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Party leaders disappoint

by Archives October 7, 2008

1.6 million Quebecers tuned in last Wednesday night to witness the end of enthusiasm in Canadian politics. It’s over. It’s dead.
Is this what we call the best of Canadian democracy, five people sitting around a table speaking as much as they can while actually saying next to nothing?
Anybody who managed to stay awake during the French edition of the Leaders’ Debate might wonder whatever happened to having a little character. Forget about the days when politicians had a real passion for real change, apparently all we deserve now is a forum for old storylines and cheap shots.
Wednesday’s debate had no clear winner, even though veteran debater and Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe did very well by time and again appealing to what is of most interest in the province right now: the struggling manufacturing sector, our culture and the environment.
However the debate did have an anointed loser in Prime Minister Stephen Harper. As expected, all four opposition leaders ganged up on the Conservative leader. Harper was thus forced to remain on the defensive, an especially difficult task when it came time to discuss the cuts to arts funding, the environment and attacks ads, which didn’t flatter him at all. This, combined with his slight linguistic handicap in French, his smug demeanour and his unpopular policies, will probably ultimately cost him the Quebec seats he needs to form a majority government.
The evening’s only surprise was Liberal leader Stéphane Dion’s passable performance. He was, astonishingly, the only leader to have a concrete plan in the event of financial crisis. Within the first 30 days of his mandate, Dion promised he would meet with both provincial and financial leaders to try and minimize any economic turmoil.
Considering that Harper was the one who requested the economic portion of the debate be extended, he should have come better prepared. In fact, all Harper did was repeat that the Canadian economy is strong, and that the best approach is to stay on the right path – a bare-bones plan by any means for increasingly anxious Canadians.
The truth is that Harper started digging himself into a hole when he was first elected, and now he’s laying in it. That’s what happens when you cut your own government’s profits by lowering taxes and the GST/TPS too soon – and then a financial crisis starts to loom and you realize you really could have used the extra money.
The English debate was only slightly more interesting, but for all the wrong reasons. On the topic of the Harper government’s cuts to arts funding, moderator Steve Paikin asked whether the opposition leaders thought Conservatives were “barbarians.”
NDP leader Jack Layton thought it was appropriate to only briefly touch on his economic plan for if a Canadian crisis should arise, instead spending most of the evening throwing sound byte criticism at Harper in order to get himself quoted in the following day’s newspapers. There’s nothing wrong with having a sense of humour, but asking whether Harper is hiding his platform under his sweater is a little redundant.
Still, Layton did manage to get a couple good points across, suggesting we move to a buy-Canadian approach to boost our economy. Green Party leader Elizabeth May advanced the interesting idea of using Afghan poppies to produce drugs for the developing world. And Harper finally won a little ground by reminding the gullible portion of our population that he had kept most of his promises while in office.
Still, many crucial issues weren’t brought up, instead Canadians spent four hours of their busy week pondering Harper’s sweater, barbarians and a pending solution for our slight economic slowdown.

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