Friday, October 03, 2008


Having already commented on Jack Layton's success in last night's debate, I'll add a few notes on the other leaders' performances.

The reviews for Elizabeth May have largely been positive (and not without reason), but a couple of key points about her performance seem to have been missed in the commentary I've seen so far.

First off, May's preferred type of attack seemed somewhat different than most of the other leaders' lines. While the other national leaders' most memorable lines were in the form of 5-10 second sound bites which would play just as well out of context as within it, May's strength was in heckle-type interjections within the flow of other leaders' longer answers. Which worked well for the time of the debate, but may also make it difficult for May to leverage her most effective moments into ads or clips which would be able to stick for the rest of the campaign.

Second, May's choice of scripted answers was also striking at times. I was pleasantly surprised to see her mention the link between NAFTA and health care, and the choice of PR as her top policy priority was certainly a positive one. But her efforts to test the boundaries of the debate weren't always so successful, sometimes resulting in her removing herself from the conversation around her.

On the whole, I'd have to think May will be happy with her result. But it remains to be seen whether it'll be enough even to get her into contention in Central Nova, let alone turn the Greens into a party capable of winning seats elsewhere. And if she's still around to contest the next federal election, I wouldn't be surprised to see her adopting more of the convention debate tactics.

As mixed a review as that seems to be, it placed May solidly in second place in my books. Behind her would be Dion, who was obviously on guard against the risks of auditioning for the role of opposition leader, but may have managed to lose even that title by weakly defending himself and his party when they did come under attack.

Which isn't to say that he necessarily had any good choices in the matter: in particular, Layton's mention of the Libs' propping up Harper may have been just the kind of thing that would have set off a classic whine about unfairness which would have made Dion look even worse. But Dion had too much to prove to try to stay above the fray - and his actual performance may be just the opening Layton needed to start his push to overtake the Libs as the main counterforce to Harper.

Speaking of whom, I'm not entirely sure how some reports have labeled Harper the winner (though I started watching after his shot at Dion which has proved to be his most-cited line). While Layton and Dion auditioned for the top job in the country, Harper seemed to be applying for a lower-level position on the Cons' third-string rapid-response team, offering little besides nonsensical attacks on the other leaders and "daddy knows best" pablum.

I'd have to figure that the Cons have something up their sleeve for the rest of the campaign. But if they're planning on simply trying to coast from here on their base and turnout operation, Harper's performance only gave the opposition parties plenty of ammunition to portray him as having nothing useful to offer.

As for Duceppe, he largely seemed to mail in his performance, having figured that his performance in the French debate likely sealed his party's standing as the top seat-winner in Quebec. Though kudos to him for using that kind of low-pressure situation to show off Harper's stubbornness in refusing to admit that he personally was wrong even on an issue as toxic as the war in Iraq.

So what impact will the debates have on the rest of the campaign? My impression is that only Layton and May could have benefitted at all from last night's debate - and even for them it'll take a concerted effort to keep some of the positive impressions in the public eye as the media focus turns elsewhere. But we'll find out soon whether anybody will be able to turn the most public events of the campaign to their advantage as the race winds down.

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