Admittedly, last night's debate was as much about the excitement as the issues for me. So, here, in the spirit of politico-entertainment punditry, is my take on how each of the four leaders -- Stephen Harper (Conservative), Michael Ignatieff (Liberal), Jack Layton (New Democratic Party) and Gilles Duceppe (Bloc Québécois) -- did in the debate.
Tory commentators say he was calm; I say he did a James Franco and smoked weed before the show. He was incredibly placid and soft-spoken, as is generally his manner, but I thought his tone got whining and fed-up very early on. Despite the low, soft tones, he quickly began to sound defensive, exasperated and impatient when the challenges started coming in (predictably, from the outset). As far as the issues went, he seemed to go in with "Economy, economy, economy" on the brain, so he clearly thinks that's his strong point and the issue that will win the election for the Conservatives.
Ignatieff went straight for Harper's jugular on the issue of trust. Harper consistently blamed an election Canadians don't want on the opportunism of the other parties, but Ignatieff repeated a few times that the election was called because Harper couldn't tell the truth on "jets, jails and corporate tax giveaways." It eventually got a bit repetitive, as Ignatieff repeated the same attacks verbatim. He also got pretty grumpy a few times, and lost it when Layton challenged him on his absence record from parliamentary votes. (Layton claimed Ignatieff's attendance was a mere 30%, although it's actually a mildly better 41%, or 59% absence.) An irritated Iggy flew off the handle and snapped: "At least we get into government. You'll be in opposition forever." Though he looked childish, he successfully dodged the issue. I heard a French reporter challenge him on the same point in the post-debate press scrum, but Iggy appeared to evade the issue again, disappearing hastily.
I'm not surprised that most people declared Layton the winner. He was the most impressive, and he won the debate because he has the least to lose. Conservatives naturally hail his success because they know it would be a stretch to declare Harper the winner, and championing Layton is a nice way to divide the left-wing vote. Layton was the liveliest, most coherent and most polished of the four voices. His main tack was to suggest that Ignatieff and Harper were "best friends." He was big on the social justice issues and managed to get in a few mentions of climate change, an issue otherwise hardly discussed; doubtless a manoeuvre to win over some Greens (who, to a bit of an outcry, were left out of the debate).
Quebec, Quebec, Quebec. Are you surprised? I'm a BC boy living in Ontario, so the BQ isn't an issue as to how I'll vote. I find Duceppe a bit comical and hysterical. I was distracted by his unintentionally funny English mispronunciations -- "ship" became "shit," "second" became "chicken," and "developing" became "dev'lopping." I only wish I knew French better so I could watch tonight's debate and hear the English leaders mangle their French pronunciations in the same way.