Hudak and Elliott campaigns protest party decision on London debate

I received news this evening that the PC Party had moved to prohibit recording devices from a leaders debate to occur today in London. I’ve verified with a reporter covering the race that this indeed was the case. The Elliott and Hudak campaigns were quick to protest the decision. Here are their emails (forwarded to me by the respective campaigns).

The Elliott campaign,

and the Hudak campaign,

Finally, I’ve heard that the party will go ahead and allow reporters to use recording devices during the debate.

UPDATE: This is confirmed. Here is the media advisory from the party.

English debate, the next morning

Five federal party leaders squared off last night around the oblong table at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Coming off of a sort of dress-rehearsal last night for the English speaking viewers, leaders were coached all day yesterday on earlier missteps and new opportunities as senior scripters checked debate playbooks, wiped the blackboard clean and chalked out some final plays.

And though politics can be a contact sport, referee Steve Paikin kept the unnecessary roughness to a minimum and even straightened out a few players when needed. The format of the debate has been criticized by some Conservatives as too amenable to unbalanced debating particularly when four candidates (including one late-comer and one spoiler) focus their attention squarely upon the incumbent. However, if one contrasts this with the American Vice-Presidential debate last night, the table format led to more exchanges and discussion rather than moderator-induced conversation without direct confrontation between candidates. Indeed, the Palin-Biden debate was instead two separate interviews, occurring simultaneously in the same room. The Canadian debate format for this election cycle proved more interesting for viewers and provided an unvarnished look at the candidates as they were challenged directly by the other candidates.

Despite this, the current Prime Minister seemed at ease though at times I’m certain he wanted to leap across the table and give Jack Layton a better-balanced bludgeoning. Viewers of the French language debate joked that the Prime Minister seemed to have been sedated while partisans both friendly and not yearned for more emotion; the unfriendlies hoped for anger while Conservatives hoped for more passion from their champion to describe their common agenda. In the English language debate, the Prime Minister seemed to exude what is more appropriately described as confidence than calm as he took the barrage that came as the polarized players flailed their collective left-wing and labeled the Prime Minister everything from out-of-touch with the middle class — quite brazen coming from Elizabeth May — to a George Bush clone (the left will miss him when he’s gone).

Despite the constant attacks, Stephen Harper performed strongly by donning his figurative blue sweater vest appearing the most rational and collected candidate of the group. As one twitterer likely not voting for Harper put it, “It concerns me that Harper sounds the least crazy.” Jack Layton, the other strong debate performer appealed to the dramatic by twice making cynical references to the very same sweater the PM wears in the Conservative ads. Jack Layton and Stephen Harper needed each other to boost their debate performances and by focusing their heat on each other, they were able to wedge out Dion. Though the Liberals have never had a leader like Paul Martin that was richer, the critics couldn’t be fairer; the Liberals have never had a greener candidate than Stephane Dion and despite Martin’s failings, he was more animated than Dion was last night. Though Martin entered the election in the lead, Dion is coming from behind and failed to capture anyone’s attention last night.

Elizabeth May surprised last night as she was the most sober of the opposition leaders. In comparison with other leaders, May brought a calm, number- and fact-referencing persona to the debate and politely corrected leaders as to the “facts” (though many as she saw them). For many Canadians who look at the political landscape and see the same old players locked in a seemingly eternal stalemate, May brought a fresh face to the stage for Canadians to consider. The Green Party leader needed to show Canadians that she deserved to debate on the same stage as the party leaders. Despite real and valid arguments against her inclusion and a childish repeat of her fraud accusation leveled against Harper, last night she didn’t appear out of place. In that, May scored an impressive victory for her cause.

As the leader of a french-first-and-last separatist party from Quebec, Gilles Duceppe did not have much to gain or lose during the English language debate and the Bloc leader appeared to be the candidate most genuinely at ease during the two hours last night. Duceppe also appeared as a shadow moderator; when he was not advancing his ideology, bringing he brought realism against rhetoric particularly when he gestured towards Layton and Dion suggesting they knew they’d never become Prime Minister and then proceeded to address the sitting Prime Minister — indeed, seated directly across from him — speaking about Quebec’s issues as the Bloc leader saw them. Most observers note that this will likely be Duceppe’s last performance in this forum as the dean of the debate is expected to retire from federal politics before the next federal election.

The debate was interesting to watch and was more interesting than debates in previous years. It certainly brought a fresh perspective to the players that we see in Question Period when parliament is sitting. If more and more newcomers show up to claim their stake on the democratic frontier as May did last night, we might see this format degenerate into a collective browbeating of an incumbent. If democratic reform proceeds along the path which May advocates, do more voices create more noise or do the enrich the process? In the American primary process we’ve seen about ten voices crowd one stage at a particular time with the TV networks biased towards perceived front-runners. Democracy is by definition a dynamic process and the evolution of the Canadian leader’s debate will follow its own path. The method by which our leaders appeal to Canadians for their votes will be, for the most part, fixed directly to the format by which Canadians would choose to hear them. That is democracy.

Tonight’s debate: the drinking game

Tonight, Canada’s four national mainstream party leaders (and one wildcard) will gather at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre for the English language debate. To occupy yourself while you twitter, and yell at the screen here’s the debate drinking game.

First, pick your poison.

If you support Stephane Dion, make sure you have some Château Pétrus on hand. Sip it slowly and savour it. If Stephen Harper is your guy, go to the corner store and get yourself some Coke Zero. Same great taste, zero calories. For those of you supporting Jack Layton, grab a can of Steelworkers Oatmeal Stout. Gilles Duceppe will be in the debate and without much of a clear purpose, if he’s your choice, just pour yourself something bitter. Finally, if you choose Elizabeth May finish your organic pomegranate with vodka and then go and mooch off of Dion. That Pétrus is some good stuff, and though and it won’t give you a hangover unlike the one that came after that thirteen year bender when the Liberals were drunk with power.

And now the rules:

If Jack Layton references the initiatives of one of his MPs, take a drink.

If Elizabeth May calls an idea/policy/person “stupid”/”ridiculous”/”outrageous” take a drink.

If Stephen Harper talks about the fundamentals of the Canadian economy take a drink.

If a leader says “George Bush” take a drink.

If Stephen Harper says “George Bush” finish the bottle and keep drinking til it stops hurting.

If a leader says in reference to Dion “you didn’t get it done”, “Mr. Dion doesn’t think it’s easy to make priorities” take a drink.

If Dion says “this is unfair”, finish the bottle.

Every time Duceppe puts the emphAsis on the wrong SyllAble take a drink.

Every time Dion seeks clarification take a drink.

If Jack Layton says “corporate tax cuts”, “boardroom/kitchen table”, “Ed Broadbent”, “Tommy Douglas”, “hope/change”, “working families”, “big oil/gas/pharma/banks” take a drink.

If Jack Layton says “big labour”, “big ass” or “Barack Obama” finish the bottle.

If Elizabeth May/Jack Layton/Stephane Dion cite Al Gore or David Suzuki take a drink.

If Stephen Harper cites Al Gore or David Suzuki finish the bottle.

Every time Harper/Layton tag-team Dion take a drink. Every time Dion/May tag-team Harper take a drink.

Anytime anyone tag-teams anyone with Duceppe, finish the bottle.

Every time Steve Paikin brings out his pleasant non-offensive wit, take a drink.

If Steve Paikin makes an off-colour joke, finish the bottle.

Add your own in the comments, and… please drink responsibly.

“Clearly, our leader won the debate”

You’ll hear this line from every party but the first public utterance of it that I saw was from the Liberal camp on twitter:

“Stéphane Dion won decisively! He clearly demonstrated that he is the only leader with a credible plan for Canada’s economy!”

This might be the same “credible plan” that was introduced on the floor of the NAC tonight by Dion that CTV commentators admitted reminded them of Paul Martin’s “Hail Mary” Not Withstanding Clause policy at the 2006 leader’s debate. Nobody heard about this plan until tonight. Having already released their platform, which was or wasn’t about the Green Shift depending on what polls Liberal strategists were reading in a given day, the Liberals seem to have released a second draft of their platform tonight. On the economy, is Stephane Dion making it up as he goes along?

The Liberals are stuck in a difficult place during this election. The Green Shift was a train that had already left the station and for Mr. Dion one that was already serving dinner in the dining car when Canadians suddenly became fixed upon the economy. For a serious political party that is vying for power, it is not simply enough to attack a party on an issue — especially one on which one’s rival is strong — but one must also define the path that a party’s leader would take should he or she become Prime Minister. What is astounding, is that Dion is reacting to the global economic crisis like an investor that gets the market numbers from the local TV news between the weather and sports. On the twenty-third day of the election campaign, Dion derails the train and tries to make it hop the tracks. Instead of being proactive on the economy, Dion is reactive.

For the Conservatives, this is an easy pick-up because it underlines the message they’ve been carrying as one of their main themes since this campaign started: Harper represents stability and Dion represents risk. What a disaster it was to see Mr. Dion drop his bombshell so quietly on the debate floor while the other leaders simply paused and moved on. Mr. Dion appeared but as one of four opposition voices — hardly dominant — against the Prime Minister and for Mr. Harper, representing one pole of a polar argument doesn’t exactly hurt his chances.

The most heated exchanges during the debate occurred between Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe, the two front runners of the election in Quebec. On the issues of 14/16 year-olds going to prison for serious crime and repeat offenses, Harper with rare emotion for the evening responded by backing up his plan with third party endorsements of the idea from a police union president and the head of a victim’s rights group. On the Quebec nation and Mr. Duceppe’s two day hesitation and subsequent reversal on the motion that declared Quebec a nation within a united Canada, Mr. Harper demonstrated strength. However, on most other issues such as the environment and the arts, the four-on-one atmosphere that Duceppe led for most of the evening showed the Prime Minister defending his record, the default position for any incumbent.

Will this debate move numbers in Quebec? Likely not. For Mr. Harper, this may mean that he might need a scripting change for that province in order to produce a game-changer that may light a fire under his numbers there. On the other hand, Bloc support may have firmed up on the island of Montreal and the numbers breakdown outside of the city may float Mr. Harper in the more conservative regions of la belle province in order to secure that majority.

Stephane Dion raises expectations of his debate performances

More than a year ago Stephane Dion predicted that he will be victorious in both the French and English leaders debate that Canadians will watch tonight and tomorrow night on the television networks.

Also, on the popular French-language show Tout le Monde en Parle just a few days ago on September 28th, the following exchange took place,

GUY A. LEPAGE: Les débats des chefs en français et en anglais auront lieu les 1er et 2 octobre prochain. On vous reproche beaucoup de ne pas bien maîtriser la langue de Shakespeare. C’est votre premier débat comme chef libéral. “Aren’t you afraid that your lack of knowledge of the English could be a handicap in this campaign?”

STÉPHANE DION: Yes, je n’ai pas compris. Non, ce que je dirais là-dessus, c’est que moi je dis la vérité bien mieux en français et en anglais que Stephen Harper et pour ça je vais gagner les débats. (“On that, I would say that I speak the truth better in French and in English than Stephen Harper and it’s for that reason that I will win the debates”)

Stephane Dion has confirmed his debate prediction that he made over one year ago; the Liberal leader predicts he will win both English and French language debates. Now that Dion has set the bar high for himself, should he fail to win both debates will the press note that he failed to meet his expectations? Will the Liberal war-room fool anyone when they claim Dion “clearly won tonight’s debate”? What are you expecting from tonight’s French language debate?

Elizabeth May on Canadians and their distate for a carbon tax

May went on to say “but most politicians believe that if they say they are going to put on a carbon tax and reduce your income tax…they don’t think they can sell it. It is all about votes.”

Today we heard the news that Elizabeth May has been given the go-ahead to participate in the national leaders debate. Since this election will be a referendum on Stephane Dion’s leadership and his carbon tax, perhaps Mr. Dion can explain why he made a deal with May to have the Liberals stand-down in Central Nova and why May feels the way she does about Canadians who distrust politicians that want to raise their taxes.

h/t: audio quote from a compilation of quotes posted by Lore Weaver