Today’s Montreal Gazette says Harper ‘stumbled’ while Duceppe shone. Once again, I had the mental image of someone on roofies. He spent most of his time at the side of the podium watching the others, something he rarely did in the English language debates when he spent most of his time trying to find that sweet spot in the camera lens where you can pretend you’re looking at people directly.
Ignatieff, for his part, finally found the camera and I thought it loved him. He was elegant in his pink shirt (don’t forget the importance of style in Quebec for a single moment), as well as passionate and relaxed. He is the first politician in some time who has been brave enough to tell Quebeckers that he doesn’t see the Constitution and their perceived exclusion from it as an issue or a priority.
Layton, on the other hand, was quite prepared to re-open that whole constitutional can of worms.) No wonder he did better in the eyes of Quebecers than Ignatieff, but surely that distinction should have been the headliner in anglophone Canada as well. (As I recall, Layton was still in municipal politics in Toronto when we went through Charlottetown and Meech Lake: if he’d been involved federally, I doubt he’d be so eager to promise any kind of constitutional change.)
According to the polling done immediately after the French debates, Layton and Duceppe ‘won’ the debate, Ignatieff was a solid ‘second’ and Harper came last. In fact, a good number of respondents in Quebec said that their view of Harper worsened as a result of the debate, while Layton’s and Ignatieff’s had improved.
Will it make a difference? Well, with Ekos showing a horse race in Ontario between the Liberals and Conservatives (38-38) and Nanos showing the Liberals ahead there (42-38) any support the NDP or Liberals gain in Quebec could shift the balance considerably. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that the Tories can forget about Quebec and that the Liberals will improve their percentage of the vote there, but will probably see Outremont stay with the NDP’s heir-apparent to Layton, Thomas Mulcair.
All that will change, however, if Quebec sees any momentum with the Liberals as we get closer to election day. Quebecers, don’t forget, are mistrustful of Harper and with reason, but they do like to back a winner. The Quebec vote can shift quickly if change is in the air.
Peggy’s regular blog posts on writing and getting published will resume on May 3rd, after the Canadian election.