Friday, August 7, 2015

First Leaders' debate reaction: Trudeau soared, Mulcair was decent, and May drew real blood.

Harper's campaign is having trouble attracting good spellers, it seems.
I suspected Justin Trudeau had some moxie he was saving for the election campaign.  His unusually low profile in the weeks preceding last weekend's election call seemed designed to keep expectations low.

But since the election call, Trudeau has been quite strong.  That reached new heights in last night's Maclean's leaders' debate in Toronto.

Overall, I'd give Trudeau the night as he was the most passionate, engaging, and surprisingly well-spoken on a variety of issues.  He did everything he needed to do quite well.  His attack zingers landed directly on their targets and inflicted damage.  On tough questions, he gave good answers and then quickly pivoted to strong counter-attacks against his opponents, especially on Bill C-51 and the fight against ISIS, in which he quickly turned his answer into a passionate attack on the Harper government's treatment of veterans.  It was so strong that Harper was forced to quickly (and unconvincingly) defend his government's record on veterans before getting back to ISIS fear-mongering.

Even Trudeau's closing statement which ended the broadcast was great, finally giving us a convincing idea what drives him to be a leader and why he's doing this: he wants a better Canada for his three kids and he offers something "better" than Stephen Harper's rather dreary status quo.  This was the Trudeau so many were excited about in 2013 and for most of 2014.  Trudeau's performance will undoubtedly bolster Liberal spirits and fortunes.

But it is still early days.  It's difficult to know if this one debate in early August will have lasting impact.  If nothing else, it signals that Trudeau is back in this game and we should look forward to stronger performances from him in upcoming debates.  As increased Liberal strength in the House of Commons is key to denying Harper another majority, this is cause for joy.

Watching Green Party leader Elizabeth May in the debate was as awesome as I expected it to be.  She was sharp, frequently deflating Harper's lies with expert precision and doing herself proud.  There's no doubt why the Tories will do everything they can not to see May in future debates alongside Harper: she damages him greatly and assists the other party leaders in their similar efforts.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was also quite decent last night.  As an unfiltered introduction of himself to English Canadian voters, it was a fine performance, if also somewhat flawed.  He got dozens of awesome attacks in against Harper and many great lines.   He even got Harper to admit that we're likely in a recession again.   Mulcair spoke often about his experience as a former cabinet minister.  He looked calm, dignified and prime ministerial - like a worthy alternative to Harper.  By contrast, Trudeau looked like the eager young man next to his older opponents and perhaps a bit less prime ministerial.

But Mulcair held back too much in the big fights, his frequent smiles looked forced, and he didn't help himself by frequently facing the debate moderator instead of looking into the camera.  When Mulcair screwed up his final statement with a "Sorry," he barely recovered and almost rushed through it.  It reminded me of his 2012 NDP Convention speech which he also rushed through without a care in the world because he knew at the time the quality of that 2012 speech would have no impact on the leadership vote.  But of course, the quality of his performance in last night's debate will most certainly have an impact on this election.

For Mulcair, he was decent but there is much room for improvement in future debates.  He's going to have to more clearly articulate his vision and passion in upcoming debates so Canadians have a clearer idea why he wants to be Prime Minister and what he would do with that power.

We already know full well what Harper plans to do with more power.  Harper was solid, although his lines of defense frequently fell flat.  He was pilloried on the Senate.  He refused to show leadership by apologizing for appointing all of the problem senators of recent years.   Harper also finally admitted that we are likely in a recession, which is not going to win him any more votes.

Overall, Harper, as the default incumbent choice, could only consider last night a victory if the other leaders fell flat.   They didn't.  Trudeau soared, Mulcair was decent, and May drew real blood. 


Gyor said...

Trudeau was unprincipled in pushing was supposed to be a debate on democracy and Harper's horrible record on democracy, into a cheap attack on Mulcair, trying to make national unity a major issue in a campaign where only deseperate liberals and the BQ want it to be one.

This came at the expense of serious issues on democracy, such as PR which only got a brief mention.

The key issues in this election are Democracy, the Economy, and the Enviroment, and instead Trudeau wanted to pretend he is Captain Canada, and it will cost him in Quebec. And his closing was a failed attempt to hit emotional high notes that came out wordy and none sensical, free of substance.

Mulcair destroyed Harper on the economy and that is what will be the defining moment of the the debates.

Gayle said...

Mulcair is the one campaigning on repealing the Clarity Act (at least in Quebec), and on opening the constitution. The combination is risky and needed to be exposed.

That said, while I hate to admit it, I think Harper looked the best on that particular exchange.