The French language debate will occur tonight at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Stephen Harper, Paul Martin, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe will discuss the issues and confront each other before a studio audience and will be watched closely by many in Quebec and elsewhere and by a few Anglophone pundits throughout Canada.
The focus of the debate will be Quebec and Paul Martin will try to claw back lost ground from the frontrunner in that province, Gilles Duceppe.
What they will do:
Tell Quebec that a Liberal vote is a vote for federalism and a vote for Canada. This will go along with the ‘wrapping-oneself-in-the-flag’ strategy which Martin has used throughout the campaign. Also, he will reiterate that a vote for the Bloc is a whispered vote for the Conservative party. (funny how Martin believes that Bloc values, such as separatism, are preferable to Conservative values).
Tell Quebeckers that Quebec’s interests can only be represented by the Bloc Quebecois and that the Liberals must be punished. Sovereignty will be mentioned but only in passing.
Tell Quebeckers that his party represents the Bloc’s values minus separation. Layton will impress in the debate as he is relatively unknown and well-spoken in french.
Appeal to Quebec’s desire for decentralization and tout lower taxes. His key message will be that the Sponsorship Scandal is not a Quebec scandal, not a Canadian scandal, but a Liberal scandal. He will not mention military spending unless asked. When attacked on social issues by Martin and by Layton, Harper will mention that democracy is better served by debate than by direction from above (of which, quite frankly, Quebec has had enough)
What they just might do in order to have a good showing:
Emphasize his Quebec team made up of separatists to emphasize a bridge building effort with nationalists. Lapierre might even get a mention.
Downplay separatism, a lot. Instead declare that the Bloc is for Quebec’s interests in Canada.
Aim left and hard. Layton has nothing to lose in Quebec. He might just present himself as the only politician on the ‘true left’ as the Bloc is broadening its base.
Suggest to Quebeckers that his Conservatives will form the next government and that he is taking applications from Quebec ridings whom might want to be represented by a cabinet minister. Rhetorically ask Quebeckers whether they would prefer have representatives in government or in opposition. Harper may even coordinate/participate in attacks led by Duceppe to tip that minority balance that much further.
Layton and Harper will be marginalized in this debate but will impress with their French language skills. Although a liberal minority would serve Layton better than a conservative minority, don’t expect Layton to attack Harper in the French language debate as this will appear tangential. Layton’s biggest score will be his demonstration of his capacity in French to English-Canada.
The debate will focus on the two front-runners, Duceppe and Martin with coordinated attacks by Harper and Layton respectively.
The must do
Paul Martin must win this debate and must show significantly better than Gilles Duceppe or his fortunes in the polls will not change and then trend will continue towards a Conservative minority government on June 28th.
The surprise of the evening
Green Party leader Jim Harris will streak across the stage