The leaders of the various federal political parties (well, except for Elizabeth May, because she isn’t cool enough) are having their major debate tonight. Christopher Bird is watching for Torontoist, because if you’re watching it, you’re probably already drunk with despair. Or just drunk.
6:45 PM: So, going into tonight’s debate, what are the stakes? Well, the Tories want their majority government. The Liberals want to not be a joke anymore, and we wish them all the best of luck there. The NDP hopes that it is this debate, after all the others, where all of Canada suddenly realizes that the NDP really are a viable alternative and Jack Layton doesn’t seem slightly dodgy and visibly drooling after power, and who knows, maybe a passing comet will bewitch us all properly in that regard. And the Bloc Quebecois… well, Gilles Duceppe now holds the world record for federal electoral debate participation (really!), so, honestly, they’re just hanging out, waiting three weeks to see where in their usual 30–45 seat range they happen to fall.
6:50 PM: Also, I would like to be clear that I completely respect Jack Layton’s brave battle with cancer, and I respect him so much for it that I won’t take any pity on him or his neverending goddamn fundraising robocalls because I donated once to the NDP in 2005. However, to make sure that we all understand the gravity of the situation, please for the remainder of the night mentally add the words “has cancer” whenever Layton is mentioned. Thank you.
6:59 PM: CTV is going to a “debate tweet-up” at some bar somewhere because all journalists think Twitter is the best thing ever and it’s changing the paradigm.
7:00 PM: That is one big damn maple leaf on the floor there.
7:01 PM: Lloyd Robertson helpfully explains to us that Gilles Duceppe’s performance only really matters to Quebecois voters. Thanks, Lloyd!
7:01 PM: Steve Paikin will ENFORCE THE RULES! He has a Taser under his desk and he will use it. The questions are by ordinary (hardworking) Canadians!
7:03 PM: First question to Harper and Duceppe: How can we afford a $6 billion corporate tax cut? Harper: There isn’t any corporate tax cut! There are just tax cuts, and corporations get rather more of them than average!
7:04 PM: Harper says if you raise taxes you will hurt ordinary families and blah blah blah conservative economic you’ve heard it all before-itis. Duceppe praises Harper for answering a question from an ordinary Canadian “for the first time all campaign” and then asks Harper if he’ll release the auditor general’s report. Harper says he can’t (which is fair) and Harper then says everything is awesome and all the money was spent in ways that will create jobs and legacies and stimulate the economy and give us all ponies.
7:06 PM: Duceppe says that Harper would have been a total fucko if the Bloc, NDP, and Liberals hadn’t made him play at least slightly honest ball. Harper, in his look-at-me-I’m-a-kindly-teacher glasses (which don’t work), brags about Canada’s job creation record, especially in the forestry sector (HEAR THAT, QUEBEC?), and how the Tories have been awesome at not getting in the way of that.
7:08 PM: Duceppe and Harper are now playing he said/she said about what was actually said about policies two years ago, and it’s as fascinating as you think it is.
7:10 PM: Duceppe attacking Harper about giving Newfoundland money instead of Quebec, which is more what one expected at the start of this debate. Now Layton and Ignatieff get to jump into this debate and make it an orgy of rhetoric! Ignatieff charges Harper with wasting public money and lying to Parliament, which is what Duceppe should have been doing.
7:11 PM: Harper’s weaseling and saying that the auditor general’s office says the report “shouldn’t be relied upon.” And now he’s back to tax cuts, which gives Layton the chance to jump in, because you’d better believe that if there are corporate tax cuts Layton’s going on the attack. Layton says Stephen Harper, back in the day, was going to “stick up for the little guy,” which—when was this? Do we have Earth-2 Jack Layton here tonight somehow? Is the Michael Ignatieff of Earth-2 not a schmuck? Harper says that Earth-2 Jack Layton would have supported all his policies.
7:14 PM: Duceppe: what’s on your list of public service cuts? Harper explains that his plan to balance the budget doesn’t involve cuts, just “efficiencies in government,” and we can all ask Rob Ford how that’s going. Ignatieff slams Harper for not being able to tell the truth about the cost of his programs or his tax cuts, and as much as I dislike Ignatieff he’s going after Harper on the right ground here.
7:16 PM: Harper snidely says that the reason we’re having an election is “because you have more votes than we do.” Which, well, yes. That’s basic civics.
7:18 PM: Ignatieff again attacking Harper on dishonesty and maybe it’s early and by 9 p.m. we’ll all be exhausted of this line of attack, but… right now it seems effective. Harper says he wants to be honest about jets, and that our current CF-18s are nearing their end of life, and those commies at the other podiums don’t want fighter jets because they’re wimps.
7:19 PM: Layton’s line appears to be “the Conservative government is the problem,” which is exactly the sort of generic angry non-specific line you’d expect from the NDP and will, one thinks, probably work as well as the last seven times they used it.
7:20 PM: Harper explains that the reason we’re emerging from the global recession faster than everybody else is because we have a “balanced approach,” which presumably includes strict banking regulations—you know, the ones Harper tried to repeal before he was prime minister.
7:21 PM: Ignatieff says that Harper spent $1 billion “in 72 hours” at the G8 which could have been spent on education. It’s a good line, but Harper goes into the “don’t scare investors away” counter, which is tried and true.
7:22 PM: Layton emphasizes that reducing the small business tax rate further, as the NDP wants to do, is good for small businesses, and that’s it for… whatever this question was about.
7:23 PM: Ordinary (hardworking) Canadian question! What’s your view for Canada on the world stage? Ignatieff and Layton: GO! Ignatieff disses the Tories for losing our Security Council seat and for the G8/G20, then says that we can’t promote democracy abroad if we don’t respect it at home and Harper sucks. Layton raises the point of how the Tory Senators blocked the bill which would have sent cheap medicine to Africa, then says we should bring our troops home from Afghanistan, for which he blames Ignatieff and Harper.
7:24 PM: Ignatieff whines at Layton about not supporting the troops, and thank you to Michael Ignatieff because it had been almost 20 minutes where I wasn’t disliking him. Ignatieff says we “can’t walk away and pretend it didn’t happen,” which Layton accurately points out is an excuse to never leave, and then starts hitting Ignatieff for being too willing to cooperate with the Tories. “You’re Mr. Harper’s best friend!”
7:26 PM: Ignatieff says Layton is changing the subject, which is entirely true, so Layton asks Ignatieff why he agreed to reduce the foreign aid budget, which OH SNAP. Ignatieff responds by saying he wants Canada back in Africa, and then mentions how students volunteering overseas can get $1,500 knocked off their student debt.
7:28 PM: Layton switches ground to attack Harper and Ignatieff on their environmental record before Harper and Duceppe can jump in. Harper immediately starts giving himself a blowjob about how awesomely the Canadian government has helped in Haiti and Japan and Libya and anywhere else there’s trouble, like “being neighbourly” is now somehow exceptional.
7:30 PM: Harper explains to Duceppe that the cuts to foreign aid aren’t cuts. They’re “efficiencies.” Like, not spending money on horrible wasteful conferences! (Unless we host them, in which case that’s okay and creates jobs.) Under Stephen Harper, all of Canada’s foreign aid budgets will go to widows and orphans in the third world, and that’s a promise from Stephen Harper himself.
7:31 PM: Ignatieff attacks Harper about his lack of respect for democracy again. He sounds a little whiny this time, which is not good. Harper defends the G8 and G20 because the countries involved set important goals and you have to be part of conferences! So maybe he’s not spending money on widows and orphans? Maybe he wants to have the widows and orphans run the conferences? I’m so confused.
7:33 PM: Layton goes on the auditor general tack again, pointing out (clumsily) that the auditor general’s report can be released by the Speaker with unanimous consent of the parties, and Harper really, really doesn’t want that to happen so he seizes on Layton’s poor word choice to make it seem like he’s powerless, and then jobs jobs economy jobs. Ignatieff again says this election is happening because Harper is a liar liar pants on fire, and also Bev Oda.
7:35 PM: Harper again says we’re having an election because the other parties are dicks, and private sector analysts totally said the budget was awesome.
7:36 PM: Duceppe once again on the “you said this a while back and you didn’t do it,” which is weak sauce. Who told Duceppe that this was a good line? It’s not a good line, Gilles. Every time you say it Stevie’s face lights up, inasmuch as his soulless, dead face can light up.
7:37 PM: Layton attacking Harper on lack of climate-change accountability and it being defeated in the Senate. Harper complains that the bill just sets targets and doesn’t have measures in it, then compares carbon emission rates to unemployment, because they are totally the same thing. Layton says Harper wants to subsidize big oil companies, which, yeah, but who’s going to be surprised by this? Ain’t nobody watching this debate and saying “wait, Harper is pro-oil? My word! And here I was going to vote for my Conservative candidate! Well, not now I won’t!”
7:38 PM: Ignatieff is channelling pure whiny brat here as he complains about Canada’s foreign policy record of late. “Tell that to Caaaaaiiiiro.” Harper looks better just by responding without saying “and no dessert for you, young man.”
7:42 PM: QUESTION! How do we ensure good government? Harper: By giving me a majority. Ignatieff: Harper’s a dirty liar and can’t be trusted and he’s a control freak. Ignatieff is totally going 2009 Barack Obama and talking about how governments have to govern from consensus, because parliamentary governments totally work that way.
7:44 PM: Harper again lies through his teeth claiming that the contempt motion that was the first in Canadian history was just some mundane thing that happens all the time donchaknow, then cleverly threatens Canada with more elections if he doesn’t get a majority, which is the smartest thing he’s said all night. Ignatieff responds by basically saying that Harper is a big whiny pussy.
7:45 PM: Harper explains that he’s not a wimp because he’s talked to ordinary Canadians and stop calling me names and jobs jobs economy jobs. Ignatieff again lists off all of the things Harper has done to be found in contempt and how he shuts down ordinary Canadians whenever he actually has to talk with them. Harper then says that he “listens to Parliament,” and promptly is struck by lightning by God, who says “NO, EVEN I HAVE LIMITS.”
7:47 PM: Ha! Just kidding, there’s no God.
7:49 PM: Layton attacks both Ignatieff and Harper for being contentious and is promptly struck by lightning, then says the NDP can work with other parties because COALITION COALITION COALITION and then Olivia Chow comes out and slaps him on the back so he doesn’t actually say that. But he was totally thinking it.
7:50 PM: If you took a drink every time Stephen Harper said that the reason we’re having an election is because the other parties felt like having one, you would die of alcohol poisoning.
7:51 PM: Gilles Duceppe attacks Harper for being pro-coalition in 2004. Harper explains that despite signing a letter to form a coalition, he didn’t actually mean it, and Layton and Duceppe are big liars. Duceppe is visibly angry and is pretty bluntly calling Harper a liar; Layton echoes him more calmly. Harper says he never signed any letter saying anything about no coalition.
7:54 PM: Ignatieff takes a moment to rise above the fray and say “I don’t like coalitions, vote for me,” and Layton slams him because maybe voters want a coalition and who is Michael Ignatieff to tell anybody they shouldn’t want one, which is perhaps not the greatest line of argument, and then switches back to “you’re Harper’s best friend,” which does not work often either.
7:55 PM: Stephen Harper sets his facial circuits to “forced calm” as he claims that he’d be happy to have another minority government. Smoke rises from his ears. Then he explains to Ignatieff that the party that wins the most seats gets to be in charge and that’s the only way it works, because he knows that a lot of viewers don’t understand basic Canadian civics, and that in 2004 he never wanted to try and form a government even though he signed a letter saying so. Then he begs for a majority again so he doesn’t have to bother with this “election” nonsense.
7:59 PM: Layton comes out for proportional representation and Senate abolishment in the space of about a minute, giving him the greatest content-to-time ratio for the entire debate so far.
8:00 PM: Ignatieff goes into his laundry list for the… fourth? Fifth? Seventh? time tonight. Harper says “I don’t accept the truth of those attacks,” which is the best way to try and say “I didn’t do it” without having to, you know, openly lie.
8:01 PM: Layton attacks Ignatieff’s attendance record in Parliament. Ignatieff gets huffy and offended; Layton tells him to shove it. Then Ignatieff starts in on his laundry list again and if he wanted to kill the effectiveness of the attack, repeating it 20 times was the way to go.
8:02 PM: New question! It’s about immigration! Accomodation? Adaptation? Melting pot? Multiculturalism? GO! Duceppe says multiculturalism is great, except for Quebec, so you guys do it, and if people want to come to Quebec then they’d better be Quebeckers. Layton says we need more immigrants, and explains how his wife is from a family of immigrants, and that was pretty good for him. Layton starts attacking Harper’s guest worker programs as un-Canadian and how family members can’t bring their families to Canada, and that’s wrong. Good speech for Layton.
8:06 PM: Duceppe, perhaps figuring that maybe he’s going to lose votes with his “multiculturalism sucks” moment, says he doesn’t like how the Harper Tories treat immigrants like criminals. Layton shifts tack for better accreditation for former professionals emigrating to Canada, so foreign-born doctors can serve in Canada. Layton’s really strong on this issue. Duceppe then wants to know if Quebec can have its own immigration policies, and Layton says, well, Quebec already mostly does, and Quebec is awesome, and Duceppe really wants Layton to say that Bill 101 will apply, and Layton really, really doesn’t want to go there and it’s obvious, and Duceppe just won’t let go.
8:10 PM: Ignatieff’s had almost 10 minutes to take a break from attacking the Tories. The Tories have cut all sorts of things immigrants like, you know, and Ignatieff’s dad was an immigrant, so if Ignatieff’s dad was alive then… yeah.
8:11 PM: Harper: we favour multiculturalism! But we also want them to integrate more into Canadian society. And we could totally help immigrants better if we didn’t have stupid elections and accountability! WHY MUST YOU STOP STEPHEN HARPER FROM HELPING PEOPLE? Harper’s movements are getting more robotic and less human as the night progresses. Run talkinghands.exe. run head-jiggle.exe. goto 10.
8:14 PM: Harper explains that we’re going to continue to have a strong immigration policy that makes sure only contributing immigrants show up, because units that do not produce resources are ineffective units and only fit for recycling.
8:15 PM: Duceppe again starts in on Bill 101, this time on Harper. Harper (talkinghands.exe) explains that he doesn’t want to interfere with Quebec’s jurisdiction over Bill 101, all the while staring directly at the camera (eyecontact.exe) and it’s really creepy whenever the camera gets a sideview of him ostensibly talking to Duceppe and staring off into the middle distance.
8:18 PM: Layton again on the “making families wait for decades to get their chance to allow their family members to immigrate” attack. Harper’s talking hands seem to be in a loop until he stops running Firefox and frees up some RAM, and then goes into how we have to be reasonable and there’s not enough room in Canada for all the people who want to come here. Ignatieff attacks Harper for allowing Immigration Canada to “microtarget” certain communities, and Harper responds by bragging about how he’s running the government so as to get best partisan advantage from it through immigration.
8:21 PM: Crime! Ignatieff: we shouldn’t copy bad American ideas like megaprisons and mandatory minimums, and we should keep the long gun registry, and crack down on gangs, and then we should do all of that again. Duceppe: “They say they are tough on crime, except they are not tough on crime in their own office.” Then he points out the crime rate is declining and he probably said some other stuff but I had to go to the bathroom at this point because, if you have to pick a time, Duceppe talking about crime policy is as good as any.
8:22 PM: Wait, Duceppe is now talking about Tories maybe wanting to criminalize abortion and bring back capital punishment? Dammit, Duceppe, stop being interesting!
8:23 PM: Ignatieff says we need evidence-based criminal justice policy, and works in an attack on Harper about the long-form census, which was an impressive stretch. Harper then goes on his crime policies, which are generally bad, and explains that Canadians expect him to take crime “seriously,” which apparently means “the way I want to do it.”
8:25 PM: Layton wants the David Chen bill and more crimes for inducting kids into gangs and preventive policy. He says “bling” at one point, in case you needed to be reminded that you were watching four old white guys, then says “hashtag fail” to re-emphasize the point.
8:28 PM: Ignatieff attacks Tory crime policies and says his policies are “for grown-ups.” Harper complains about this election (smarmysmile.exe) getting in the way of his awesome policies. Duceppe points out that the Tories like to put together megabills with ideas the other parties like along with ones they don’t like, then when they don’t pass claim that the other parties don’t like anything, not even ponies. Harper says that’s not true.
8:31 PM: Layton works in another Senate burn, then talks about how Parliament needs to specifically address violence against women, which serves as a segue to brag about how 40 per cent of the NDP candidates are women, and then from there he segues into First Nations housing issues, and then into aboriginal education, and that was a great set of segues there by Jack Layton.
8:32 PM: Ignatieff attacking again on gun control and the gun registry, because it’s not like any rural Liberal candidates had much of a shot anyway. Layton, representing a party in ridings both rural and urban, tries to strike the middle ground and fails miserably. Harper (ruralpandering.exe) doesn’t like how poor, defenseless farmers have to pay the price for gun violence in the big cities. Duceppe is from Quebec, where everybody wants the gun registry so he likes making it clear that Harper wants it gone. Harper says “we need effective gun control” for the sixth time without ever explaining what that means. Harper namedrops Julian Fantino, who barely won his riding so I’m not sure why.
8:37 PM: Healthcare! Wait times! Layton: Tommy Douglas! Public health care! Obama likes how we do it! Hire doctors and nurses! Additional homecare! Additional spending! Additional beds! More of everything! Harper: We want more accountability, and we want to spend no more money if we can help it!
8:37 PM: (Was anybody else kind of hoping the last question would have been posed by Elizabeth May? That would have been awesome.)
8:40 PM: Layton, apparently trying to be the ultimate NDP stereotype, suggests that maybe Harper would like more… private… health care. You know what he means. Yeah.
8:41 PM: Harper experiences a subroutine glitch and actually turns his head to the left to look at Jack Layton as he talks about responsible health budgeting. The world promptly ends.
8:42 PM: Ah, “alternative service delivery” is the new Tory buzzword for “private care.” The way you know it is? Because Harper says it isn’t.
8:43 PM: Duceppe: stop interfering with Quebec! Well, he’s predictable.
8:45 PM: Ignatieff says that Liberals will respect provincial control of health care, but the federal government is spending a lot of money on health care and that means everybody should get roughly equal services across the country, and also you can spend money on prisons and jets and tax cuts, or you can support health care. He forgot to mention “and the G20″ there. Ignatieff then explains that you get accountability by having the federal government involved, which naturally means Harper has to find a way to disagree with him.
8:47 PM: Stephen Harper explains that when the Liberals were in power, they raised taxes and cut health care (notmentioning-cleaningup-aftermulroney.exe) and how that hurt the economy, which—what? Seriously? You’re going to complain that the Canadian economy’s biggest growth spurt of the past 50 years wasn’t big enough? Maybe Harper is from Earth-2 tonight.
8:49 PM: Ignatieff wants less salt and fat in your food!
8:50 PM: Duceppe thinks the federal government gets too much money, which is a really weird thing for anybody from Quebec to say and weirder for the Bloc leader, given how much of an advantage Quebec gets via federal transfer payments.
8:51 PM: Harper promises Layton they won’t cut scheduled increases in health care, education, and pensions. Layton argues that Harper is promising the moon and this isn’t “the old Stephen Harper,” which is true because the new one is jowlier, sort of.
8:52 PM: Ignatieff promises no megaprisons, pegged corporate tax rate, and competitive tendering for jets, and that money means better health care. Duceppe attacks offshore tax havens, which I wasn’t expecting at all tonight. Harper: jobs jobs economy jobs jobs low taxes jobs.
8:54 PM: Layton says “no no we’re offering tax cuts as well, just to poor people.” Harper insists the NDP will always raise taxes. Ignatieff, getting hoarser and hoarser as the night continues, says that 18 per cent is a great corporate tax rate and means we can pay for everything. Harper insists that every credible economist agrees with him and we can’t raise taxes, and points out that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business—a nonpartisan body if ever there was one!—thinks the Tories are awesome.
8:56 PM: Closing statements! Layton: “The Liberals had their shot and they kind of sucked. The Tories had their shot and they definitely sucked. You can totally vote NDP and your vote won’t be wasted at all! Really! We mean it this time! Caps on credit card fees!” (This last one, incidentally, is a terrible idea.)
8:57 PM: Duceppe: “Canada’s awesome, but Quebec has to remember we’re even better and although we’d like it to be its own country, we’ll settle for getting everything we can out of Ottawa and nobody else is gonna do it quite like us.”
8:58 PM: Ignatieff: “The Tories are a bunch of arrogant, antidemocratic dickwads who can’t do math and don’t care that they can’t. Family-oriented policies! Social safety net! Canada will be Canada again! And no coalition! We mean it!”
8:59 PM: Harper: “Thanks for letting me be prime minister, guys! I was awesome at it! You should let me keep doing it, because I will be totally more awesome, and aren’t you sick of elections? Please give me a majority government so I don’t get turfed out of the leadership by a backbench rebellion. Pleasepleaseplease. End communication.”
9:00 PM: And we’re out.
So what did we learn? Not a whole lot.
Harper was basically on auto-autopilot all night, never deviating from script, which is fine for protecting his base since the firm Tories aren’t going to shift away to any other party, but some of his arguments were simply ludicrous. I mean, he seriously suggested that the Chretien Liberals presided over a bad economy, and we’re not far enough away from the largest peacetime economic expansion in the country’s history to forget it yet. And for someone often accused of being a cold fish, he was even cooler than usual. Not a great performance.
Better than Ignatieff, though. One recalls that one of the arguments for Ignatieff as Liberal leader was that he was going to kick ass in debates, and instead he just kept repeating his attack lines over and over and over until you could repeat them word for word. This felt more like a way to get past a lack of advertising revenue than a debate strategy—say “Harper” and “can’t be trusted” enough times close together and hope it sticks.
Layton was very good, probably the best he’s ever been (and Layton’s a strong debater). His sections on immigration were excellent. His “you’re all the same” attack lines on Ignatieff/Harper were less so, but the NDP candidate has to do that. Overall Layton came across as extremely policy-oriented, which isn’t his usual strength—he’s an attack dog first and always has been.
Duceppe was great as usual and should probably be good now for the upper end of the Bloc’s range in Quebec: 45–50 seats rather than 35–40.
So, in short, this debate probably didn’t change anything.