Thursday, October 02, 2008

Defining lines

For a general analysis of the English debate tonight, Warren Kinsella nicely pegs how the leaders performed. But it's also worth noting how a couple of the lines may serve to set up the campaign's home stretch.

First off, there's what looks to me to be Jack Layton's best line of the night (if only one among many). And for all Layton's blows on Harper, the most significant one was his declaration to Dion: "You can't do your job as Leader of the Opposition. I don't know what you're doing running for Prime Minister."

Between that type of take-away line and an otherwise unimpressive performance, Dion figures to have lost any momentum he'd managed to pick up during the French debate and more. And of course the last thing Dion could afford was for Layton to be the one to land that type of shot.

Mind you, the fact that Layton's best attack was directed at Dion doesn't mean that Harper emerged unscathed. Indeed, while all of the other leaders managed to get to him at times, Harper's worst damage may turn out to have been self-inflicted.

I'm sure Harper was trying to pretend to empathize with voters in claiming that he knows what it's like to be out of work. But even on its face, the line is bound to ring hollow in comparing the experience of a Prime Minister who's gone out of his way to insulate himself from the general public (and who certainly doesn't seem to have faced any real danger of lacking a source of right-wing welfare) to Canadians who face genuine uncertainty in their own lives.

What's more important, though, is the riposte it sets up for Layton. Having built his campaign built around the idea of the election as a job competition, Layton can now respond by saying that Harper sorely needs a reminder of what it's like to lose his job - and that the election provides exactly the right opportunity to make that happen.

Of course, both the Libs and Cons have strong incentives to try to take the message in different directions for the next couple of weeks. But both Layton's strong performance and the emergence of themes which fit into a New Democrat-friendly narrative give reason to suspect that the NDP is set to finish the campaign as the party on the upswing.

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